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Lessons from the Gaza war

Aug 05,2014 - Last updated at Aug 05,2014

The Israeli war on Gaza has come to a temporary pause following an Egyptian proposal for a 72-hour truce commencing on Tuesday morning. The difficult task of negotiating a long-term ceasefire has begun in Cairo. It could all collapse at anytime. Following four weeks of a relentless Israeli assault on Gaza, there is now dim hope that a political deal can still be reached to end the bloodbath in the stricken strip. Time is of the essence as the death toll among Palestinians has reached 1,900; the majority of whom are civilians. The humanitarian cost to the residents of Gaza has been enormous with half-a-million displaced, more than 10,000 injured and over 300 children killed.

The UN and its agencies are warning of an imminent humanitarian catastrophe due to the destruction of the infrastructure resulting in an acute shortage of freshwater. The coastal enclave’s only electrical plant has been knocked out and as a result raw sewage now seeps through the streets of Gaza City and other towns and villages. According to various sources the rebuilding of the strip will take many years.

All eyes are now on Cairo where a united Palestinian delegation, representing all groups including Hamas and Islamic Jihad, has submitted a list of demands which the Egyptians have promised to add to their ceasefire proposal. But it is unlikely that Israel would agree to an adjusted initiative. Instead, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his right-wing government are inclined to engage in a unilateral withdrawal from Gaza. They want to avoid any commitments that would allow for the lifting of the seven-year siege and opening border crossings, among other Palestinian demands. Israel wants guarantees that the Palestinian resistance will not fire rockets or dig new tunnels. In fact they are demanding the full demilitarisation of Gaza before lifting the siege, something which the resistance will never accept. The Palestinian side insists that it will not adhere to any cessation of hostilities unless Israel withdraws completely from the strip and commits to its list of demands. The gap between the two sides is too wide to bridge, even by the Egyptian side.

There are many lessons and conclusions to be absorbed in the wake of four weeks of Israel’s bloody onslaught on Gaza, which did not spare UN schools and staff, mosques, hospitals, paramedics and doctors, houses and even cemeteries.  

Here are some of these lessons and conclusions:

Israel is above all international laws and treaties — the UN and its agencies have hinted that Israel may be guilty of committing war crimes in Gaza, and yet, in spite of mounting evidence, the international community has been unable to force Israel to stop its aggression, or make it accountable. While public opinion in many countries is changing in favour of the Palestinians, Western governments are careful not to indict Israel, and most justify its “operation” in Gaza as a legitimate right to defend itself. As a result there are no guarantees that Israel will ever be investigated by the international community on suspicions that it committed war crimes against hapless civilians. No country in the world enjoys such impunity.

The Arab political system is out of order: The Arab League has been dubbed as dysfunctional in the past, but this latest onslaught has proved beyond doubt that this organisation has also become irrelevant. Initial reaction to the war has been dimmed by more than three weeks of silence, underlining deep divisions among its members on what to do and how to react. Following disastrous failures in Syria, the Palestinians have discovered for themselves that they can no longer count on their Arab brethren for help; they are simply on their own!

A political settlement to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict is dead — the two-state solution is one of the early casualties of the latest war on Gaza. Regardless of how this war will end, it is now evident that Netanyahu has no interest whatsoever in pursuing a political solution to reach a historic deal with the Palestinians based on a two-state solution and the Oslo accords. This means that Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas is running out of options. He will be forced to change strategy in the near future as public pressure in the occupied territories grows to dissolve the Palestinian Authority and hand over administration to Israel as an occupying power.

The United States is losing its influence in the region — we have seen US Secretary of State John Kerry change his position on the Gaza war time and time again. He was rebuffed more than once by Netanyahu who has ignored repeated calls from President Barack Obama to end the incursion. Israel has rejected an American initiative, which would have responded to some Palestinian grievances, thus undermining the US role and influence. An end to this war will only be decided by Netanyahu, regardless of mounting Palestinian casualties. 

Gaza will continue to be a problem — it is unlikely that the Israeli offensive will destroy Hamas and other resistance groups. Even if Israel stops the attack, the Gaza challenge will not go away anytime soon. Netanyahu has discovered that going back to the status quo, before July 8, will not ensure Israeli security. He cannot afford to carry out a full-fledged invasion and occupation of Gaza either. In fact, the day after the pause in hostilities will force Gaza’s humanitarian crisis back on the world agenda!

The writer is a journalist and political commentator based in Amman.

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