BEIRUT — The terrible situation in Gaza focuses today on whether or not the parties can agree on a humanitarian cease-fire that would also trigger negotiations on deeper contested issues in order to try and resolve the underlying conflict between Israelis and Palestinians. This conflict has some common elements with the chaotic situations in Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Libya and other Arab lands.
Anyone trying to analyze these many conflicts in our region must separate the short-term reactions that drive some people from the more long-term and structural processes normally associated with state-building. So I would place the spread of the “Islamic state” and other hardline Salafist-takfiri movements in Syria-Iraq in the category of short-term, transient movements that were born from the chaos of recent years only; they will not endure, because they lack deeper anchorage in the societies of these countries.
The battles for Kurdish and Palestinian statehood, on the other hand, or the tensions among different regions of Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Libya and Sudan are more deeply anchored in movements for national rights, autonomy or self-determination that have long been suppressed by the modern Arab or Israeli security state. The process of sorting out such conflicting demands between the central state and the various identities of its citizens often takes many decades, some serious constitutional litigation where available, and a brief or prolonged civil war. The common denominator among all such situations is that wars end and stable statehood takes off only when all the citizens feel that their interests are taken into account in the management of statehood.
The Palestinian-Israeli conflict has experienced recurring and increasingly vicious bouts of violence because the rights and interests of the Palestinians have consistently been neglected in favor of the rights of Israelis to their own secure state. This lopsided situation that favors Zionist over Palestinian Arab interests has been consistently supported by the major Western powers, including this week in the American ceasefire proposal that reflects Israeli aims much more than it meets Palestinian demands.
As long as this situation persists, it will be impossible to secure a credible short-term ceasefire or to start addressing the deeper underlying issues that define the century-old conflict between Zionism and Arabism. Resolving this conflict requires first of all framing its core elements correctly, which repeated American mediators — whether cloaked Zionists or simply well-meaning amateurs — have never done.
Any serious attempt to end this round of fighting and seek to ensure that it is never repeated must start by grasping the three elements of the conflict that matter to both sides, with equal magnitude — not with the John Kerry approach that frames a ceasefire through the lens of Israeli wishes to remain in Gaza during a ceasefire to destroy the tunnels and other resistance elements that Hamas and allied Palestinians have used to fight back against Zionism’s denial of their rights.
The three fundamental elements that must be dealt with in this case include: 1) stopping the fighting and allowing both sides to go about their daily lives without the threat of being attacked or militarily occupied; 2) implementing the measures agreed in the last cease-fire agreement in 2012 that removed the physical and political siege that Israel, Egypt, the United States and others had imposed on Hamas and Gaza; 3) grappling seriously with a permanent Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiation that addresses ending the condition of Palestinian refugeehood as fiercely as it addresses the Israeli demand for Arab recognition and security. This means going back to the events of 1947-48, when the conflict took its present shape of Israeli statehood and Palestinian refugeehood.
This kind of approach that honestly acknowledges the critical issues for both sides is so tough that it has never been attempted seriously. It was the key to successful breakthroughs for peace in other instances of profound nationalist battles, such as in Northern Ireland and South Africa that mirror the identity and rights battles we witness all around the Middle East today.
The Palestinian resistance groups fighting from Gaza, and the thousands of Palestinians demonstrating in the West Bank, are the direct descendants of Palestinians who were made homeless and stateless due to the birth of Israel in 1947-48. Grasping and resolving these root issues is very hard to do for Zionists and Israelis, who refuse to acknowledge their major role in the refugeehood of the Palestinians, along with ignoring that no peace will come to anyone unless the 1947-48 root causes of conflict are resolved equitably.
If Israelis do not see this in the eyes, tunnels, rockets and charred bodies of dead Palestinian infants, and continue with the United States to insist on prioritizing Israeli security over a more balanced approach to ensuring the dual rights for both peoples, then these savage rounds of violence will persist for years. That would be adding stupidity to savagery.
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: 26 July 2014
Word Count: 798
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