A Proposed UNSC Ceasefire Plan For Gaza

The attempt to resolve the ongoing, albeit highly uneven, exchange of fire between Israel and Gaza has now reached the United Palestine_election_mapNations 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.

The International Community Must End Israel’s Collective Punishment of the Civilian Population in the Gaza Strip

Richard Falk posted the following declaration of professors and international lawyers and other human rights experts. As a more or Gaza_house_destroyedless legal statement, it’s a bit wordy, but I strongly recommend you read it.

(Falk’s Prefatory Note: Posted here is a Joint Declaration of international law experts from around the world who are listed below as endorsers. I am among the endorsers, and the text was initially drafted by several international law scholars. We welcome additional signatures that can be sent to me in the comments section, with affiliation noted for identification, and names will be periodically added to the text. I view this as an important expression of professional judgment and individual conscience relating to Israeli behavior in Gaza commencing on 8 July that has already taken so many innocent lives and caused such widespread devastation. Please join us and spread the word!)  

The International Community Must End Israel’s Collective Punishment of the Civilian Population in the Gaza Strip
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US Backing Israeli War of Choice In Gaza

An edited version of this article appeared at LobeLogGaza_house_destroyed

The moral high ground is always a tenuous piece of property. It is difficult to obtain and is easily lost. It is seen, however, as crucial because most people, all over the world, cannot accommodate the notion that life is composed of shades of grey; they desperately need to see black and white, good guys and bad guys, heroes and villains, in every situation. Nowhere is this truer than in the Israel-Palestine conflict.

It has become even more important for Israel to fight this rhetorical battle because, while it can always count on mindless support from Washington and from the most radically nationalistic and zealous Zionists around the world, the current escalation and ugliness is going to be very difficult to defend to even mainstream pro-Israel liberals, let alone the rest of the world. The hasbara (propaganda) has been flowing at a rapid pace, even more so than usual, as Israel struggles to maintain the treasured hold on the “moral high ground” that its own actions have increasingly undermined. Continue reading

Israel-Palestine Without A Peace Process

In the past, people have speculated about what Israel and the Occupied Territories would look like if the United States stopped trying to broker the mythical kind of solution that the Oslo process envisioned. Well, now we have an example.

The most radically right-wing government in Israel’s brief history was simply waiting for an opportunity to deliver the most intense and widespread blow to the West Bank. The kidnapping of three young Israelis provided that opportunity and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu seized it with a vengeance. Under the cover of searching for the kidnapped youths, Netanyahu launched a massive operation to cripple Hamas in the West Bank, further humiliate Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, and punish the entire Palestinian population for calling for a halt to the charade of the “peace process” and, worse, moving toward a unified leadership.

On the Palestinian side, the fundamental lack of strategy has become ever more apparent. Ditching the US-brokered process has been, for a very long time, the right move, but sloughing it off in a half-hearted way and without a substitute was unconscionably foolish. That’s especially true when you consider how much time there was to devise an alternative strategy to the US-brokered process over so many years. The result is that the Palestinian unity agreement was imperiled before it was signed by the essential incompatibility of the strategies and ideologies of Fatah and Hamas.

This is being played out on a daily basis now: Abbas appears not only weak, but like a traitor as he cooperates with Netanyahu in this massive operation that has yielded nothing with regard to the three kidnapped Israelis but has resulted in hundreds of arrested Palestinians without cause, disruption of work, school and health services throughout the West Bank, hundreds of injuries and, to date, five deaths. Hamas is fanning the flames of anger while denouncing Abbas for his quisling behavior, but it also offers no alternative, unless one foolhardily believes that yet another intifada is going to soften Israeli stances. The last intifada may have shaken up Israelis, and certainly resulted in numerous deaths and injuries in Israel, but it did no harm to Israel’s stability while killing and harming a great many Palestinians. In fact, it only hardened Israel’s positions and worsened conditions for the Palestinians. This suggests that violence, on top of being deplorable, is a foolish course for the Palestinians.

For his part, Netanyahu is playing this to the hilt. It is far from certain that Hamas, as an organization, is responsible for the kidnapping. Right now, it seems much more likely that this was a small group whose members might also have been members of Hamas, but were not acting in concert with the organization. Netanyahu, however, insists he has “unequivocal” proof that Hamas was responsible. The credibility of that claim erodes with each passing day that Bibi refuses to offer evidence for his claim.

Netanyahu’s brand of politics, like most right-wingers, functions best when the country he runs is either angry, scared, or better yet, both. The current situation creates such an atmosphere. The problem will come when and if the tension in the West Bank boils over. And that problem is going to be one that neither the United States nor much of the rest of the world will be able to ignore. They will have to choose a side.

In looking at where we’re headed right now, we must start by understanding that the US is not removed from these events. While the Obama administration has decided to take a “pause” from this conflict and certainly has other matters like Iraq and the advances of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) to occupy its time, it is still Israel’s benefactor, providing arms and, quite likely, the omnipresent protective veto in the UN Security Council. So, the US is still there, whether it wants to be or not.

It will also be drawn further in if the Palestinian Authority collapses and violence in the West Bank is renewed. This seems very much to be the direction Israel is pressing matters towards. If that is the case, then it also stands to reason that the Israeli government intends to annex some part of the West Bank, using the violence as a pretext. Israel, especially given its budgetary constraints these days, is certainly not prepared to supplant the Palestinian Authority in administering the West Bank. The remainder of the West Bank would be surrounded by “Israel” and would be easily contained. From there, local councils or some such arrangements are probably what is envisioned for the lands Israel decides to leave to the Palestinians.

Netanyahu and his cohorts like Naftali Bennett, Avigdor Lieberman and Moshe Ya’alon are gambling that the violence of a third intifada will be enough to convince key governments — particularly, the US, UK and Germany — to tolerate the annexation. By “tolerate” I mean that they would object and “refuse to recognize” the action, much as they have with East Jerusalem, but would take no other action.

That is a huge gamble. It is far from certain that even the United States would acquiesce to such actions, and less so that Britain and Germany would. Even if they did, there would surely be a great uproar from other countries, in Europe and throughout the Muslim world, as well as from Russia, France and China. Even governments like Egypt and Saudi Arabia, which are largely indifferent to the Palestinians’ plight would be unable to stay silent.

But the gambit has a few things working in Bibi’s favor as well. First, as much as the Israeli de facto annexation of East Jerusalem in 1980 outraged many, the reality of the whole city functioning as an “undivided” capital, however restlessly, has survived for over three decades since then. And that’s Jerusalem, the hottest of hotspots in this conflict. Netanyahu surely reasons that if Jerusalem didn’t start a war, there’s a good chance that annexing the Jordan Valley in a similar manner won’t either.

Moreover, the timing is very good for the annexationists. Not only are all eyes on Iraq with a few still lingering over Ukraine, but the specter of ISIS has renewed the sense of fright that the West feels toward Arabs. These will combine, Bibi surely hopes, to encourage a similar clucking of tongues while doing nothing that has greeted the excesses, both pre- and post-election, of the al-Sisi government in Egypt. Netanyahu’s assessment that he can take an outrageous step and get away with it is thus not without recent precedent. The annexation vision, if that is what Bibi is pursuing, would require years of violence to set the stage for it, or at least many months of intense fighting and bloodshed on both sides (though, as always, the Palestinians will bleed a lot more than Israel).

Abbas, however unwittingly, is helping that process along by working with Israel. Netanyahu is not allowing the Palestinian forces to do much of anything in the current operation, but Abbas is also doing nothing to support his own people. Hamas’ strategy isn’t entirely clear yet, but its obviously trying to capitalize on the Palestinian rage that fuels its support. In Hamas’ view, escalating violence plays into its basic strategy of confrontation rather than collaboration. But the question of whether or not Hamas actually has some endgame vision of how it can make any headway against the might of Israel’s forces, let alone triumph, remains yet to be answered.

So, this is what Israel-Palestine looks like without a sham peace process. Does that mean the sham is preferable? Is it better to have a normalized occupation, with all the banality of its entrenched administration and gradual assimilation of more and more Palestinian land into Israel; or is a possibly long period of bloodshed preferable? Only Israelis and Palestinians can answer that question. That said, the shameful behavior of the US, the international community, the Quartet, the Israeli government, and the Palestinian leadership has left few other options.

Israelis can alter this situation, of course, any time they want by electing a government that wants to make a peace deal. Palestinians can also affect change by developing, organizing and executing a strategy that wins them both attention and increased support in the international arena. At this point, however, both sides seem unwilling and unable to take these paths, which increases the odds of Israel-Palestine spiraling back into extreme violence.

Learning from Syria

It seems the overwhelming opinion, from across the political spectrum and around the globe, is that we must stand aside and let Syria

A US protester in support of the late, lamented Egyptian revolt. (photo courtesy of Sasha Kimel, published under a Creative Commons license)

A US protester in support of the late, lamented Egyptian revolt. (photo courtesy of Sasha Kimel, published under a Creative Commons license)

burn, offering a bit of humanitarian aid but doing nothing else substantive. This arises for a variety of reasons, including the sordid history of outside intervention and a binary bit of thinking where the only options are to support Assad or to support the dominant militias like al-Nusra and ISIL (sometimes referred to as ISIS, the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant/Syria). Personally, I’m not satisfied with any of the options being proposed, but I also recognize why we are so limited and why the international community is stymied.

Rather than simply bemoan the horror, I propose a new idea for how such tragedies might be addressed. If it, or something like it, were even attempted, it would be too late, at this point, for it to help Syria, more than likely. But the world needs some new system, some new entity, that provides a third choice, that addresses both regional and great power interests that are causing the current paralysis. I describe my ideas in Souciant today.