Prospects for Peace in Palestine

Israel undermined the Palestinian Authority by its frequent sealing off of what remained as cut-up Palestinian enclaves and, recently, their building of the Separation Barrier, dubbed the “Apartheid Wall” by the Palestinians.

Israel Prime Minister Olmert justifies the Gaza invasion by insisting that their main objective was to stop Hamas from firing Qassam rockets into Southern Israel, including what used to be Ashkelon, a once-thriving Palestinian city grabbed by Israel in the 1948 Arab-Israeli War. Israel also aimed to destroy the tunnels allegedly used by Hamas to bring in weapons from its allies, Iran and Syria, passing through Egypt.

While Israel claims to have destroyed 60 per cent of the tunnels, Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni went to Europe immediately after the ceasefire to rally international support for a plan to halt weapons smuggling into Gaza. Livni hoped to clinch a deal in Brussels committing the European Union to contribute forces, ships and technology to anti-smuggling operations. The United States has promised to supply detection and surveillance equipment, as well as logistical help and training to Israel, Egypt and others in the region to closely monitor Gaza’s land and sea borders.

After seven years of firing thousands of Qassam rockets on Israel, only 15 Israelis have actually died and physical damage has been minimal. Why so? These Qassam rockets are around two to seven feet long, with an explosive payload of half to a maximum of 10 kg, utilizing scavenged TNT and urea nitrate, a common fertilizer. In 2006, the Israeli Ministry of Defense viewed the Qassams as “more a psychological than physical threat.” Contrast this with the number of Palestinians dead and injured, the number of homes and buildings, including hospitals and schools, demolished in the 22-day invasion.

Moreover, the Hamas government and Gazans resisting Israeli occupation and armed incursions into the sliver of land that they have been able to hang on to, have little military defense capability compared to the billion-dollar military aid and weaponry provided by the US to Israel. The supposed smuggling of arms through the tunnels pales in comparison to the generous military aid the Israel government receives annually from its prime backer, the sole Superpower in the world.

Buried underneath the loud protestations about the “terrorist” Hamas smuggling in weapons to Gaza is the fact that the tunnels are an economic lifeline to the desperately poor Gazans whose lives are made extremely more difficult by an almost two-year-old Israeli and Egyptian border closure aimed at bringing the Hamas government to heel.

Any serious effort to bring an end to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and pave the way for a sustainable peace must also confront the question of political attitude towards Hamas. Despite its being treated as pariah by the US, EU and parts of the Arab world with its designation as a “terrorist organization” and despite the economic blockade that has starved the Hamas government and the Palestinian people of international aid and assistance, Hamas enjoys full support from the Palestinians in Gaza and significant sympathy, if not backing, from Palestinians in the West Bank and refugees in neighboring Arab countries.

Even Israel is forced to grudgingly admit that it remains “the dominant organization in Gaza.” As a top military official said in a briefing that was given on condition of anonymity, “They are the regime and feel very connected to the people.” (New York Times, 18 Jan 09). Clearly, the Hamas is not the “terrorist” organization it is portrayed to be by Israel, the US and EU to justify barefaced aggression, war crimes and wanton human rights violations and even genocide in their desire to strangle it and deprive the Gazans and Palestinians of leadership.

Hamas official Salah al-Bardawil stated that they were working toward achieving the following short-term goals: an end to Israeli aggression in Gaza; the lifting of the siege on Gaza; the reopening of Gaza’s border crossings; the rehabilitation of the Strip; and compensation for Gaza residents. Surely, the Palestinians’ immediate, urgent demands must be met even as their long-running struggle to return to their homeland and establish their sovereign state there should not be subverted.

What better way to ensure that the Palestinians stop firing rockets into Israel, than for the Gazans and other Palestinians to be allowed to return to Ashkelon and their Palestinian homeland. Business World/Posted by

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