Attempts to find a lasting negotiated solution to the conflict in Gaza have been teetering on the brink of collapse in Cairo.
AP reported Monday that Hamas was rejecting an Egyptian proposal, which did not meet all their demands. Interestingly, however, the two other main Palestinian factions represented at the talks have indicated they might accept the proposal.
While Hamas’ foot soldiers and “military” commanders are still on the ground in Gaza, the top leaders are all safely out of reach of Israeli missiles and shells and living a good life on the back of international donations that never made it to the ordinary people!
In fact, the voices of ordinary people are being heard from both sides of the fence around Gaza. In the last few days, reports have appeared of both Gazans and Israelis saying that they are fed up with being shelled every few years! This is despite draconian anti-protest measures traditionally handed out by Hamas (a 20-strong protest within Gaza during the fighting was dismissed by shooting all the protestors).
The Israeli government and IDF are also tired of “mowing the grass” – cutting Hamas down to size only for them to come back again a few years later with even more rockets (just like the weeds in my garden; the more I pluck them out, the more they seem determined to return).
Western leaders too are voicing the opinion that something more final and lasting has to be done to prevent endless repetitions of the three conflicts that have already taken place since the brutal Hamas coup against Fatah in 2007.
For once, the EU has come out strongly against Hamas. A July 22nd statement included the short but significant demand, “All terrorist groups in Gaza must disarm.” Further, on July 25th, the Algemeiner reported, “There is a growing consensus in the United States and around the world that the way to end the Israel-Gaza war is to disarm Hamas.”
A few days later, Israel’s Institute for National Security Studies (INSS) published a jointly authored paper that coined the phrase “Reconstruction for Demilitarisation” in its title. Claiming that “the conditions are ripe for shaping a new strategic reality in the Gaza Strip” the authors’ thesis is that reconstruction in Gaza should be tied to the demilitarisation of the armed terror groups that have run the enclave so brutally.
Everyone is waking up to the realisation that something has to be done about Hamas and its rockets if the poverty-stricken families of Gaza are not to get their homes destroyed yet again and the long-suffering residents of Sderot, Aza et al are not to continue to suffer insufferable rocket attacks.
But what to do, what to do?? A recent cartoon had US Secretary of State John Kerry sitting between Israel’s Prime Minister Netanyahu and a Hamas terrorist holding a placard that said “Kill all Jews”. Kerry is saying to Netanyahu, “Can’t you meet him half way?” This illustrates the seeming impossibility of a long-lasting solution; how can Israel negotiate with an opponent who just wants to wipe her out and is happy to die in the process?
Udi Dekel and Shlomo Brom, the authors of the above-mentioned INSS paper, are correct in that conditions have changed. The major Arab players in the Middle East are determined not to fall to Islamist terror groups and see Hamas as representative of this danger. A stand has to be made against extremist Muslim dogma and Gaza could be the place to take it!
Unthinkable just months ago, Egypt and Saudi Arabia were tacit supporters of Israel’s military actions against Hamas in Operation Protective Edge. Both these heavyweights are against the Muslim Brotherhood, Hamas’ parent organisation. Egypt especially, has good reason to weigh in against Hamas given her recent experience of a Brotherhood president and has also been co-operating with Israel against the threat they both face from loose Islamist groups operating in the Sinai peninsula.
Qatar and Turkey have emerged as supporters of Hamas, but in spite of this the terror group has been weakened militarily by Israel and diplomatically in losing the friendship of other Arab states. Iran is still making supportive noises, but is unable currently to do much about resupplying Hamas with more M75 rockets thanks to Egypt’s closure of almost all smuggling tunnels.
If the international community truly wants to capitalise on the changed realities in this conflict in order to bing about a lasting peace, there are steps they can take, in co-operation with the major Arab states in the local region.
- Turkey and Qatar should be sanctioned for their active support of Hamas, ostracised by other Middle East states and shunned in any negotiations.
- The Egyptian mediators in Cairo, along with the US, EU and Israel should drive a wedge between Hamas and the other Palestinian factions. They should “freeze out” Hamas every time it refuses to accept reasonable solutions and should support Mahmoud Abbas’ PA and any other groups that will work with them in accepting negotiated proposals.
- The aim of such a tactic should be to diminish Hamas’ hold over Gaza politically to the point where the PA becomes the major governing power. If Israel cannot make peace with the PA, we know from the last 20 years that she can at least co-operate with the PA police on security issues. She should do so in order to ease the PA into a governing position in Gaza.
- The PA should be engaged as the prime mover in the reconstruction of the ruins of Gaza, with construction materials and rebuilding contracts channeled through Ramallah and not through the absent top leadership level of Hamas. In this way, the PA will gain credibility in Gaza and can begin to take up the reigns of government.
- Hamas, as has been stated, has been weakened by the present conflict. The voices of dissent beginning to stir in the camps and refuges of Gaza should be aired by the Western media, who have not shown themselves in a good light so far! It should be made clear by all that the future prosperity and peace of Gaza does not lie with Hamas, who must be portrayed as a spent force.
- Lastly, and perhaps most difficult for Israel; progress in demilitarisation should be meet with progress in easing the blockade on dual-purpose materials. If the PA and Israelis can work together on this, who knows what else they might find common ground over at sometime in the future?
If the will is there, it is possible to sideline Hamas to the point where leaders who will actually act on behalf of the people will rise to the top. A skilfully supported PA should be eased into power in Gaza and enabled to do real reconstruction work alongside complete demilitarisation of the terror groups.
Only rapid reconstruction accompanied by parallel decommissioning of arms and rockets will give the downtrodden and impoverished people of Gaza what they most need in order to move forward – hope for the future!