By Air Commodore (R) Khalid Iqbal
As the newly worked out cease fire arrangement come into force in Gaza, a re-look at the conflict is in order. Gaza people entered an interesting phase of struggle when their mandate was denied after 2006 elections; the people of Palestine had given Hamas a resounding mandate of 74 of the 132 seats in the Palestinian Legislative Council against Al-Fattah’s 46. Voter turnout was more than 77%. Hamas earned the first right to form a government. Nevertheless, this right was forcibly denied through an international conspiracy. This resulted in a de’facto territorial bifurcation between Al-Fattah and Hamas. It encouraged Israel to impose a crippling siege over the people of Gaza. Reaction by the comity of nations and agencies like UN, OIC and Arab League etc was of regret and severe condemnation.
Now Gaza, under Hamas rule, has emerged as an independent political actor to reckon with. Cease fire, truce and any other stabilizing mechanism in Palestinian territories has to be endorsed by Hamas, and not just by the PLA government. Despite denial of mandate, the political power has quietly shifted to its rightful place and the legitimate owner; Gaza and Hamas. Now all routs to durable peace process pass through Gaza. Israelis are already talking to Hamas as the de’facto government of Gaza. Now this is likely to be further formalized with the involvement of Egypt. Hamas achieved a significant breakthrough, when the Emir of Qatar made a state visit to Gaza. He was the first head of state to do so. In the middle of the recent crisis, Egyptian prime minister also arrived in Gaza. Others are expected to follow. Operation “Pillar of Cloud” compelled all Arab countries to rally around Hamas, or at least pretend as such. Like Operation “Cast Lead”, Operation “Pillar of Cloud” also took place on the eve of Israeli elections. It was a rerun of the criminal aggression against Gaza four years ago that had left more than 1,400 Palestinians dead, including hundreds of children. Planning of such events close to elections ensure that there is no political level opposition from within Israel.
The most significant casualty of “Pillar of Cloud” was Ahmad Al Ja’abari, the operational commander of the military wing of Hamas, who was assassinated along with his son. Ahmed al-Ja’abari’s assassination, coupled with air strikes on the Gaza Strip has smashed the inhibitors that kept the conflict from conflagration. Some may say that such assassinations are an aim in themselves. However, these have not brought any long term benefits. Israel killed Hizbullah leader Abbas al-Moussawi, and got the vastly more intelligent Hassan Nasrallah. Hamas founder Sheik Ahmad Yassin was replaced by an abler man. Ja’abari’s successor may be less or more capable. It will not make much of a difference. Assassination of the military commander Ja’abari was a well planned event to trigger the reaction. The Gaza Strip is full of missiles. Some of them are able to reach Tel Aviv. Israeli military had long planned a major operation to destroy as many of them as possible from the air. Intelligence outfits had patiently been gathering information about missile locations. This was the main purpose of the “Pillar of Cloud” operation.
Palestinian Authority plans to make another attempt, on November 29, to get the non-state member status, for Palestine, at the UN. It is uncertain whether or not this increase in violence will affect the petition. New circumstances will certainly pose question on whether or not the Palestinian Authority has the power to reignite solidarity amongst Palestinians in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. The division between these two territories has gone much beyond land and politics; it represents a division between the people. The challenge to unite Palestinians has been daunting for the Palestinian Authority.
Egypt aspires to reposition itself in regional politics. It is doing so by aligning itself with the Arab cause. Egyptian President Muhammad Morsi has repeatedly mentioned the Palestinian cause in his public speeches, most specifically during his recent address to the United Nations General Assembly. Egypt is now in a position and mood to redefine itself in Arab and global politics. Turkey has already scaled back its relations with Israel. These realignments will discourage additional Muslims countries from extending recognition to Israel. Cumulatively, it would strengthen the lobbies wishing a durable solution of Palestine conflict. President Morsi played a critical role in brokering the much-needed ceasefire between Hamas and Israel after eight days of shelling that led to the death of 162 Palestinians. He took another major initiative by agreeing to open Egyptian border crossings with Gaza to allow the trade of food and goods to help relieve Israel’s economic and humanitarian siege of the enclave in line with the wide public support at home.
Failure of the UN to resolve the crises came to fore, yet once again. UN chief Ban- Ki-Moon urged all sides to the Gaza conflict to immediately cease their fire, warning at a press conference in Cairo, he said: “All sides must halt fire immediately…Further escalating the situation will put the entire region at risk.” Earlier, the UN Security Council held its session to discuss the issue but hit deadlock on a statement on the Gaza conflict with the United States saying it opposes any action that undermines efforts to reach a ceasefire. But Russia warned that unless an Arab-proposed statement calling for Israel-Hamas hostilities to end was agreed to, it would press for a vote on the full council resolution – setting up a potential veto clash with the United States. Russian ambassador Vitaly Churkin said the Arab proposal, made through Morocco, is “a very good text”. Palestinian envoy to the UN, Riyad Mansour, highlighted the growing frustration of the Palestinian Authority and its allies as the fighting intensified and the council could do nothing. The Security Council cannot “remain on the margin,” he told reporters. He said it was now urgent for the “the Security Council to shoulder its responsibility and stop this aggression against our people.” US ambassador Susan Rice said there had to be an agreed ceasefire between the Israelis and Hamas for any halt in violence to be “meaningful or sustainable.” It is another wake-up call for the UN. It must carry out meaningful structural reforms to remain relevant in the domain of contemporary conflict resolution. The UN should, at least, be able to honour its own resolutions regarding the settlement of Palestinian issue.
Attachment of Pakistani people to the Palestinian cause predates the creation of Pakistan. They feel that Palestinian issue is the outcome of conspiracies hatched to dismember Ottoman Caliphate. France and Britain lured the Arabs to conspire in toppling Ottoman Empire and in return assured that the Arabs would remain safe. On the contrary, they created an epicentre of insecurity for the Middle East in the form of Israel. Arabs had to pay for the injustices meted out to the Jews by the Europeans. In 1937, while addressing Muslim League’s meeting in Lucknow, Quaid-i-Azam had condemned Britain for conspiring to divide Palestine. In 1946, he urged to resist the plans of settling of Jews in Palestine. Palestinians are a leading miserable life. They are living like open air prisoners and have been facing recurring crisis like situation since 1948. When Pakistan’s first Prime Minister visited the US inn 1948, an influential delegation of the Jew community called on him and offered political and economic support for Pakistan in exchange for recognition of Israel. To this Mr Liaquat Ali Khan replied: “Gentlemen! My soul is not for sale.”
Palestinian issue is not likely to be resolved through armed means; however, negotiations may lead to its settlement. Negotiations between the both parties should be equity based. For this purpose, Palestine Authority should be elevated to statehood. Recurring spates of Israeli aggression against Palestinians are condemnable and world powers should take all necessary steps to immediately stop these acts. The UN and other humanitarian agencies should make necessary arrangements for sustained provision of food, medical facilities and other amenities to the besieged people of Gaza.
The real remedy is peace; a comprehensive and sustainable peace with the Palestinian people. Hamas has already pledged that it would respect a peace agreement concluded by the Palestinian Authority that could establish a Palestinian state along the 1967 borders, provided this agreement was confirmed in a Palestinian referendum. The UN needs to pick up the threads, and try to undo its past mistakes.
Current crisis has thrown up three interesting developments: Egypt is emerging as political leader of the Middle East, Hamas is now an independent political actor, and in the long term perspective, Israel is on the losing end in terms of international sympathy.
Writer is Consultant, Policy & Strategic Response, IPRI.