The attempt to resolve the ongoing, albeit highly uneven, exchange of fire between Israel and Gaza has now reached the United Nations Security Council (UNSC). The draft proposal, initially pushed by the United Kingdom, France, and Germany, bears many of the same hallmarks as the most recent Egyptian ceasefire proposal. The United States came late to the game, but at least so far, it appears supportive of the idea. It remains to be seen how this will play out as the proposed resolution nears Security Council consideration.
The goals of the West are clear. One, resolve the current violence. Two, remove the difficult blight of the assault on Gaza, which is a much more powerful motivator for people to join pro-Palestinian protests than the more banal occupation of the West Bank. And three, bring the Gaza Strip back under the control of the Palestinian Authority (PA).
This last goal implies actualizing the unity government that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu saw as a casus belli. The actions he has taken—especially in June with the so-called “Operation Brother’s Keeper,” a massive sweep through the West Bank—were intended to destroy the agreement the PA and Hamas had struck earlier in the year.
The reason for stopping the violence is self-evident. With ongoing talks with Iran on the nuclear issue, and, most especially, the new recognition that the Islamic State is a threat that cannot be ignored, the last thing the EU and US need is ongoing turmoil between Israel and the Palestinians. Indeed, what they really need is the return of the peace process. Peace is not necessary, but the spectacle of diplomacy tends to lower the volume on protests in the West over the plight of the Palestinians.
Why Israel Will Dislike the Resolution
Those points address the first two goals, but the real meat is in the third one. Here we need to consider what the “elements” of the proposed UNSC resolution would say. Ha’aretz reported the following:
- The return of control of the Gaza Strip to the Palestinian Authority.
- Security arrangements to prevent the resumption of hostilities.
- The prohibition of the sale or supply of all weapons and munitions to the Gaza Strip, unless authorized by the PA.
- A commitment to preventing the financing of terrorism.
- The lifting of “economic and humanitarian restrictions” on the Gaza Strip in order to enable the reconstruction, economic rehabilitation and development of the territory.
- The full reopening of all border crossings with the Gaza Strip, “taking into account the 2005 Agreement on Movement and Access.”
- An international mission monitoring and verifying implementation, investigating and reporting violations to both parties and to the Security Council, facilitating the movement of people and goods to and from Gaza and serving as a liaison between the parties.
- Asking the UN Secretary-General to draft a plan to help the PA establish “effective governance” in Gaza.
- Urging UN member states to contribute to Gaza’s reconstruction and help the PA to pay the salaries of civil servants in Gaza and increase the capabilities of its security forces.
- A call for a return to the talks aimed at a two-state solution
The resolution would seem to enable a lifting of the seven-year long blockade of Gaza while addressing Israel’s security concerns, though it’s not at all certain that the Israeli government would agree with that evaluation of the draft’s terms.
At the same time, this resolution would restore the status quo ante of years gone by when the West Bank and Gaza were regarded as a single territorial unit, the building blocks of the state of Palestine. Netanyahu would undoubtedly regard that as a serious setback, and all the more so because it would mean not only that his ambition to destroy the Palestinian unity government had utterly failed, but also that the unified PA would have some degree of international imprimatur. It would, in short, become a fact of life.
But that particular fact is one even the United States wants to actualize. Netanyahu may have a very hard time convincing the US to employ its UNSC veto power on that basis; he may just have to swallow it.
Many in Israel will recognize the sense of it, but they are represented almost entirely by the opposition, including the Labor Party. Netanyahu’s right flank will be up in arms, to an extent that could threaten his ruling coalition. But he will not be able to do much if the UNSC approves this resolution.
A Conundrum for Hamas
For Hamas, the question becomes whether or not they still want to be part of a unified Palestinian government. The pressures that led them into unity still exist, many of them intensified in the wake of the massive destruction Israel has wreaked upon Gaza. And, with the possibility of lifting the blockade, there are new reasons for Hamas to feel pressed to accept such a resolution.
But things have changed a great deal since the unity agreement was signed. The PA, under Mahmoud Abbas, continued its close cooperation with Israel in maintaining security in the West Bank throughout Israel’s massive West Bank operation in June and the bombardment and invasion of Gaza later in the summer. Abbas’ public standing was reduced to almost zero, and Hamas accordingly has reason to distrust his leadership.
Hamas can easily make the case that continued cooperation with Abbas after such collaboration would be yet another betrayal of the Palestinian people. More than that, though, they will be faced with a stark choice: abandon their identity as an armed resistance movement and hope there will be elections in the near future that will give them a secure place in the government; or, defy the will of the United Nations and escalate their struggle against not only Israel, but also the Palestinian Authority. Given the circumstances of recent events, neither of those options can be very palatable for Hamas.
Hamas’ resources and structural ability to govern Gaza have been crippled, and they simply have no means to address Gaza’s current economic and humanitarian devastation. If they refuse to cooperate with a UNSC resolution like this one, which seems to be gaining momentum, they will need to tell the Palestinian people why they are preventing the lifting of the blockade and refusing the sort of political unity that most Palestinians have considered a top priority for years.
Weakening Hamas is undoubtedly a driving force behind this resolution. If implemented, it would effectively de-fang Hamas while rescuing Abbas from political oblivion. After more than two decades of a fruitless “peace process” that only brought more destruction and Israeli settlements to the Palestinians, and Abbas’ cooperation with Israel, which has made him look like the worst kind of collaborator, the West is probably facing its last chance to keep its reliable partner in place.
Like past international peace plans for this region, the resolution is very advantageous for Israel. It omits any notion of investigations, much less charges, over Israel’s actions in Gaza, provides a solid system to ensure Israeli security, and addresses everything the Israelis have publicly said they were seeking from the bombardment of Gaza. It seems likely that, despite the Israeli public’s heavy rightward tilt, much of it would regard this plan as a good deal.
Fortunately, this resolution is also good for the Palestinian people. There are, to be sure, a huge number of pitfalls here, but an end to the territorial split between the West Bank and Gaza and to the split in the Palestinian leadership is an essential ingredient for any progress. Allowing the Gazan economy to start growing again is also imperative. Rebuilding the strip is an urgent necessity, especially since the shortage of water there, which was already a massive threat, has been greatly exacerbated by Israel’s onslaught.
It’s hard to see how those factors could outweigh the best interests of Hamas in the minds of most Palestinians. If this resolution is submitted and ultimately approved, Hamas will have to confront reality and ask whether it is fighting for itself, or for the Palestinian people.