Gaza: Where To From Here?


Palestinians are slowly emerging from the rubble of their lives in Gaza. Credible stories have come to light of Israeli troops wilfully destroying homes, bulldozing entire blocks and leaving offensive graffiti on walls such as, "We came to annihilate you".

Last weekend Defence Minister Ehud Barak called the IDF the "most moral army in the world". The victims of Israeli aggression may disagree. The President of the French section of Médecins Sans Frontières has written that "it is difficult to recall a comparable slaughter of civilians in so little time."

The state of the long-term stand-off between Israel, Egypt and Hamas remain unclear, though a period of relative calm now appears likely.

Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni told Israeli TV on the weekend that she fully supported the Gaza onslaught and believed that nearly all the goals of the campaign had been met. "The operation in Gaza was very important to me," Livni said. "I supported it and I convinced [others]to go through with it."

But what was really achieved? Hamas remains in control of the strip, its ability to fire rockets is largely intact and the US-backed Fatah is weaker than ever. The Islamists, like Hezbollah after the 2006 Lebanon war, will be instrumental in rebuilding Gaza, despite the opposition of the Western world. Even the Israeli residents near the border with Gaza don’t believe the war achieved very much. It was, wrote Haaretz columnist Gideon Levy, an "utter failure" on all levels. Much of the Western media, locked out of the war zone, seem to agree.

In Israel, only a handful of prominent Israelis are publicly wondering how Jews have become utterly indifferent to Palestinian suffering.

Much of the 3 per cent of Gazan industry still operating after the 18-month Israeli blockade has been destroyed, revealing the true intent of the bombardment: the deliberate impoverishment of an occupied people and their indefinite reliance on international aid.

The Independent‘s Patrick Cockburn visited the West Bank last week and found a strong belief among the Palestinian people that Hamas is now the only resistance party able to stand up to Israel. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has been negotiating with the Americans and Israelis for years and achieved nothing. One leading Fatah leader said that the "era" of Hamas began on 27 December, the first day of Israel’s offensive against Gaza.

A growing number of international legal experts are demanding that Israel pay a price for its indiscriminate attack on Gaza and face trials for war crimes. Richard Falk, the UN’s special rapporteur on human rights in the occupied Palestinian territories, described the sealing of Gaza to ensure nobody could leave, including civilians, as a "distinct, new and sinister war crime".

The Israeli Government has granted legal aid to any IDF troops charged with Gaza war crimes, but the Jewish state can expect an avalanche of suits across the world.

"As far as the international arena is concerned, Israel is entering what is probably its darkest era," a Jerusalem source told Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper. "The Palestinians and their friends will try to make Israel look like a leper, like China looked after the Tiananmen Square massacre (of 1989), or like Serbia did under (former president Slobodan) Milosevic."

A recent headline in Haaretz was startling in its honesty: "How IDF legal experts legitimised strikes involving Gaza civilians". The head of Human Rights Watch, Ken Roth, was scathing in his assessment of Israel’s war, arguing that the Jewish state seemed determined "to make Gazans suffer for the presence of Hamas — a prohibited purpose for using military force."

Aside from prima facie evidence that war crimes were committed (including the Hamas firing of rockets into Israel), Israel finds itself isolated like never before. Pro-Israel British politicians can see the writing on the wall, exasperated that there is a "frenzy of hostility" towards Israel. Western ambassadors are warning that Israel’s image has been irrevocably harmed after the murder of hundreds of children during the conflict. Even last weekend’s American 60 Minutes feature on the Israel/Palestine issue harshly condemned the illegal occupation and highlighted the impossibility of a two-state solution.

The way forward is clear. Hamas must be engaged immediately (its leader Khalid Mashaal said last week that his group could not be ignored and had "gained legitimacy through struggle"). The Middle East schism has widened, with the US-backed "moderates" on one side — Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia — and the so-called resistance groups on the other — Iran, Syria, Hamas and Hezbollah. Even one of the "moderates", Saudi Prince Turki, a former ambassador to the US, wrote last week that unless Israel and the US radically changed their relationship with the Palestinians, a "jihad" against the Jewish state would be launched.

Instead, the candidates in Israel’s upcoming election, on 10 February, have excelled at ignoring these realities. All of the main candidates view the Palestinians in an equally demeaning way, with the likely next prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, telling Tony Blair last weekend, "I will have to meet the needs of natural growth in the population. I will not be able to choke the settlements". Netanyahu would prefer to impress the Wall Street Journal by beating his chest about "terrorists" in Iran, Gaza and Lebanon.

The role of the Obama Administration is central to all these negotiations but the initial signs are far from encouraging. Although the appointment of George Mitchell as a Middle East envoy has upset some elements in the US Zionist lobby (who feel that he has been too "even-handed" towards the major parties in the past), the early statements by Obama, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Mitchell himself suggest a business-as-usual approach.

Talking peace is a fine thing, but a Palestinian state is a pipe-dream until Israel’s occupation is addressed. As Haaretz journalist Amira Hass wrote during the war, history did not begin with the Qassam rockets launched against Israel.

If President Obama is really serious about resolving the conflict, as opposed to merely talking about it, like virtually every president over the last 60 years, new directions are needed. The Bush doctrine of excluding "extremists" must be reversed. It hasn’t only failed it has emboldened more radical elements in the region. The pragmatic side of Hamas — exemplified by their acceptance of a two-state solution and displayed consistently by various media outlets — must be embraced. Without this, Palestinian disunity — which has been a key aim of Israeli and American policy, but brought disastrous results — will continue.

The Jewish state has chosen a path that guarantees opposition. The boycott, divestment and sanctions campaign has been strengthened by the Gaza war. For example, Oxford City Council has endorsed boycotting Israeli products and companies and many students and lecturers in Montreal have launched a campaign to begin an academic boycott of Israel.

This tide is set to strengthen worldwide.

Launched in 2004, New Matilda is one of Australia's oldest online independent publications. It's focus is on investigative journalism and analysis, with occasional smart arsery thrown in for reasons of sanity. New Matilda is owned and edited by Walkley Award and Human Rights Award winning journalist Chris Graham.