Middle East

Op-ed

Palestine: Political Realities in an Explosive Region

This image was taken in Gaza in 2006. And yet the picture hasn't changed. (Photo: Zariah)

"We have the opportunity for a political change, not with Hamas but against Hamas," Tzipi Livni, the Israeli justice minister said on Sunday. "It can come through international agreements that talk about demilitarization and the entrance of Abu Mazen to Gaza," she added, referring to PA leader Mahmoud Abbas.

More commentators are pointing at Hamas as a central cause of the strife bedevilling Palestinians and preventing the two-state resolve. The head of the Governance and Political Violence Program, along with Senior Researchers Marc and Anita Abramowitz at the Lauder School of Government in Herzliya as well as visiting fellows of the Hoover Institution at Stanford University, note that Hamas has proven as implacable as the most radical Salafist armed groups operating in Syria and Iraq. The political power they won via democratic election has evidently not moderated them. Hamas keeps mobilizing their political power for ongoing conflict. Hamas governs to kill, these analysts note.

Egyptians, Saudis, many Palestinians and especially Israel want to see Gaza freed from Hamas' rule. Dr. Oktar Babuna, a prominent Turkish lecturer blames Hamas for the escalating violence of these past weeks. Ashraff El-Agrami, former Minister of Prisoners' Affairs in the PLO, sees Mahmoud Abbas as the one person who can broker a deal with Israel. Abbas, he says, could overcome the support Hamas receives in the West Bank due to Israeli settlement procedures there.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has come to realize there's a big difference between Fatah and Hamas. Barak Ravid of Haaretz says a very real possibility now exists that Israel will support Abbas in Gaza. "The understanding that Abu Mazan is not the problem but part of the solution has begun to gain traction in Israel," Maariv newspaper says.

Still, it isn't simply down to Hamas for Gaza's tragic situation of today. Just how terribly the Palestinians have been treated by Israelis over the years has been widely witnessed by the international community. Israel is repeatedly condemned over it. For decades Israel has done its damndest to increase settlements in the West Bank and rid the Gaza Strip of Palestinians one way or another. Israel seems to have obstructed life in Gaza to such a degree that Gaza could become a wasteland incapable of sustaining any life whatsoever in the not-too-distant future. The United Nations predicts that by 2020 Gaza won't be fit for human habitation.

Take water. The water crisis of Gaza was spelled out in a recent interview between Worldpress.org Senior Editor Joshua Pringle and Ziad Abbas, MECA's program manager for cross-cultural programs. "Between 90 and 95 percent of the water in the Gaza Strip is polluted," Ziad Abbas said, adding that MECA has "built water purification and desalination systems in U.N. schools and kindergartens in Gaza." No doubt many of them have been destroyed by Israel now. Indeed, Israel controls the water in both the West Bank and Gaza, the lack of which is understood to involve the collective punishment of Palestinians. Auspiciously, however, that situation could spell an encroaching disaster for Israel itself. Environmental degradation doesn't stop at borders. Nor does festering animus subside with a ceasefire.

Hamas and ISIS: intent on a global caliphate?

Inflicting degradations on one race of people by another over an extended period of time surely reaps a hefty toll all round. So many degradations suffered by Palestinians have culminated in countless roiling military onslaughts between Israel and Hamas. Consequently a fierce need for revenge and desire for greater and greater weapons has manifested. Israel now apparently has more than 400 nuclear weapons, while Hamas keeps accumulating larger bombs.

Today the affiliation of Hamas and Islamic Jihad underscores a commitment to warfare rather than political progress. This is a potent link engendering a broader affiliation with ISIS in Iraq and Syria. Hamas and Islamic Jihad are singularly obsessed with killing Jews;ISIS is ostensibly concerned with Christians, Jews, Shi'ites and any Sunni who doesn't subscribe to their version of Islam. If this is the case, then the Hamas demand for Israel's destruction could in fact be part of the broader ISIS intent of claiming an Islamic caliphate in the region, if not the entire world.

Both Hamas and ISIS have proclivities for suicide missions and using civilian infrastructure as military sites. Accordingly, their claims for greater territorial dominance could entail unspeakable horrors. Blindly fighting regardless of human life, or the environment, devoid of any consideration of the hatred being instilled in future generations, hardly demands global respect. Moreover, the dangers of WMD are now ever present in the Middle East. Future conflicts involving militants such as ISIS and Hamas could make the region and the world susceptible. Both Hamas and ISIS, not to mention Israel, have all shown a critical dearth of concern for all of the above in areas of their presence.

Tera Dahl, a war correspondent embedded with the Israeli Defense Force, contends that Hamas' goal isn't a two-state solution, but rather one big Islamic state: the Caliphate. "There is no difference between Hamas and Hezbollah, and the Muslim Brotherhood and al Qaeda, and Boko Haram; all are dedicated to the creation of a global Islamic Caliphate." Tera asserts that the writing is now on the wall for all to see of the Hamas and ISIS affiliation and their intent since the ISIS declaration of a formal Islamic state.

Where then does that leave any prospect of a formal declaration of a Palestinian state? Would "Palestine" amount to a caliphate subsidiary? Head of the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency, Lieutenant General Michael Flynn, warned last week, "If Hamas were destroyed and gone, we would probably end up with something much worse." He predicts "something like ISIS" would fill the power vacuum created by Hamas' downfall. It's not an unreasonable assessment given the ISIS advancement in the wake of Saddam Hussein's downfall and Syria's infernal civil war.

Assured security free from violence

There are, however, more positive political scenarios for a post-Hamas Gaza. Netanyahu says he will seek support from PA Leader Mahmoud Abbas as well as the international community for "a new reality" in Gaza.

The Israeli government sees the demilitarization of Gaza as vital for the removal of its military blockade there. They insist any deal disarm Hamas. It's an important first step. The Gaza blockade, after all, is the main stated cause of Hamas' rocket fire into Israel. And after imposing this eight-year military blockade on Gaza, any removal of it by Israel won't happen without major political changes. Just as logical is Israel's desire for a de-militarized Gaza to be governed by the Palestinian Authority (PA). As Rown Callick writes in the Weekend Australian, "If Hamas won't renounce violence, it should be left out of the benefits of statehood." And Hamas has proven incapable of renouncing violence. But the question is, can 1.8 million people under Hamas move forward into a future without a government of militant rule? Who will safeguard their security?

"I know of no state that bombs and demolishes homes on top of the owners' heads," Gazan Umm Wael tells Al Jazeera while sitting among the ruins of her destroyed home. "We will remain patient, no matter what. Israel is shooting itself. … This is enough, enough of this madness." Likewise, twice-displaced Palestinian Jalal Jundia says, "Whether Israel creates a buffer zone, or makes more land 'off-limits,' we will return and live in tents built on the ruins of our homes." Again the onus is on Israel.

Meanwhile, Uval Diskin, former head of Israel's security service Shin Bet, underscores the same sentiments of top military U.S. experts in saying Fatah in the West Bank is the one hope for Palestinians realizing a two-state resolve.  

Iran and Russia

None of which can assure ongoing political stability, security and peace of both Palestinians and Israelis. If weapons continue to flow into the hands of militant groups, there is no realistic hope of future stability. Would a two-state resolve with the Palestinians under the governance of the PA invalidate the military support of Iran and, less directly, Russia to Islamic Jihadists in the Middle East? Would Iran and Russia cease their assistance to militants while the United States continues its vast military aid to Israel?

Speaking in Tehran at the Non-Aligned Movement's Ministerial Committee on Palestine, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani called on members to use their international capacities and strengths to resolve the crisis. He added that Iran is using all available means to "end the oppression of Palestinians." In the same Payvand bulletin it was noted that the Pentagon was allowing a massive stockpile of ammunition for use by the Israeli Defense Forces during the Gaza crisis. This was when the death toll of Palestinians had already neared 1,400 people.

Collective security for both Israelis and Palestinians seems the rational solution. It's pointless, however, without regional and international frameworks of defense industry regulation in place. Yet to date, transparent security arrangements and defense industry regulation in the Middle East have been overwhelmed by Western interventions. Covert intelligence, military training and swamping the region in military apparel—these are all standard procedures by the West in dealing with crises in the Middle East.

Nor do Western sanctions against Iran and Russia seem to prevent arms sales. In fact, according to DS Wright of the FDL News Desk, the U.S. government cannot make economic sanctions against Russia work. "The primary problem lies with Europe, which has little to no interest in cutting off its energy supply from Russia, but another problem is America itself, which has actually increased sales to Russia since sanctions were imposed."

View the Worldpress Desk’s profile for Laurelle Atkinson.

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