I lived in Gaza until I finished high school. At my time there was no Hamas and no rockets but like most Gazans our lives were controlled by the Israeli military occupation authority. If I needed to go abroad to pursue higher education, I had to apply for a permit to leave and one to return home. When my ailing father needed medical treatment he needed to do the same, a system similar to the one that prevailed in the former soviet blocks. The only Israelis we would meet were soldiers with M16’s, and Uzi submachine guns. It wasn’t until much later that I met with Israel peace camp volunteers who would come to my university in the West Bank to show solidarity with the Palestinians.
My long journey as a reporter took me across the world; Europe, Africa, South Asia and now the USA where I report for MBC Television as their chief correspondent. In the process, I met many more Israelis who shared my belief and saw that the peaceful future of Israel can only be guaranteed by a just solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict; the establishment of a Palestinian state in West Bank and Gaza with East Jerusalem as the capital.
The latest crisis in Gaza has put things into sharp focus. I have relatives and friends who still live there and were at the mercy of Israeli warplanes. They are ordinary citizens with no sympathy to Hamas, trapped in the one of the most densely populated areas on earth, who continually see their hopes crashed; their future unknown. I also have Israeli friends who live in Tel Aviv and were at the receiving end of Hamas’s rockets. With the cease-fire both Hamas and Israel managed to buy time until the next crisis erupts.
I have always advocated for a secular democratic Palestinian state where human rights are respected, free media and an independent judiciary system are the norm and not the exception, where minorities are treated with equal rights. This future state should serve as a model to many Arab countries; after all, we waited almost 60 years, so might as well have it close to perfect. Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King should be our icons; violence and military solutions to a political conflict can never achieve the full aspiration of the Palestinian people.
If President Obama thought that this conflict can be managed by ignoring it, the latest event is Gaza should serve as a wake-up call. Anyone can tell that the Middle East is always capable of going from bad to worst. Keeping the status quo is not a good strategy.
The biggest loser out of this situation is the Palestinian Authority and President Abbas. He has pursued a non-violent path but in return has seen Israeli settlements expanding in the West Bank and the dream of getting closer to the establishment of a Palestinian state slipping away.
Now he has gone to the U.N. to upgrade the status of Palestine to an observant state. The U.S. adamantly opposed. What message will this send? It is simple, if you fire rockets we can reach a settlement with you, and open few border crossings and ease the blockade, Hamas got in eight days when Abbas couldn’t achieve in eight years. President Obama can’t afford to not have another attempt at solving this conflict, it has gone for so long, it has claimed so many innocent lives and it’s vital for the security of Israel and to the interests of the United States in the region.
Religious parties become political when the circumstances allow them to do so, which leads to support out of despair. I went back to Gaza to work as a young reporter for the French News agency, AFP, during the first Intifada, in December 1987, I saw the birth of Hamas then, the Israeli calculation at the time was if the PLO can be weakened by another force, then divide and rule will serve the Israeli interest. How wrong they were. When you have the genie out, it’s hard to put it back in the bottle.
U.S. leadership and involvement is more needed now than ever. Mr. President, appoint a new envoy and start again. As your last envoy said regarding Northern Ireland, “we had about 700 days of failure and one day of success.” This is as worthy of a cause.
Nadia Bilbassy-Charters is a Chief Correspondent in Washington DC for Al Arabiya TV and MBC TV. She reports on U.S. foreign policy vis-à-vis the Arab world.