Saturday, January 17, 2009

The day after

Appropriate street art in Florentin

With any luck, the government will declare a unilateral cease-fire this evening and the fighting (or at least the worst of it) will be over. Apparently Israel has enough guarantees, from the Egyptians, the Americans and others to be able to call it a day and declare a victory of sorts. If all goes according to plan, the residents of southern Israel can at last look forward to not being shelled for a while, while on the Egyptian side of the Gaza-Egypt border and even further afield, steps will be put in place to prevent the Hamas from re-arming.

If that indeed happens the Israeli public, which has overwhelmingly supported this war, will be satisfied (for a while) and the politicians can go back to running for the elections (set for Feb 10). Moreover, the prevalent Israeli notion that every once in a while the country has to "go crazy" and show the neighbours that we are just as barbaric as they, will have been validated yet again. Public opinion will move to the right andd despite not leading the country in war, Netanyahu has an excellent chance of becoming the next Prime Minister.

Israeli shells explode near the border. Officers admitted that the operation was "very violent".

But once the dust has settled on the shell-shocked, bloodied and miserable residents of Gaza and the extent of the damage casued by the army's no-holds-barred invasion is exposed for all to see (even in Israel), other consequences will come into play.

One is that (thanks to death and destruction already exposed) Israeli public opinion will be almost completely isolated and with Obama swearing in as Pres on Tuesday, international public opinion will be more bent than ever on finding a "solution" to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. We (and the Palestinians) can hopefully expect lots more pressure - and about time too.

Another, is that Israel did not topple the Hamas leadership. Hence, Hamas, however bruised and battered, will still be in power in Gaza. The surviving population has not gone away either. Operation Cast Lead might stop the rockets for as while but it's not going to stop the problem known as Gaza. If, until now Israel's approach has been to squeeze the Gazans dry in the hope that they will revolt against the Hamas leadership then the war has finally proved this to be a fallacy. Now, more than ever, the people of Gaza will hate Israel (and those, like the Palestinian Authority, perceived as helping Israel) more than they hate the Hamas.

In short, we still need to deal with Gaza and Gaza certainly needs to deal with us. If the armed threat is more or less removed, isn't it time for a radical rethink in which, at least, the civilian population is not held ransom for the sins of its leaders? If we decided not to topple Hamas by military means, there is clearly no way it can be done by economic ones. The war was caused at least partly by this seige and the time has come to stop it. The border crossings should be opened wide to allow the people of Gaza to slowly reconstruct their lives. And that could be the beginning of a new equation : an international ban on arms going into Gaza but international safeguards for ensuring that everything else gets in. Demonizing everyone in Gaza is not the way.

There are some who say that the war has also put an end to a two state solution. Gaza lies in ruins but has survived as an "independent" Hamas entity; the Palestinians are still internally divided; the Arab League is considering withdrawing its peace plan; Abu Mazen has been weakened in Ramallah while in Israel there will be less political will than ever to dismantle settlements. Obama would indeed have be the Obamessiah to turn all this into a more positive scenario.

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