At a time when the reelected US President Barack Obama needs to give a fresh start to deadlocked Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, the situation on the ground seems to go out of control as Gaza explodes in the recent days. Who is to blame more in current violence when both Palestine and Israel suffer human losses is less pertinent than the crucial question as to how further escalation in already tense Middle Eastern region can be stemmed before the whole area is dragged into an unavoidable war.
Needless to say that any durable peace in the said region is not possible without any acceptable resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian territorial disputes, which have been on the stage for more than six decades. The region has notoriety of experiencing three wars involving Israel and her Arab neighbors after the birth of the Jewish state in 1948. Although Egypt and Jordan are the only Arab countries that have signed peace treaties with Israel, even the present Muslim Brotherhood-government of Mohamed Morsi is starting to show visible signs of strains in her bilateral relations with Israel. Recall of the Egyptian ambassador from Tel Aviv demonstrates Egypt’s utter displeasure to Israeli reaction to Gaza incident.
Nevertheless, the Egyptian Prime Minister has visited Gaza and has been endeavoring to broker a ceasefire, though a temporary truce to staunch deterioration of the explosive situation. It suggests that the new Egyptian government is trying to be seen as a neighbor that is playing a constructive role in retoring peace in Palestine and Israel.
The latest incidents of rocket attacks from Hamas, the most radicalized faction of the Palestinian groups that does not recognize Israel’s existence and Israel’s disproportionate military response remind that the prospects of peace talks between the Palestinians and the Israelis are disappointingly bleaker. Elliott Abrams of the Council on Foreign Relations has recently explained why Hamas has provoked Israel by launching rocket and missile attacks. He opines that by inviting harsh military counterattack from Israel Hamas wants to signal to the outside world that center of gravity in the Middle East lies in Palestine rather than anywhere else.
In view of this ground reality the advice to the reelected American President, whose first term could not succeed in overcoming the difficulties obstructing the Israeli- Palestinian negotiations, from Robert M. Danin, an expert on Middle East affairs that Barack Obama should pay simultaneous visits to Israel and the Palestine is not without prudence. He believes that by doing so the U.S. President could enhance America’s leverage and enhance his standing, which is quite low among the Israeli people and in the Palestinian territories.
Whether or not Barack Obama’s new team which is in the making will comply with Denin’s counsel is uncertain, however, the UN-approved notion of two state solution for ending the Israeli-Palestinian conflict remains a practical approach to deal with the issue. The Israeli people in general support the notion. It is because living side by side in peace with the Palestinian people will only ensure Israel’s security. This formula of permitting both states with internationally-recognized boundaries has its origin in the historic Oslo Accords of 1993 which was signed in the White House Lawn by the Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat and the Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin with the U.S. leadership playing a pioneering role. The spirit and essence of that agreement embodied in the Oslo Declaration of Principles about two decades ago is that the State of Palestine may coexist alongside the State of Israel.
Some commentators have begun describing the current violence in Gaza as an evidence of the collapse of peace strategies conceived in Oslo process, which had then raised expectations for peace both in the region and outside. Had it not been so the Nobel Committee would not have decided to award 1993 Nobel Peace Prize to two signers of Oslo Accords i.e. Yasser Arafat and Yitzhak Rabin. The former U.S. President Bill Clinton also deserves credit for facilitating the above historic agreement.
In a sharp contrast to the vigorous diplomacy championed by President Clinton to seek peace in the Palestine and Israel, the Obama administration has demonstrably failed to meet expectations and not coincidentally Gaza Strip has exploded twice in 2008-09 and 2012. Having withdrawn its occupying forces from Gaza in 2007, Israel has attacked the Palestinian territory with mightier force this time and unsurprisingly it has for the first time deployed “Iron Drone” the anti-missile defense system, to counter Hamas rocket fire.
The Gaza attacks have invited international condemnation in the shape of a strong critical statement from 120-member Movement of Non-Aligned (NAM) countries, which reads thus “Israel, the occupying power, is, once more, escalating its military campaign against the Palestinian people, particularly in the Gaza Strip”. In the meantime the U.S. government has supported Israel in current turmoil and conforming to this its State Department spokesman, Mark C. Toner, reiterated to reporters the American position that Israel had a right to defend itself from the rocket fire and that “the onus was on Hamas to stop it”.
In one of the most recent editorials of The New York Times it has been rightly commented that for Hamas, the goal is not necessarily a military victory, but a diplomatic one, as it tests its growing alliance with the new Islamist leadership of Egypt and other relationships in the Arab world and beyond. The latest visit to Gaza of the new Egyptian Prime Minister has to be seen against this backdrop. And Nathan Thrall of the International Crisis Group has echoed the same feeling in the changed political environment of the region following Arab Spring of 2011. He has said, as quoted by The New York Times, “When Gaza is under fire, the loudest voices came not from the so-called Axis of Resistance: Iran, Syria and Hezbollah—but from U.S. allies like Egypt and Qatar”.
Therefore, under the present circumstances the wise counsel from Romi G. Khouri, a professor at American University in Beirut requires serious consideration. He has been quoted by The New York Times saying unless the crime of dispossession committed against the Palestinian people in 1947-48 is redressed through a peaceful and just negotiation that satisfies the legitimate rights of both sides, the world will continue to see incidents like Gaza explosions. In view of the elements of truth contained in this statement no option other than working sincerely toward a two-state nation framework seems to be the way out at the moment.