The recent U.S. Peace Talks were filibustered by Israel who demanded that the PA acknowledge Israel as a ‘Jewish state’ before Israel would submit their proposal of what the borders of the Israeli state should look like. It was an unreasonable demand to make, and the PA was unable to comply.
Israel was keen to make this demand for three principle reasons:
- It is not in the best interests of Israel to be open about their desired borders. The campaign of aggressive settlement expansionism – a type of settler colonialism – betrays the fact that Israel wants more Palestinian land than any previous treaties or agreements have provided them. If Israel were to propose borders that appeared unreasonable it could potentially damn them in the international gaze. There’s a big difference between refusing to define borders at the peace talks while continuing a campaign of settlement colonialism and actually explicitly demanding an unreasonable amount of Palestinian land under Western eyes: one is easier for Western governments to ignore.
- Palestinian recognition of Israel as a Jewish state would concretize the second-class citizenship of Arab-Israelis, destroy the right of return for Palestinians, and destroy any conception of Israel as a democracy of equal citizens. In the early 90s, the PLO recognized the state of Israel and its right to exist. This demand upped the ante. It seeks to re-affirm that any non-Jewish Israeli, particularly Arab-Israelis, are not equal citizens in the Israeli state. It destroys the right of return for Palestinian refugees. It grants Jewish-Israeli immigrants who have never lived on the land a stronger claim to it than Palestinian refugees one generation removed. It grants Jewish-Israeli immigrants a first-class citizenship that it simultaneously denies Palestinians whose families have lived in that area for thousands of years.
- Netanyahu knew that the demand was unreasonable. It would have been clear to the Israeli government that the PA could not possibly accept this. It was a win-win for Israel. If the PA recognized Israel as a ‘Jewish state’ then everything outlined in point two could begin to take effect under international peace talk sponsorship. If the PA refused to comply – which Israel knew they would – then in the gaze of the international community the Palestinians would be cast as stubbornly stunting the peace talks with Israel. It was a clever demand to make. Though it appeared a basic and reasonable request on one level, it was loaded with unacceptable and violent ‘side-effects’. Israel did not want the peace talks to continue to the point where they were required to propose borders. So they made an unreasonable demand of the Palestinians, thinly disguised as an innocent request, that the Palestinians would be forced to refuse. By doing this Israel stalled the peace talks without actually having to stall them. They were able to cast the Palestinians as the ‘bad guys’, the unreasonable, the aggressors – all of which is necessary for Israel to attempt to justify its expansive colonial agenda.
On the 14th July 2014, six days into Operation Protective Edge’s aerial assault of Gaza, and with the Palestinian death toll approaching the 200 mark, there were rumblings of an Egyptian ceasefire in the works that would take effect at 9am on the 15th. The Cairo proposal was accepted by Israel and rejected by Hamas. Spokespeople for Hamas said that they were not consulted about the proposal and that there could be no ceasefire without guarantees of an end to Israeli aggression and an end to the Gaza blockade. At midnight on the 15th, after Hamas had rejected the ceasefire, Netanyahu vowed to expand and intensify his assault on Gaza. The following day Hamas proposed a ten year truce based on ten demands. This was reported in the media, including the Israeli media. Neither Egypt nor Israel responded. The next day, following reports of 13 Hamas militants being spotted entering Israel through a Gaza tunnel, a ground invasion of Gaza was launched.
If Hamas were not consulted about the Egyptian ceasefire it would be impossible for them to accept it. Furthermore, Hamas are historically prone to opposing ceasefires that do not have terms laid out up front and merely promise future negotiations. This is what caused the Hamas / Fatah split around the time of the Oslo Accords: Hamas was unwilling to renounce armed conflict for the promise of future status negotiations. The fact that Hamas, the following day, publically proposed terms for a ten year ceasefire, suggests that they are not opposed to peace and negotiation. This proposed ceasefire and its terms were ignored by Israel and Egypt. Hamas, by their rejection of the Cairo proposal, had cemented its image as ‘the bad guys’ and Netanyahu proceeded to intensify the attack of Gaza.
Sharif Nashashibi, in an article for Aljazeera this morning excellently summed up the position Hamas are in:
Sharif Nashashibi, ‘Israel used ceasefire plan to escalate war’, Aljazeera, 20.07.2014 [http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/opinion/2014/07/israel-ceasefire-escalate-war-2014719173840867406.html] Accessed 20.07.2014
A fundamental difficulty facing Hamas is that Israel feels no need for comprehensive negotiations. The latter has maintained its siege of Gaza without international repercussions, and is being aided and abetted by Egypt. International calls for a ceasefire have largely ignored the underlying issue of the blockade.
In addition, Hamas’ current domestic and regional positions are weak. At home, in Gaza, it has failed to improve the lot of Palestinians or bring them any closer to statehood. It is also openly at odds with the Palestinian Authority despite the reconciliation deal, which now exists in name only. Regionally, it has lost an ally in Morsi, as well as backing from Damascus and Tehran due to its support for the Syrian revolution. It is also viewed unfavourably by certain Gulf states.
As such, it is unlikely to be able to push for better terms from Israel. Neither can Hamas indefinitely sustain an onslaught from a much more powerful enemy. For all the rockets it has fired, and their increased range, the vast majority have been intercepted, and they have only managed to kill one Israeli.
Contrast this with more than 300 Palestinian deaths and almost 2,000 injuries (the vast majority civilians), tens of thousands displaced, more than 15,000 homes partially or totally destroyed, and the water, health, sewage, electricity and education systems in ruins. Such death and destruction will skyrocket now that a ground invasion is under way.
Many Palestinians in Gaza say they refuse to go back to the status quo ante. Such sentiments are understandable given their miserable existence in what is the world’s largest open-air prison. As UNRWA’s Gaza director Robert Turner said: “A return to ‘calm’ is a return to … confinement,” with “no external access to markets, employment, or education – in short, no access to the outside world”.
However, it would be highly risky for Hamas to base its defiance on that of the civilian population – given that the latter are bearing the brunt of Israel’s onslaught – because it would not want to be seen as callous with Palestinian life. Meanwhile, the more iron-fisted Netanyahu’s policies, the more domestic popularity he seems to gain.
Hamas may be counting on increased international condemnation putting a stop to Israel, however, by the time that happens, Gaza Palestinians’ losses – and those of Hamas – may dwarf what they have already endured.
The Palestinian faction is in an unenviable, perhaps impossible, situation, and Israel is taking advantage of this. As if Netanyahu’s actions are not shameful enough, regional positions and circumstances are helping him wage a war whose primary target, despite the rhetoric, is Gaza’s captive civilian population. Unfortunately, it is he who will decide how long this conflict lasts and at what cost to the Palestinian people.
David Cameron has spoken out in ‘staunch support’ of Israel.
This is a Westminster issue. Please write to your local MP asking for clarification on their position on the bombing of Gaza and reminding them that it will factor into who you vote for at the next general election.
Then in September remember that a Westminster government that you did not vote for spoke out in ‘staunch support’ of the massacre happening in Gaza and vote YES.