By Harriet Fildes
The Journal of Turkish Weekly interviewed Sir Gerald Kaufman, British MP who has spoken out, vehemently against Israeli occupation and aggression in Palestine. Moreover he has advocated extensively and almost unilaterally for dialogue and engagement with Hamas, a “terrorist” party according to all Western governments.
During the interview he discussed his visit to Gaza last year, leading a delegation of 60 parliamentarians from 13 European countries during which they met with Hamas, stating that “whatever we think of Hamas, it is the legally elected government of Gaza and that you cannot make peace in the Middle East if any party is excluded from negotiations.” He further stated that whilst the behaviour of Hamas is “deplorable”, “the key thing which has happened this week is that although Hamas has not been recognised as de jure, the Israeli’s are saying they are willing to lift the blockade.”
“It is a fact of life that if there is going to be peace, Hamas must be involved.”
It would appear that aspects of this sage advice are beginning to be heeded by the British government, as William Hague pursued dialogue with Hamas during the 8 day round of violence, urging them to de-escalate in an attempt to broker a cease-fire and also warning on Sunday that if Israel sends in ground troops, it risks losing both international support and sympathy.
Sir Gerald elaborated on the Israeli government’s motivations for the war, which according to him “are very clear. There’s going to be an election and Netanyahu and his allies wanted to demonstrate that he could be tough and he could stop the rockets. Although 5 Israeli’s were killed compared to 140 Palestinians, the rockets have had an effect in Israel. People are scared. Palestinian’s have been scared for years and years though.”
When asked about the longevity of the current cease-fire he asserted that “they [the Israeli government] think they have a complete right to persecute the Palestinians. Thus, this cease-fire does not mean there will be peace.” Sir Gerald argued that for this to be possible, Israel must recognise the political and strategic realities of the Middle East and form a mutually negotiated settlement.
“Gaza cannot and must not be allowed to remain a prison camp.”
During the 2009 ground invasion, Prime Minister, David Cameron, highlighted the suffering caused by over-population and resource deprivation by stating that “Gaza cannot and must not be allowed to remain a prison camp”, demanding a change in this situation, a result of the Israeli blockade put in place after Hamas’s electoral victory in 2006. In terms of the body count, the recent conflict has led to the death of 160 Palestinians, many of whom were civilians with Unicef has reported this figure to include 22 children, and of 5 Israeli’s with dozens injured. The ensuing humanitarian crisis requires an influx of building material and medical supplies, with all eyes on Gaza and pressure from the international community, the Israeli government has conceded regarding the enforcement of the 6 year long blockade though whether this pledge will turn into reality cannot be known at this point.
“It is completely unprecedented for the Israeli’s to cave in this way.”
Sir Gerald addressed the political outcome of the most recent round of violence, identifying a loss on behalf of Israel due to changes in international opinion and US foreign policy, stating that; “No doubt that despite the terrible loss of life in Gaza caused by these dreadful Israeli attack on children, women and men, Israel has been defeated politically and therefore it has not won militarily. It is completely unprecedented, far before operation Cast Lead, for the Israeli’s to cave in this way. It seems to me that Egypt has played an important role and the Americans have forced them to do this. The fact that Hilary Clinton was there is extremely important and shows a major change in US foreign policy.”
“A huge victory for Hamas…”
Israel needs to seriously reconsider their policy in Gaza given the seemingly serious failures of this operation, and arguably the failure of the 2008-09 operation as well, to fulfil their goals. Not only have bombings and blockades failed to compel the Palestinian public to depose Hamas, they have further entrenched Hamas’s power and legitimacy in Gaza. Hamas is also beginning to gain credibility on the international stage participating in the negotiations and side-lining the Palestinian Authority entirely. Hamas will also be receiving kudos from the multiple militant groups operating in Gaza as the first organisation to reach Tel Aviv and greater Jerusalem with rockets. Sir Gerald argues that “it looks like the appalling blockade will be lifted and although this will not mean peace, it will be a very important development and a huge victory for Hamas.”
For Israel, the military accomplishments were limited. Despite familiar claims of destroying most of Hamas’s governing apparatus, this did not dislodge their leadership in 2009 nor will it now. Hamas is here to stay, a situation that the Israeli’s must realise they cannot alter militarily.
Worryingly, 70% of the Israeli public do not approve of the outcome of the cease-fire negotiations meaning this issue is far from over. It has been argued that Netanyahu began this operation as a pre-election strategy. If this is true then he’s most certainly failed to garner the domestic support he envisioned. Similarly, on an international scale, it has received harsh criticism and unprecedented pressure from the US to back down.
“There is a need for a strategic change in Israel”
When asked about the durability of this cease-fire and the development of a workable peace-process, Sir Gerald replied that “it is very difficult to see what will happen next. A week ago, no one anticipated this. This [the lifting of the blockade] has been a tactical gain for Hamas. There is a need for a strategic change in Israel which allows for a mutually agreed upon outcome. We have to see whether the pressure that the US has placed upon Israel during the cease-fire will promote a viable peace-process.”
“No military solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict”
There remains a belief in Britain that the two-state solution is a viable one yet the only way to reach such a compromise is through demilitarisation and dialogue. As Douglas Alexander, shadow foreign secretary, stated in an interview with the BBC; there is “no military solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict – there needs to be willingness for the violence to end and the talking to begin”. As such, the primary concern of the British government is the ever increasing civilian death toll, a concern that drove David Cameron to request Netanyahu to do “everything possible to bring the conflict to an end.”
“The army is ready and we may need to use it.”
Given the recent fragile cease-fire, brokered by Egypt, it’s possible that such warnings are being listened to, although Netanyahu continues to indicate that a ground invasion has not been ruled out should the cease-fire be broken, stating that “the army is ready and we may need to use it.” This highlights the core issue, that even with a cease-fire in place, the conditions which led to this escalation in violence in the first place have not been addressed in any substantial way meaning a repeat of this conflict is inevitable without a rapid increase in, and transformation of, the international communities efforts to find an enduring solution to the conflict.