DATELINE LONDON November 24, 2012
As this is written in London, the cease-fire between Gaza and Israel is still holding after a couple of days, but it remains a fragile truce. There is the hope that perhaps it might lead towards a larger peace agreement and negotiations and finally toward a final settlement. The bloodshed that took place was without any reason and the cost to all was considerable.
Yet the alternative scenario which some believe is still possible is for a further breakdown and more escalated conflict with the possibility of a land invasion of the Gaza Strip by Israel. This could again lead to disaster for all including the future security of Israel itself as it becomes more and more isolated by its disproportionate reaction.
Further, the new Egyptian government that helped to mediate the cease-fire might be forced to be a negative power rather than a moderating one. There could likely be even greater unfortunate consequences for the region that is already on the brink of chaos.
Hamas, despite staging demonstrations in the Gaza street after the cease-fire saying that they “won,” paid a terrible price of over 100 of its citizens dying, widespread destruction of its infrastructure, and disruption of its commerce. Worse may come unless Hamas, Mahmoud Abbas and his Palestinian Authority, and Israel all recognize that they are all at the tip of an abyss from which they will not likely return to security or a decent future for their citizens.
Some here are suggesting that one reason behind Israel’s action is the coming Israel election for which Netanyahu wants to show his “toughness.” There are even suggestions that he wants to use his military force if it is violated or the negotiations become a press for requirements to permit Gaza to have more outside access from beyond its borders that are now severely restricted by Israel. The question of the clandestine shipment of rockets into Gaza via tunnels on the Egyptian border is understandably a braking point for any agreement on the Israeli side.
There has also been added speculation here in London about the ultimate strategy of Netanyahu of whether his aim is to both punish Hamas and weaken Abbas and drive the Palestinians from the West Bank and even Gaza, and above all, dismantle the idea of a “two state” deal. Otherwise why would he not go into negotiations with a firm long-term cease-fire in place?
Prime Minister Netanyahu seems, in my opinion, to ignore the larger tragically changing Middle East strategic landscape. The proof of this reality in the current conflict is the many short range and medium range missiles which have been reaching almost to Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. But beyond that is the total impact of the Arab Spring that presented Israel both with new opportunities for peace and possible new challenges to its long-term security.
The decision will need to be made by Israel to make concessions, especially on settlements, and for the Palestinians to make concessions on recognition, for both on division of Jerusalem, and for joint security guarantees. Here, the US, the EU, and Egypt and some Arab states can play a constructive part.
President Obama has dispatched Secretary Clinton to the Middle East and there is some hope with the help of Egypt and some EU countries like the UK which also have its Foreign Secretary visiting the region. The question all are asking is whether this tragic conflict might lead towards a greater understanding that the next step forward is to initiate a process that leads towards a long-term peaceful solution of the outstanding key issues.