Israel and Gaza – Isn’t it about time for something different?
Albert Einstein famously defined insanity as ‘doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results’. Someone should remind Israel and Gaza of that. An uneasy ceasefire has been delicately attained after eight days of intense rocket fire was exchanged between the two, the cause of which depends of whose interpretation of history most sways you. For Israel, attacks on Israeli citizens to the south of Gaza had been such that an attack against Hamas was needed. For Hamas however, by attacking their leader, Israel was continuing its persecution of those seeking a Palestinian state, the result of which was the release of the proverbial ‘hell’ upon Israel in the form of successive rocket attacks, some of which reached the Israeli metropolis of Tel Aviv that had previously been out of range for such attacks. Shells continued to rain down on both sides, with Gaza citizens bearing much of the brunt of loss of life as Israel was mostly protected by its new Iron Dome missile defence system, the development of which could give Israel a strategic military advantage in the long term.
If the events had a feeling of déjà vu, there’s good reason for that. The confrontation is just one footnote in the bloody history of Israel and Palestine, the solution of which has become the international relations version of the Gordian knot. Indeed, the escalation of violence looked for a time looked like mirroring the events in 2009, which resulted in an Israeli military invasion and the destruction of Gaza lives and infrastructure. Luckily, such a devastating attack did not take place this time, but there is still little to cheer about as bodies continue to pile sky-high, victims of the inability of compromise. To begin to unpick the conflict is a challenging task, never mind finding a solution to the whole mess. Clearly the big picture surrounding the violence is over the issue of Palestine and how it as a sovereign state could exist alongside Israel, the fabled two-state solution which continues to resemble more like the search for the Holy Grail. The vote on Palestine in the United Nations is testament to this. The General Assembly has approved to upgrade the status of Palestine from an observer entity into an official observer state, one below nation status which is the ultimate goal of the Palestinian Liberation Organisation (PLO). On the face of it this may be seen as a positive for Palestine, as integration with the UN gives them more of a legitimate status as a separate entity. However, the rejection of the move by both Israel and the United States, key players if negotiations are to get going again, means the move may be detrimental to future talks on statehood. It is for this reason that the UK defied many European powers and abstained on the vote.
This may feel like a bit of a cop out by Britain in many ways it is. It certainly sends out a symbolically damaging message of its position of a two state solution. But in the governments focus on the renewal of negotiations, they do have a point. Helping move Palestine towards becoming its own state is a positive step, for with that brings an end to violence and peace which is mutually beneficial. But if the move is going to prevent negotiations to take place, its effect will be minimal. The UN could enhance its legal status, but it will only be in negotiations where the real business of statehood will be won or lost. Palestine can say that the UN move is a desperate one borne out of frustration of talks which continue to go nowhere. There’s certainly much truth in that, but they are as much to blame for this as Israel. For while Israel continues to insist that Hamas are a terrorist group and that the PLO does not represent the will of Gaza, Hamas too have hindered negotiations in their refusal to recognise Israel’s right to exist as a state in itself. The PLO has done this since the 1980s, but its Chairman Mahmoud Abbas is no longer welcome in the Hamas controlled strip, highlighting the fractured Palestinian leadership. All of this means there in engrained problems with even getting to the negotiation table, never mind the issues once they get there.
However the reality is that it is the only solution to the end of violence. Making deals on the old two state debate is a hard slog, but there are steps along the way that could be taken now. The recent violence is of course entwined in the ongoing Israel-Palestine saga, but it has also been about Gaza’s access to the rest of the world. Since the 2009 conflict, heavy restrictions have been in place to prevent supplies reaching Gaza for Israel sees this as the way in which Iranian military support has seeped into the country making it capable of continuing the violence. True, weapons have come from overseas, that much is obvious. But for Gaza to function, it cannot have this isolation for the outside world. It needs goods and products to rebuild and to just survive. It is no good Israel just cutting off Palestine, pummelling them into submission will not solve the violence. Indeed, if anything, such moves only have the effect of further angering ordinary people who will provide ripe feeding ground for Hamas. It is for this reason that a deal needs to struck over Gaza cargo. Observation of vessels will have to continue, but more needs to be done to ensure goods reach Gaza. Will it be enough for Gaza? Almost certainly not. But it is baby steps, and those steps are the only antidote to the death and destruction that no one in the end really wants see continuing. Israel may consider such a move crazy, saying that it will only result in more weaponry in the strip. But the fact of the matter is that what is really crazy is to continue down the current path somehow expecting things to get better when the only way this route is taking is towards yet more bloodshed.