BEIRUT — There is neither symmetry nor equivalence in the capabilities or the suffering of Palestinians and Israelis who have battled each other non-stop since 1947-48. Destruction and death tolls in battles are wildly skewed — over 2000 Palestinians killed to 67 Israelis in this round, over 16,000 Palestinian homes destroyed or damaged to half a dozen minor hits to Israeli structures. Israel enjoys an enormous advantage in military capabilities, ironclad diplomatic protection by the United States, and a totally free hand to keep attacking, arresting, and killing Palestinians at will.
As they continue to fight in the seventh decade of this conflict, Palestinians and Israelis registered a milestone of sorts in the rare symmetry of the attacks against each other last Tuesday. That was a noteworthy and symbolic day when Hamas fired 168 of its rockets and smaller projectiles at targets in Israel, and the Israeli armed forces attacked over 150 targets in Gaza. The almost equal number of attacks by each side against the other was not matched by the impact of those attacks, with Israel’s causing much more damage in Gaza than it suffered at the receiving end of Hamas’ less effective weapons.
This one-day balance sheet of mutual attacks confirms once again that neither side will unilaterally submit to the demands of the other, even under fire, and both will continue attacking each other, despite the proven futility of using military force to achieve political ends. Warriors on both sides thump their breasts in defiance and determination, vowing to fight forever and to kill as needed to protect their people.
The sharp irony is that Hamas’ capacity to maintain a high rate of attacks in the war with Israel coincided with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s statement on Wednesday that Israel had hit Hamas with the hardest blow ever, and would continue attacking Gaza militarily until Israel’s security needs were met (though those security needs were not spelled out). He seemed to ignore that since 1967 Israel has occupied, colonized, sieged and attacked Gaza, and in each of the last three rounds since 2009 inflicting massively greater damage, death and displacement, mainly on hundreds of thousands of Palestinian civilians. With what result? Hamas fired more rockets at Israel in one day this week than it ever was able to do before.
Thoughtful Israelis would profitably ponder at some point why their tough and repeated military policy has resulted only in an ever stronger Palestinian resistance movement that has developed significant local military production capabilities, and the ability to protect its rocket launchers. More threats to attack Gaza even harder by the Israeli prime minister would appear quite silly in the realm of effective security doctrines, and quite amateurish in the realm of effective statesmanship. Hamas also is nearing the point where its steadfast and resistance strategy may prove increasingly less attractive, if it results in the repeated death, injury, displacement and homelessness of Palestinians on a large scale.
Is there a better option that Israelis and Palestinians could explore to end their mutually destructive and clearly ineffective and even counter-productive militarism? Could a political option allow both sides to achieve their legitimate demands, especially the right to live in peace and security? Can diplomacy allow Palestinians and Israelis simultaneously to live without being attacked by the other, but also in freedom to move, trade, fish, build and travel?
On August 15, the European Union (EU) repeated its standing offer to resume the system by which EU personnel inspected the flow of imports and exports through Gaza border crossings, to ensure that no new military equipment reached Gaza. Hamas has also accepted the principle of the Palestinian national unity government playing a major role in managing the border crossings, jointly with Egypt at Rafah. The UN also said it was ready to be more involved in monitoring border facilities and reconstruction in Gaza, so that both sides could live in peace. It is likely that the United States would also be involved in such border crossings management, given that Israel only fully trusts the US in such circumstances.
Such an approach would stand a very good chance of meeting the key demands of both sides for now — lifting the Israeli siege and attacks on Gaza, and ending Palestinian resistance attacks against the Israelis and their siege through a long-term cease-fire or truce. Significant external participation in such a process would also augur well for a renewed diplomatic effort to achieve a permanent, comprehensive peace agreement that resolves the tougher underlying issues. Statesmen and women should grab this opening, rather than leaving the stage for the chest-thumpers and their failed militarism.
Rami G. Khouri is Editor-at-large of The Daily Star, and Director of the Issam Fares Institute for Public Policy and International Affairs at the American University of Beirut, in Beirut, Lebanon. You can follow him @ramikhouri.
Copyright © 2014 Rami G. Khouri—distributed by Agence Global
Released: 23 August 2014
Word Count: 771
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