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TIME FOR A CEASE FIRE
By Dr. Terry Lacey
I asked if I could get to Gaza at the gate to the Gaza Strip. The soldiers said it was a closed military zone. Could I try the coast road reserved for military and settlers? They let me try.
I drove up to the last barrier before the city. There was no traffic, no sound. The sun shimmering brightly on the Mediterranean sea, with Gaza City in the distance.
“Its closed” the soldier said. “You have to go back”. “Tell them I am working on a big EU programme. I have to get in.” He said OK, and went round the back of a military tent. It was hot. There was no shade. The radio crackled.
He came back after five minutes, his Uzi on one shoulder, carrying a tray of orange drinks which he served to the astonished passengers through the car windows. “Matok?” he said “lo matok ?”. “ What’s he saying “asked my friends. “He’s asking if the drinks are ok”. Five more minutes passed. Perhaps we would get lunch. The radio crackled. The barrier was raised.
The peace process cannot work because it excludes the democratically elected leaders of Gaza. There is no peace without Gaza. A way has to be found to raise this barrier.
I remember the first time I flew out of Tel Aviv on El Al after visiting Gaza. I looked out of the window. I did not want people to see how sad I was. This was not about blaming Israelis or Palestinians. How could all of us, the Europeans and Arabs, let Gaza get so bad? This was a political and security disaster waiting to happen. Now it`s much worse.
I remember in the 1990s asking an Israeli in a Tel Aviv seafront restaurant whether the West Bank and Gaza Strip would come to look one day like the civil war in Lebanon. I was assured things would not go that far. But now we see political factions, militias and mini state-lets in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Gaza looks increasingly like a failed state.
The Palestinian Territories fall into six security zones: the Gaza Strip which can be divided North-South; the West Bank which can be divided North of Jerusalem and South of it; the Jordan Valley, and East Jerusalem. What if all of them, divided by long term roadblocks, gradually became enclaves with different security and political set-ups?
How far are we down the road to balkanization and break up instead of the road to the twin state? What happens to Israel if the twin state fails? Eventual majority rule in one state?
In Palestine they have a different way of slicing pizzas. A Palestinian political pizza is sliced horizontally as well as vertically. The post Oslo two tier pre state Palestinian political entity covered the West Bank and Gaza Strip, with a President to lead the nation and Prime Minister to lead the Government. Now the President runs his slice of pizza top down in the West Bank, while the elected Prime Minister runs his slice bottom up from Gaza. How many more slices can you get out of a Palestinian pizza?
Now the West Bank has a Presidentially nominated Government led by Prime Minister Salam Fayyad based on Fatah and independents. The Gaza Strip is still run by its elected Hamas Government led by Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh but was stripped of its authority in the West Bank and shunned by the Israelis, the US and the EU.
President Abbas based in the West Bank, seeks to strengthen Presidential Authority but the Fatah led Government under him was nominated, not elected and does not control the Gaza Strip. Nonetheless he tries to represent the Palestinians. Despite no progress to report from Washington he stresses he is still determined to negotiate.
Exiled Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal based in Syria offers Israel a six months truce and a continued war without it, plus the risk of resumption of war after it, but also talks of a ten year truce. President Carter reports from talks with Meshaal that Hamas offers a return to the 1967 boundaries as the basis for a deal and eventually to live alongside Israel.
Israel says it wants to talk but currently deals only with President Abbas. His Government does not control Gaza. Israel will not talk to Hamas, which rules Gaza. There is no peace without Gaza. Israelis in Southern Israel know this. Rocket attacks on them will continue. The Israel Defence Force will try to stop the rockets. Gaza will remain under siege.
Look at the comparison with the Baidoa Federal Government on its last legs in Somalia. The Somali President won´t talk to terrorists. The Somali Prime Minister tries to talk with the exiled Shariah Courts leadership. The Americans designate as terrorist the hard line group fighting in Mogadishu. They are part of the Shariah Courts militia. So how can the moderate Prime Minister do the only deal that can save the Federal Government and end the fighting in Mogadishu, to bring at least a cease fire, if not a peace agreement ?
Ethiopian tanks try (and fail) to make up for lack of political progress by Somalis and the international community. The Ethiopian Army is bogged down in urban guerilla warfare. Thousands continue to flee from Mogadishu. A million people are displaced by war.
Houdini used to chain himself in a box and drop it under water to show he could escape and not drown. Now we need one political Houdini for Mogadishu and one for Gaza. Unless we get one good one who is prepared to commute.
The lesson is, don’t box yourself in. Think out of the box. In the next phase of global activities against terror we will hopefully not be making the same mistakes. In Iraq and Afghanistan hostile tribesmen and militias are already becoming concerned citizens and allies. Or having that truce that is less than peace, but better than war.
Whilst awaiting Houdini, Somalia has two Governments, an uprising against the Federal Government, a foreign military incursion against the uprising and five enclaves with different clan, political and security problems. There is no political solution. No military solution. The fighting is getting worse. Is this where Gaza and the West Bank are going?
Israelis and Palestinians deserve more than a bitter continuation of the suffering and frustration they already endure. What is happening in Gaza now is explosive beyond our wildest nightmares. Something must be done to stop this.
First a cease fire is imperative if the international community, NGOs and UNRWA are to deal with the humanitarian crisis in the Gaza Strip.
Second as President Carter has indicated there has to be a political dialogue with Hamas, (over 60% of Israelis agree) as well as talks with Syria.
Third, despite the exclusion of Hamas, Annapolis is the only act in town. It is politics that have failed here, not states. But if this fails there may be no Palestinian state.
There are good reasons to raise the barrier against Hamas, make one last try for Annapolis and not wait two years for the next US Administration to gear up to a new foreign and security policy. At least to agree a truce that can hold and produce economic and social results within the Annapolis framework. But that means letting Hamas in.
The good reasons for trying now, despite the recent failed Washington talks, are clear:-
First President George Bush and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice will try to leave a positive legacy and to do so they have to have Gaza. Second the price of leaving the Gaza pressure cooker to explode is too high. Third the Israel-Palestine dispute drags on while the world around it is changing fast.
A new Middle East is emerging including Iran and Syria. There will be a new focus on Kurdish issues to avoid destabilization of Turkey, Syria, Iran and Iraq. The Gulf States go global economically. Financial, judicial and other reforms get under way in Saudi Arabia.
Islamic banking is becoming a modern and successful global financial instrument financing economic and social development for Muslims and non Muslims alike. New Middle East economic co-operation will include Israel and Palestine once there is a deal.
Global issues will increasingly preoccupy Arab, Muslim and Western leaders who need to manage a new world order with a changing balance of economic and political power.
Muslim leaders seek a strategic response to the rise in Islamaphobia especially from anti immigrant groups in Europe. They seek alliances against religious intolerance and racism with their monotheistic cousins, Judaism and Christianity, and with secular liberals.
There is a great change taking place in the Arab and Muslim world. This is a Reformation as important as the earlier Reformation in Europe. Modernization, economic progress and moderation go together, as countries like Jordan and the Gulf States show.
Islamic political parties are moving on from Islamacism to Muslim modernity, tackling economic issues that get votes in democracies and forming ruling coalitions with secular parties. This is happening in Indonesia, Malaysia, Pakistan and Turkey where Muslim moderates are winning democratic majorities. Hamas has to learn the same lessons.
The long term future of Hamas depends on its economic policies and performance. The first step is to get the Hamas cease fire proposal into reality. Arab and Muslim interests and many others will help develop Gaza and the West Bank once the barriers are lifted.
For the sake of Israeli and Palestinian children, and for future regional prosperity, it is time to talk. You do not end wars by talking to your friends. You end wars by talking to your enemies.
Dr. Terry Lacey
Dr. Terry Lacey is a development economist based in Jakarta, Indonesia.