Since the start of the latest flare-up of violence over Gaza, the talk regionally and internationally has been about trying to arrange a ceasefire, with Egyptian President Mohammed Mursi saying there are “indications” that Hamas and Israel could reach one “soon.”
The problem with simply agreeing to a ceasefire is that it just takes us back to the status quo ante: the blockade of Gaza, which has caused “unacceptable suffering,” according to U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon. The U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs states that the “restrictions imposed on the civilian population,” which numbers some 1.7 million, “amount to collective punishment, a violation of international humanitarian law.”
This is an unacceptable situation to revert to. Despite a limited easing of the blockade since June 2010, Israeli and international NGOs continue to document severe restrictions, and a U.N. investigation concluded that there has been no significant improvement in people’s lives. Indeed, reconstruction of civilian infrastructure devastated by Israel’s last invasion has been all but impossible because the necessary materials are prohibited.
Despite its withdrawal in 2005, under international law Israel remains the occupying power because it controls access into and out of Gaza. As such, under the Geneva Conventions it is responsible for the protection and wellbeing of the very people it is bombarding and impoverishing.
The blockade, approaching its sixth year, is one of the main reasons for rocket fire from Gaza (not to mention Israel’s frequent assaults). While I am against attacks against civilians, regardless of the victim or perpetrator, the sad fact is that these rockets are the only things that bring Gaza’s suffering to the world’s attention.
This morbid dynamic must change, but a ceasefire on its own is only a small, temporary plaster on a wound that will continue to fester unless a long-term solution is reached. What is needed is a total lifting of the blockade, and a mutual pledge between Israel, Hamas and other militant groups to end all attacks from and against Gaza.
This should be accompanied by the deployment of U.N. monitors to verify that all sides are sticking to the agreement, and a demilitarized zone on both sides of the border. Hamas has previously accepted the idea of a long-term truce with Israel, and while Israel claims it will not deal with Hamas, in reality it does so (the release of Palestinian prisoners in exchange for captured soldier Gilad Shalit is just one obvious and recent example).
To ensure this arrangement’s longevity, there should be an international conference which would pledge major investment into Gaza, along with a transparent monitoring mechanism to ensure that money goes exactly where it is intended.
As people prosper, there would be less and less incentive to resort to violence, and dwindling support for those who advocate or carry it out. It would also prove to Israel, as with its withdrawal from Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula, that ending its occupation of Arab lands is in its own interests. In return, Hamas would have to agree to allow free and fair elections so that Gazans can choose their governance.
There are those who believe that such a scenario would solidify the split between the West Bank and Gaza. However, unfortunately this is already a reality with little hope of being rectified anytime soon, and with no more settlements in Gaza, reaching a lasting political solution there may be less complicated than with the vastly colonised West Bank. As such, it would not be fair to let people suffer for the divisions and shortcomings of their leaders.
However, fairness is wishful thinking in this conflict. On Nov. 15, Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported: “Hours before Hamas strongman Ahmed Jabari was assassinated, he received the draft of a permanent truce agreement with Israel, which included mechanisms for maintaining the cease-fire in the case of a flare-up between Israel and the factions in the Gaza Strip,” according to Israeli peace activist Gershon Baskin, who helped mediate the deal to release Shalit.
Baskin said that senior Israeli officials knew about his contacts with Hamas and Egyptian intelligence aimed at formulating the permanent truce, but approved the assassination nonetheless.
As Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu threatens “a significant expansion” of the onslaught against Gaza, and as Israeli politicians fall over themselves to talk and act tough for votes in upcoming elections, the logic of long-term, mutual benefit has been smothered by short-term, short-sighted political gain.
(Sharif Nashashibi is a London-based writer and Arab commentator. @sharifnash)