Stanley's blog

The present battle in Gaza could well take us to the point of no return: putting peace on negotiable terms, based on a two state solution, beyond possibility. I still find it incomprehensible that the international community is powerless and can offer nothing more than conflicting rhetoric.

In my post of 3 January I thought that the defining feature of Barack Obama’s foreign policy and transatlantic foreign relations would be the Greater Middle East, and that there needs to be a clear recognition that the root problems are Palestine and Pakistan and that the various regional disputes are interrelated.
Hamas has been regularly sending hundreds of rockets over southern Israel. While very few deaths have resulted, hundreds of thousands of Israelis live in fear. And the rockets are becoming more sophisticated and having a longer range.
Israel has for a long time been blockading Gaza in an unsuccessful effort to strangle Hamas. Heavy Israeli bombing began on 27 December and land forces entered Gaza on 3 January. Reactions from the international community have been muted. Nothing action-oriented has emerged from The UN, US, EU or Arab World: only rhetoric.
60 years after it began, a solution to the Palestine-Israel conflict seems further away than ever. The fact that it is a key to solving a panoply of problems appears to make no difference.

The current US administration has expressed its solid support for Israel; the administration-elect has understandably been silent. However, Gaza adds a new crisis to an agenda already full of challenges, starting with the economy. During his presidential campaign. Obama promised a new, positive approach to the Muslim world. He apparently intends (or intended) to present the new approach in a Muslim capital during his first 100 days in office.

The present crisis is likely to interfere with the President-elects’s plans to change the image of America. There being no new statement from Obama, Israeli Defence Minister, Ehud Barak, during a news briefing on Dec. 29, recalled his comments in July in Sderot, where he implicitly recognized Israel’s right to respond militarily. “If somebody was sending rockets into my house, where my two daughters sleep at night, I’m going to do everything in my power to stop that.”

The French government, in the rotating presidency of the EU until the end of the year, called for an “immediate stop” to the bombing, condemning the “disproportionate” use of force. Sarkozy is now unilaterally visiting the region seeking a cease-fire. The Spanish government has also described the attacks as disproportionate. UK Foreign Secretary David Miliband called for “an immediate halt to all violence” and said that “Israel must abide by its humanitarian obligations”. Italy has supported Israel.

The German government has so far not called for an immediate end to hostilities. German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said yesterday that Israel has a right to defend itself, but should do all it can to avoid civilian casualties. The Czech government, after assuming the EU presidency, stated, “At the moment, from the perspective of the last days, we understand this step as a defensive, not offensive, action.” However, it subsequently apologized and withdrew the remarks.

So much for a single European voice.

The failure of the Arab World to play a constructive role is dismal.

It does not augur well for the new year that everyone seems powerless to bring an end to the tragedy of two peoples, Palestinians and Jews. Whoever wins the Israeli election in February, the direct parties will not be able to negotiate a peace settlement of their own volition.

The only way through is to stop the ‘blame game’ and arguments about rights and wrongs. The only basis for a fair and lasting settlement has long been known, but it will require considerable pressure and support from the international community (western, middle eastern and eastern).

There are significant minorities on both sides who oppose peace on reasonable terms – Hamas supporters who will not accept the state of Israel and Israeli settlers who will not leave the West Bank. Demographic trends do not encourage the Palestinians to negotiate now. All these obstacles must be overcome.

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