A Lack of Vision

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By Hugo Foster

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‘Hamas and Israel have locked themselves into a logic of progressively increasing violence that – unless broken – will inevitably lead to a wide scale land operation against Gaza.’ Such was the foreboding and probably astute forecast made by a recent report by the American Task Force ('What Lies Ahead for Gaza').

The statement seems obvious in a sense. The exchanges of violence over the years have become so relentless, so tragically predictable, that I sometimes wonder why anybody bothers to report on them. The story is always the same, as is the lesson to be learned. Violence is cyclical, death and destruction breeds more death and destruction. Military measures never work in the long-run because they only exacerbate the root causes of conflict...and so on and so forth. And yet it goes on.

The
question of how to break the cycle is difficult. Resolving intractable
conflict requires patience, courage and vision. Lamentably, these
qualities have been in short supply amongst leaders of both parties to
the conflict. Israeli Prime Minister Olmert’s ruling coalition is
perpetually on the verge of collapse, thanks to failed wars and
corruption investigations coupled with the combustibility for which
Israeli politics is renowned. Appearing soft is a sure way to alienate
large sections of public opinion and strengthen the hand of the Israeli
Right (In the words of one Israeli commentator recently, “The more Israel withdraws and weakens in the eyes of the enemy, the slimmer the chances of peace become”).

The
Palestinians, on the other hand, are now split between Hamas and the
Fatah-dominated Palestinian Authority (PA). Neither faction can move
without the other. PA President Abbas, the chosen partner for peace
negotiations, is unable to halt rocket attacks on Israel from the Gaza
Strip even if he wants to. His credibility, in the eyes of his own
people, is decimated every time Israel flattens a building in Gaza or
expands a settlement in the West Bank. Hamas, on the other hand, is
shunned by just about everyone – it can derail the peace process at any
time it chooses, but it can’t put it back on the track.

In
short, the dynamics of this conflict do not lend themselves towards a
resolution. Leaders on both sides of the equation lack political
capital and find themselves at the mercy of their respective
constituencies. They cannot think beyond the short-term and they can
only react what they see in front of them.

The
only way forward is through a radical change in the status quo, and the
only force that can bring this about is an external one. Unfortunately,
the US’ unconditional support for Israel has simply sustained the
conflict. Its most recent attempt to broker peace has been an
embarrassment – as if a decades-long legacy of bloodshed could simply
be resolved as some kind of parting gift by President Bush.

The
US must re-think its policies towards the conflict. Whether they like
it or not, Israeli and Palestinian futures are bound together. The idea
that Israel’s long-term security needs can be secured at the expense of
the Palestinians’ is a fallacy, and has been shown as such but the
persistence of the conflict, even if the human cost has been greater on
the Palestinian side. Facilitating
peace does not mean abandoning Israel, but rather making support for it
conditional on its ability to take concrete steps towards tackling the
root causes of Palestinian suffering, and meeting Palestinian
aspirations of statehood. 

An
Israeli commentator recently said; ‘Eventually, our enemies will force
us to rise up like a lion and defeat them, and release the name of God
from their impure mouth and murderous hand.’ Similar sentiments are
routinely espoused by Hamas' leaders. Surely though, they'd all be
better off if they didn't have to bother?