The continuing tragedy of Gaza is that the people most affected by it seem to have the wrong ideas about a solution. Periodic ceasefires are imposed from outside, accepted at best grudgingly by both sides. Both democratic bodies (Hamas is democratically-elected in Gaza) enjoy popular support for their policies from their electorate.
But, from here in London, both sides’ tactics seem bizarre, calculated to achieve nothing but perpetuation of the current misery.
I have more sympathy for Hamas than for Israel, not only because of the one-sided tally of deaths; and I do begin to detect an acknowledgement by Israel that it has badly miscalculated global public opinion. Israel now wants a ceasefire not for its own domestic reasons, but to regain some support from the international public. The Guardian has today run an obnoxious advertisement, paid for by Israel, to try and blame Hamas for the many child deaths. While Hamas rockets have not killed a single Israeli or Gazan child, it is telling that Israel feels the need to place the ad. It is losing the propaganda war.
But the Guardian has also run some excellent balanced pieces by Paul Mason, including this one from a few days ago, in which he concludes that, despite everything, Gaza works. Israeli politicians should read this and try to formulate a different strategy, continuing the logic of the withdrawal that was Ariel Sharon’s last significant act (That he was a war criminal, remembering Sabra and Chatila, does not change the fact that he was also a realist who came at the end of his conscious life to move away from the intransigence of Likud). It will be difficult and hugely expensive, but with the right will, there will be huge international support for it. Besieged Gaza, isolated and impoverished, will always be a source of trouble for Israel. The inevitable logic of continuing to besiege Gaza is that Israeli public opinion will move closer and closer to calling for a final solution, the tragic irony of which cannot be lost on anyone with any sense of history. On the other hand, a prosperous and independent Gaza, relying first on massive aid and subsequently on tourism and financial services, will fire far fewer rockets and foment far less anti-Zionism. An independent Gaza is achievable, even with Israel’s twisted internal politics, because there are none of the intractables of settlements and Jerusalem. This implies a three, not two-state solution as the end-game, reflecting in any case the divisions between Fatah and Hamas and removes one complication from the equation. It wouldn’t be my choice (I think that a single, secular state with citizenship decided by birth not blood or faith is the only long-term solution and is the only way to solve the Jerusalem question), but it ought to be Israel’s short- and medium- term strategy.
There is, of course, one huge problem: Hamas is ideologically committed to the destruction of the Jewish state, and Israel cannot therefore deal with it (and vice-versa). Well, Sinn Fein is ideologically committed to a united Ireland but manages to sit in government in a separate Ulster. It’s not directly comparable, but it shows that with the right turn of phrase and mutual incentives, such intransigent ideological blocks can be overcome. Parties can agree to differ, can acknowledge the other side’s view and disagree with it. Money makes a huge difference, but even so it will cost Israel less in aid than besieging Gaza costs in munitions, and the deal can be done this year. This month, even. Face as well as lives can be saved on all sides if:
– Israel accepts Hamas’ demands to lift the siege of Gaza (so Hamas can claim victory at home);
– Hamas undertakes to disarm (so Netanyahu can claim victory at home);
– Israel offers unlimited reconstruction aid, for which international assistance will be forthcoming;
– Gaza becomes an independent Palestinian city-state, with a secular constitution guaranteed by the international community including Israel and Egypt.
September to sign the agreement in principle and start allowing some movement of goods and people. December to complete the lifting of the siege and disarmament. This time next year to celebrate Gazan independence and to mourn the martyrs on both sides.