Stanley's blog

Israel/Palestine

Some reflections on the ceasefire and the two state solution:

Ceasefire

What is the true situation in the Gaza Strip?

On Saturday, Israel declared a unilateral ceasefire, accepting the Egyptian proposal. Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) were ordered to redeploy within and outside of Gaza “in accordance with security assessments”. IDF forces will respond to any attack against Israeli civilians and IDF soldiers. The operation has not yet ended and IDF forces remain alert and ready for any situation.

Today, further rockets were fired on southern Israel and Israel bombed in retaliation.

But later today, Hamas announced an immediate ceasefire for a week to give Israel time to withdraw its forces from the Gaza Strip. The IDF say a gradual withdrawal has started. Hamas also demands the opening of all the crossings for the entry of humanitarian aid, food and other necessities. The group said the ceasefire would be temporary unless Israel met these long-standing demands

Prime Minister Olmert, when announcing the ceasefire, stated:

Hamas was badly stricken, both in terms of its military capabilities and in the infrastructure of its regime. Its leaders are in hiding. Many of its members have been killed. The factories in which its missiles were manufactured have been destroyed. The smuggling routes, through dozens of tunnels, have been bombed. The Hamas’s capabilities for conveying weapons within the Gaza Strip have been damaged. The scope of missile fire directed at the State of Israel has been reduced. The areas from which most of the missiles were launched are under the control of IDF forces. The estimate of all the security services is that the Hamas’s capabilities have been struck a heavy blow which will harm its ability to rule and its military capabilities for some time.

We do not know how accurate this statement is: the rocket attacks did not stop today. Why did Israel choose to announce a ceasefire yesterday and Hamas today? Both decisions seem to be tactical, in a game – a bloody one – of poker or chess, or both.

The keys to a longer term ceasefire are the withdrawal of the IDF from the Strip; the opening of the crossings and the cessation of arms smuggling (which involves the closure of over 1 000 tunnels.

Heavy international help is needed for this. This is most difficult for Egypt, whose government does not have popular support for its actions in relation to Gaza. The United States signed a memorandum of Understanding with Israel on Friday, to prevent the supply of arms to Hamas and other terrorist organizations.

The agreement extends to working with regional and NATO partners to address the problem of the supply of arms and related materiel and weapons transfers and shipments terrorist organizations generally; enhanced US security and intelligence cooperation; enhanced intelligence fusion with key international and coalition naval forces; and enhancing existing international sanctions and enforcement mechanisms against provision of material support to Hamas and other terrorist organizations.

The UK has offered naval support as well as ground help in stopping arms smuggling into Gaza. France, Germany and Italy have pledged their support.

There seems at last to be real hope – but of a long term ceasefire, not of permanent peace. Why did it require so much killing and destruction for the international community to agree to stop arms smuggling into Gaza?

Two states

My post of 12 January questioned the viability of a two state solution.

The more I think about it, the more I doubt that the two state solution, as at present envisaged, is feasible.

It is not wanted by many Palestinians, non-Palestinian Arabs and Israelis. Jordan could have granted independence to the West Bank and Egypt to Gaza when they controlled the territories from 1948 to 1967. Palestine nationalism is not regarded as in the interests of the leaders of Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Syria. Jordan fought a war against the Palestinians in 1970. Gaza is blockaded by Egypt as well as Israel.

It is hard to envisage the West Bank and Gaza forming part of a unitary state, even given physical access between them. They are hugely different in many respects. Gaza will always be a complete dependency. Thousands of Gazans will surely migrate to the West Bank, creating another set of problems.

Will the Israelis be sure of permanent peace? What would happen if Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Palestine and Syria were ruled by fundamentalist Muslim governments?

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