West Asian challenge

Print edition : May 29, 2015

Palestinians clear the rubble on April 14 in the Gaza City neighbourhood of Shejaiya, which was heavily targeted during the 50-day war between Israel and Hamas in 2014. Photo: THOMAS COEX/AFP

The collection of essays is a symposium of sorts that takes up the Palestinian issue in all its various facets, particularly in the light of the existing history of peace initiatives and unrestrained violence.

President Barack Obama’s intention is to “solidify the ceasefire, ensure Israel’s security, also ensure that Palestinians in Gaza are able to get the basic necessities they need and that they can see a pathway towards long-term development that will be so critical in order for us to achieve a lasting peace”. Obama’s words are gracious, but the intention is suspicious, evoking poignant memories of cruelty and degradation in Palestine, particularly the Gaza Strip. Obama’s hypocritical yearning for peace and human rights is more of a joke, as argued in Gaza in Crisis, a collection of essays and interviews compiled by Frank Barat, a London-based human rights activist. Barat, with his interviews and dialogue with Noam Chomsky and the renowned Israeli historian Ilan Pappe, in addition to their insightful essays on the West Asian conundrum, has succeeded in creating a symposium of sorts that takes up the Palestinian issue in all its various facets, particularly in the light of the existing history of peace initiatives and unrestrained violence.

Conditions now are no different from that terrible Saturday in 2008 when the pre-planned attack on Gaza, in the words of Chomsky, “included the timing of the assault: shortly before noon, when the children were returning from school and crowds were milling in the streets of densely populated Gaza City. It took only a few minutes to kill over two hundred people and wound seven hundred, an auspicious opening to the mass slaughter of defenceless civilians trapped in a tiny cage with nowhere to flee.” The Gaza Strip has been separated from the West Bank, and reduced to abject destitution, with systemic implementation of an infrastructure overridden with biased privileges and freedom of movement. Pappe writes: “The once pastoral coastal part of southern Palestine became within two decades one of the world’s densest areas of habitation, without any adequate economic infrastructure to support it.”

As pointed out by the Harvard scholar Sara Roy, “The Israeli occupation —now largely forgotten or denied by the international community—has devastated Gaza’s economy and people, especially since 2006…. After Israel’s December 2008 assault, Gaza’s already compromised conditions have become virtually unlivable. Livelihoods, homes, and public infrastructure has been damaged or destroyed on a scale that even the Israel Defence Forces admitted was indefensible.” The people of Gaza have virtually turned into “paupers”. The entire population now depends on humanitarian aid for its basic needs.

Israel’s siege of Gaza, Chomsky maintains, is an act of war, particularly the naval blockade that began on the discovery of natural gas fields in Gaza’s territorial waters. All attempts by the United Nations Security Council and the General Assembly to arrive at a solution have been repealed by what Chomsky calls “American-Israeli rejectionsim”. And yet the world exonerates the Americans and their blatant support of the Israeli fascist right-wing machinery sustained by the complicit encouragement and accommodation from Washington.

There is no doubt that without the authorisation of the United States government and its support of Israel, not a single military attack on Palestine is possible. Israel is a military base and acts in accordance with U.S. foreign policy. Ever since the implementation of the Balfour Declaration issued by the British government in 1917, expressing support for “the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people”, there has disappointingly been no attempt by Israel to assimilate into the larger geographical constituency of West Asia. Armed conflict as well as drive for expansionism has been the centre of its West Asia policy. Since the 1973 intrusion into the Egyptian Sinai, any diplomatic promise to end the gridlock between the two nations has been elusive. With the recent demolition of Gaza, a solution has become all the more protean.

The road ahead is bumpy and tortuous as Israeli leaders decline to withdraw from the occupied areas of Palestine. The militarised milieu of West Asia has elicited a broad call from across the global political spectrum for bringing an end to the growing use of systemic violence and terror against the Palestinians. As is well known, Israel desires primarily to be recognised by the Palestinians as a Jewish state, a precondition that has become a deterrent to any peace negotiations. The world is uncertain of what is to come, the only certainty being the challenge posed to the Palestinian people and the lack of political will and sustained action by international stakeholders. These are revolutionary times and Israel needs to tread softly. The growing discomfort of the Israelis in the post-Arab Spring scenario only increases pressure on them to seek a more peaceful solution and refrain from setting up preconditions which are more confrontational than productive. The recent overture by Washington towards Iran has spurred a new dynamics leading to the increasing isolation of Israel from Egypt, Jordan, Turkey and Saudi Arabia.

If Obama is earnest and committed to nudging West Asia towards peace, he should be forthright in confronting the Israeli leadership. His discreet move away from Israel towards the centre and his hard words to Benjamin Netanyahu augur well for peace in the region. However, under the extreme right-wing regime of Netanyahu, there seems to be no end to the nasty twist to the already forgotten road map. Netanyahu wants to postpone the materialisation of a Palestinian state for another century. He must realise or be made to realise that a conflict-free West Asia is possible if amicable solutions to the problems of refugees, borders and illegal settlements are found. As Judith Butler argues, “If nothing else, a new set of dynamics will be inaugurated through the statehood bid, and they may prove at the present conjuncture to be more important, and more valuable, than any of us can foresee at this time.” The responsibility falls on both Israel and the Palestinian leadership, facilitated with the support of impartial global intervention and vigilance.

For international pressure

A gory retribution is the other alternative before Israel, Hamas and the U.S., who need to step down from their belligerent stance and take cognisance of the seriousness of the situation. Troubled by the question “Why has the conflict lasted so long?”, Barat agrees with Chomsky and Pappe that there is only one way out: an international solution on the lines of what took place in East Timor through the pressure exerted by international opinion. It is clear that the nature of the West Asian problem cannot be changed through war or carnage. Greater force is not the solution; Obama must understand that U.S. foreign policy must water down its monopoly of control as well as its interference in West Asia, compelling the Israeli leadership to recognise the 1967 borders on mutual agreement.

It is for this just cause that in the days to come peace-loving nations of the world will have to persistently voice condemnation of the Obama administration for aiding and backing Israel. A more active role for the European Union and the Arab states that are at peace with Israel along with the dismantling of the Israel-U.S. tie-up by a growing international pressure is the need of the hour.

The solution lies not in diplomatic institutions but in gearing up global public opinion which is already swerving towards holding up for the Palestinian cause. More than anything, getting “rid of ignorance” and refusing to “remain silent” underscore the necessary broader efforts required for a new road map suggested in this book.

Underlining the Palestinian struggle for justice, Edward Said wrote, “Remember the solidarity here and everywhere in Latin America, Africa, Europe, Asia and Australia, and remember also that there is a cause to which many people have committed themselves, difficulties and terrible obstacles notwithstanding. Why? Because it is a just cause, a noble ideal, a moral quest for equality and human rights.”