The Gaza War: Why A Ceasefire Alone Is Not A Solution
For a long time, I refused to have an opinion about the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Deliberately. As having an opinion implies having a solution to end the conflict, it felt pointless. Too complicated and too emotional. But not having an opinion now seems inappropriate and impossible. With the indescribable destruction in Gaza, an increasing number of civilian victims, Israel under constant rocket attack, and competing efforts by Israel and Hamas to direct the narrative of this conflict, there is a need for all moderate voices to speak up. Israel and Hamas should be constantly reminded that the only way to end this conflict is a lasting, political solution – supported by the United States, the European Union, and others in the international community. Opposing the current round of violence is necessary but not sufficient. First, it is a war that harms huge numbers of civilians, primarily in Gaza. By the end of the third week of Israel’s Operation Protective Edge, more than 900 people have been killed, and around 5000 wounded. Meanwhile, there are not enough shelters for the thousands of displaced Palestinians and the vast majority of them cannot leave Gaza. They live under restrictions that make them effectively trapped, unable to seek refugee status across an international border. Secondly, the social and political consequences of this military operation will be felt in both the short and long term. In the short term, it could strengthen support for Hamas. The concept of armed resistance against Israel and notions of revenge resonate with some young Palestinians in Gaza - where the majority of the population are refugees that are living through their third war in five years. In the longer term, it remains to be seen whether Hamas emerges from the latest round of fighting with more or less support. But undoubtedly this conflict will contribute to a Palestinian society seriously affected by a traumatized generation of young people that are currently experiencing their third displacement since 2009. Thirdly, the Israeli government argues that it prefers a political resolution in the long term, and in order to achieve that, the aggression of Hamas against their country must be stopped by force. Israel’s right to defend itself against rocket fire should be recognized and indeed the military confrontation between Israel and Hamas makes sense according to the logic of an armed conflict. Hamas is launching hundreds of rockets against its enemy and Israel is defending its population with the Iron Dome and by destroying Hamas’ military infrastructure. However, this armed conflict should be distinguished from the ‘real’ problem, the underlying political conflict between Israel and Palestine and the obstacles to resolving this, which include the settlements on the West Bank and the lack of interest of Hamas in a two state agreement. A resolution of the conflict by demilitarizing Gaza by force is therefore not a solution. These deeply rooted political issues should be addressed in a diplomatic process. So what is the way forward? Agreeing to a long-term ceasefire is urgent and should be the first priority. Both sides have a responsibility to end the violence as soon as possible. Efforts made by the United States and Egypt to convince Hamas and Israel to agree on this are as yet unsuccessful. However, a ceasefire cannot replace a lasting solution, as in the Egyptian-brokered agreement in 2012. As an Israeli columnist noted, opposition to this war means not only ending the violence, but also finding a different response to predictable situations, so that there won’t be a next time. For Gaza, a return to calm would be a return to the eighth year of blockade. It would be a return to over 50 percent of the population either unemployed or unpaid, a return to no external access to markets, employment, or education and a continuation of living on assistance from the international community. For Israelis, it would be a return to a situation of waiting until Hamas attacks on their country start again. It will just be a matter of time until Hamas rebuilds its military capabilities. The only solution is continuing international efforts to reach a political peace agreement. In order to achieve this, Israel and Palestine will have to create a stable political context in which the ultimate goal of a two-state solution can eventually be achieved. Israel should be ready to end its occupation, step-by-step. It should gradually lift its blockade of Gaza and allow the Palestinians access to the outside world. At the same time, Palestinians should work on building a strong state with stable institutions. This process should have the unambiguous support from the international community. The influence of the religious right in Israeli politics, favoring a hard line against Hamas, and a Palestinian government backed by Hamas, whose founding charter is committed to the destruction of the Israeli state, will not make this an easy process. That is why public opinion and political leaders in Israel, Europe and the United States should continue to defend the concept of a lasting peace and convince the moderate segments of the Israeli and Palestinian population that there is no other way for a safe future. Merely returning to the ‘calm’ before the current crisis is not a solution and would not last. Charlotte Brandsma is a program coordinator for the Mediterranean and Energy & Society program at GMF.
The views expressed in GMF publications and commentary are the views of the author alone.