Tuesday, August 05, 2014

GUEST POST What the US can do to end the Gaza conflict

Daphne Holmes calls for the carrot and the stick to be employed with Israel

Ever since the formation of Israel as a nation, the collective attitude of the United States has been to unfailingly - and sometimes blindly - support that nation in its quest for sovereignty and security. According to the Foreign Policy Journal, between the years 1948 and 2009, the United Nations issued 79 resolutions against Israel, condemning it actions against its fellow countries in the region. During that same period, the United States has, in its position as a member of the UN Security Council, vetoed a total of 46 of those resolutions.

Israel has little incentive to change its tactics
In the few cases in which the US agreed to the resolutions, there was significant public pressure not to sanction Israel, even in cases where the country’s actions would have been condemned, had they been committed by another country not as closely allied to the US. It would seem therefore that it is not in the collective will of the United States to hold Israel duly accountable for its actions.

Admittedly, Israel has acted in ways that might arguably be justified by its need to defend itself against historically sworn enemies. Granted, some of those enemies have publicly stated their desire to wipe Israel off the map. That said, at what point is the escalation of the killing of civilians an acceptable response to the killing of one’s fellow countrymen, some of whom were also civilians?

The truth is, there probably isn't much that anyone, including the US, can do to actually end a conflict that is based in millennia of tribal hatred and near-constant battles. Even if there was an ultimate solution, it is questionable whether the American public would get behind it if it required any significant compromise on the part if the Israelis.

In a measured response to an imperfect world, significant progress would likely be possible if other nations’ leaders - including the US - could adopt the same wisdom embraced by good parents, and refrain from getting involved in their children’s skirmishes. Such involvement inevitably causes the skirmish to escalate, which is exactly what has happened for many years in the Middle East. Were an agreement to be brokered between Israel’s allies and Palestine’s allies, a common commitment not to provide materiel, financial, or intelligence support to either nation for use in its defense or other military exercises, it is quite possible that both sides would be forced to come to some level of accord, with each recognising that they are incapable of sustaining military exercises without the backing of wealthy and powerful allies.

This is but another situation in which 'if' is a powerful word, since neither country nor their allies are willing to turn aside from a long-laid path, especially when there are significant resources in the region that have been and continue to be exploited by all parties.

A modest proposal
With these obstacles firmly in mind, there is something that the United States can do to at least diminish the intensity of the conflict, and reduce the number of casualties that both sides suffer. Perhaps the most important effort to get the ball rolling is already occurring in the United States. First of all, Americans are growing increasingly outraged by recent reports of Israel’s disproportionate responses to Hamas aggression, such as the Israeli bombing of a school and even a US mission location, both of which resulted in significant civilian casualties. Add to that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s recent public statement in an interview with CNN’s Wolf Blitzer, where he stated, "They [Hamas] use telegenically dead Palestinians for their cause. They want the more dead the better." The derisive allusion to the Palestinian people as being "telegenically dead" has offended all but the most racist of Americans.

One result of such atrocities and public relations gaffes is to instill a degree of compassion for the Palestinians, causing more people to empathise with their plight as dwellers of what is actually an occupied compound that routinely comes under attack. That compassion eventually begins to soften Americans’ perception of the Palestinians as being terrorists, and the resulting pressure to reduce or end support for Israel is growing, slowly, but measurably.

Despite the apparently changing trend in public opinion in the US, the Americans’ efforts to help broker a real end to hostilities must still be handled carefully, lest that trend be reversed. For that reason, the efforts should likely be largely unheralded in the press. Ideally, the US, along with its allies and those who are supportive of the Palestinians, would consent to a gentlemen’s agreement to present both Israel and the Palestinian government with an ultimatum. First of all, Palestine must disavow the actions of the terrorist group Hamas, and cease any alignment with Hamas in their official actions. Israel, on the other hand, must allow Palestine its sovereignty, and end its role as occupier in Palestine.

The carrot in these demands is an offer of significant relief aid, as well as the offer of an international peacekeeping force to ensure adherence to the stipulations of the offer. The stick would be the termination of any form of materiel support previously given to both sides, essentially acting as the parent who refuses involvement in a child’s argument. The bigger stick would be the termination of any aid to either country, neither of which could function effectively without external financial support. The ultimate incentive would be the threat to impose martial law, enforced by a multinational force that would in practice become occupiers of both countries.

The challenges
Perhaps the most difficult part of this program would be the need to implement it with as little public knowledge as possible, particularly in the countries who would attempt to broker the deal. Too much transparency would result in a hardening of public opinion in all the brokers’ home countries. In the US in particular, such a plan would either have to be approved by a Congress that has proved to be unwilling to sign on to anything the current administration proposes, or handled via executive action, which would face public pronouncements of outrage, as well as legal challenges, from the Republicans.

With the US midterm elections coming up in a few months, and a presidential election scheduled to take place in 2016, virtually any effort to broker a lasting peace between the two countries would find itself rapidly reduced to a political sparring match, which would cripple the effectiveness of any effort. And in a country that has been arguing for several years about the excess use of executive power, and has grown weary after a decade spent in multiple wars, even a whisper about such a venture would turn immediately into a contentious roar.

Due to all the factors noted above, it might be suggested that the best thing that the US can do to end the Gaza crisis would be to offer up a collective prayer for its final resolution. And in fact, if the US is to successfully implement any plan to end the hostilities, the plan’s success might well hinge upon the country’s ability to convince its citizens that prayer is all the country is offering.

Daphne Holmes is a writer from ArrestRecords.com and you can contact her by email.

1 comment:

Phil Beesley said...

Thanks, Daphne, for sharing your thoughts. When I pick up on a few points, please do not take it as a personal attack or that I am entirely one sided -- I believe that peace can only be achieved in a two state solution.

Gaza is not an 'occupied compound'. Except when Israeli forces invade, one force, Hamas, runs Gaza. When UN and EU agencies provide aid in Gaza, they pass through borders controlled by Israel and Egypt; how they operate in Gaza is determined by their own ethics and by the rules of Hamas.

Gaza comprises 139 square miles which makes it densely populated but not a compound. Population density is similar to metropolitan Tokyo.

Daphne writes: "First of all, Palestine must disavow the actions of the terrorist group Hamas, and cease any alignment with Hamas in their official actions."

Hamas and PLO 'aligned' politically a few years ago, except that PLO realises that random acts of terrorism are counterproductive. Those of a certain age remember PLO as a secular organisation, and we'd expect them to act accordingly today. As in Northern Ireland, everybody has to swallow some pride to shake hands. Hamas, and ideally their backers, have to be part of the solution.

What worked in Northern Ireland was quiet diplomacy -- via pastors, fathers, coppers, spooks, 'community leaders', neighbours, politicians at all levels. It was assisted by some pudding stirring of US politicians who have made careers from their conflict resolution skills. Funnily enough we didn't see much of those US conflict resolvers during the Balkan wars...

"The ultimate incentive would be the threat to impose martial law, enforced by a multinational force that would in practice become occupiers of both countries."

I don't think it would be like Operation Palliser in Sierra Leone. Don't consider it.