The latest Israeli assault on Gaza and its massacre of thousands of innocent civilians, including women and children, has once again turned world attention on the intractable Israeli-Palestinian dispute. Both sides have taken hard positions. Hamas will not stop firing rockets and waging its struggle until the strangulating blockade of Gaza is lifted. On the other hand, Israel maintains that it would continue the blockade until the tunnels are dismantled and Hamas’s ability to smuggle weapons is diminished. Such is the level of hatred and distrust that the fragile truce worked out under international pressure has repeatedly collapsed. Meanwhile, with the death toll having exceeded 2,000 and over 20,000 injured, the humanitarian crisis in Gaza is deepening.
The motive for Israel’s aggression goes beyond its stated public position. It is strongly opposed to the unity government that Hamas and the Palestinian Authority have formed, for it considers the unification, however fragile it may be, a sort of victory for Hamas and the beginning of the process that could strengthen the Palestinians in the long term. All these years, Israel has benefited from their internal divisions, the age-old principle of divide and rule. More importantly, Hamas being the only organisation, which is forcefully resisting Israeli aggression, serves as a role model for the youth of the West Bank and an embarrassment to its leadership. Israelis see in Hamas an organisation that has the courage to fight back against a regional superpower that has the full support of the US. One could fault Hamas for its use of rockets, but its demands for ending the occupation and allowing Palestinians to lead lives of dignity and freedom are fully justified. It is possible that Hamas would agree to stop firing rockets provided the siege is lifted. Hamas has been forced to develop the tunnels to break the blockade, for these are its only source of access to the outside world. If Israeli aggression continues, it will further breed extremism and make peace harder to achieve.
The opposition of Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Jordan to Hamas and tacit support for Israeli action shows the irony and complexities of the region. These countries oppose Hamas for two reasons. First, Hamas is supported by Iran, Syria and Hezbollah, their bitter political rivals in the region, and their success would trigger a chain reaction in the Middle East and strengthen forces of democracy and resistance against repressive and authoritarian regimes. Similar divisions prevent the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) — a toothless organisation — from taking even a symbolic, unified position. Not surprising, but regrettable that some of these Muslim countries are colluding with Israel to keep the people of Gaza locked up in an open prison! Pakistan is so weak and embroiled in its own problems that its voice carries hardly any weight.
The role of the US is crucial in bringing peace and justice to the region. At the moment, there is nothing to suggest that there is any rethinking taking place in Washington on its Middle East policy. President Barack Obama has been a disappointment, and like his predecessors, has gone along with the American establishment in courting the powerful Jewish lobby and heavily influenced by geo-strategic imperatives rather than moral principles. In sharp contrast,the recent US and EU response to Russia’s support of insurgents in Ukraine was swift and substantive.
It will be a misreading of events if the present Palestinian-Israeli confrontation is lumped together as part of a broader conflict that is raging across Muslim countries in general and the Middle East in particular, as some think tanks in the US are alluding. On the contrary, the brutal Israeli aggression could further fuel these conflicts. I doubt if the world needs to be reminded that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is as old as the birth of Israel. The injustice done to the people of Palestine will not go away by continuing to suppress them, but in finding an equitable solution to the dispute. It has become the norm after 9/11, for countries that suppress freedom movements to equate them with terrorist activity. For Israel to also brand Hamas as a terrorist organisation is to mask its naked aggression. Palestinians in Gaza have seen that sincere efforts of Palestinian leaders in the West Bank to find a peaceful solution with Israel have proved to be utterly futile. In fact, Israel has taken these gestures of peace as a sign of weakness on the part of Palestinians and continues to expand its settlements and is unwilling to give up its occupation. That leaves no other choice for the Palestinians, but to offer both peaceful and violent resistance. A more thoughtful approach on the part of Israel would have been to work towards a peaceful solution instead of relying heavily on its military superiority and unqualified support of the US.
In the Middle East, there is the larger picture that is emerging with long-term consequences for both Israel and Palestine. Syria and Iraq were always considered potential threats to Israel. Nothing suits Israel better than the continuing civil war and disintegration of these countries. Binyamin Netanyahu has been categorical that it is in the strategic interest of Israel that Syria (and Iraq) remains in perpetual state of civil strife. Initially, the US and Israel were supporting the forces opposed to Bashar alAssad, but now that the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) has become the dominant force opposed to the Assad regime, they are in a dilemma. Similarly, the situation in Iraq is extremely chaotic. With a deep split within the Shia faction and ISIS forces in control of Mosul and making serious advances in the north of Iraq, the situation looks ominous. The civil strife has energised radical forces throughout the region and what will emerge from the ruins of this civil war is hard to predict. One thing, however, is amply clear that these convulsions will not stop, but will engulf many other countries, particularly of the Middle East and the Muslim world for better or for worse.
Published in The Express Tribune, August 15th, 2014.
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