Sunday, January 11, 2009

What we need from a cease-fire

A tenable and successful cease-fire between Israel and Hamas must be based on the premise that both parties do not want to return to the stalemated situation which left many dead, with little accomplished, and at the same time must be put into the context of moving forward with a final agreement to solve the Israeli/Palestinian conflict.

For this to happen, a cease-fire agreement should be based on the same terms as the last cease-fire agreement with one caveat; this time it should be enforced.

During the cease-fire agreement, which called for an end to rocket fire by Hamas and an end to blockade by Israel, rocket fire dropped drastically however the Israel blockade continued. To be fair, rocket fire did not stop completely but dropped 95% during the cease-fire. The blockade however was not eased proportionally.

For Gaza’s largely refugee and impoverished population to survive, approximately 625 truckloads of food are needed. On the best days during the cease-fire, Israel permitted only 125. This part of the story, which the American media has failed to relay, indicates that Hamas was willing to comply for the majority of the cease-fire despite Israeli noncompliance.The numbers in the

illuminating chart on the left are based on Israeli Statistics. The numbers on trucks needed to meet basic food requirements are from the UN.

An end to this most recent part of the conflict will require an enforcement mechanism. One solution could be placing international monitors on the exit and entry points of the Gaza Strip to monitor and secure the steady flow of supplies. Trucks should be inspected to ensure rockets are not smuggled in, but at the same time a steady supply of food and fuel should be guaranteed. Hamas must be held accountable for rocket fire if the supplies flow into Gaza and their compliance is likely given their desire to gain legitimacy on a regional level and their past compliance with the previous cease-fire.

Enforcement will go a long way to bringing stability and security to the people of Gaza and Israel, but it is only one piece of the larger puzzle; getting negotiations back on track after this devastating and bloody diversion. For this reason, the cease-fire agreement must come as part of a new and necessary framework in US and international policy toward the conflict in general. Since Hamas’ election in 2006, in elections which were supported vehemently by the Bush Administration prior to the counting of the ballots, the US and Israel have worked largely to marginalize Hamas and move forward with negotiation without them.

But even observers with cursory knowledge of the conflict will understand that no lasting and durable agreement between Israelis and Palestinians can come about without a unified Palestinian partner. Even though the Bush administration argues its policies have worked to “bolster the moderates” and support the likes of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abass, the policies have in fact largely undercut support for Abass domestically by constantly putting him in a position where he sides with Israel against Hamas. Because this policy is largely ignorant of internal Palestinian dynamics, it has created a situation where the moderates it claims to bolster are in an increasingly weaker position, and groups like Hamas have grown stronger.

The best and most reliable way to remove Hamas from power is to allow the Palestinian people to vote them out, just as they voted them in. So long as US and Israeli policies continue to give Hamas an excuse for governing and providing security for the people of Gaza, they will only weaken the moderates, perpetuate division in Palestinian society, and delay any real and lasting agreements between Israel and the Palestinians.

This must begin with a cease-fire in Gaza, with fair and equal enforcement, and a respect for lives on both sides of the border. Putting a greater value on Israeli lives than Palestinians ones only perpetuates an imbalance in policy and death tolls and in inability to broker an agreement.

But the cease-fire is the starting point in what must be a fundamental shift in US policy, justified by many years of failed policy, which places responsibility on all parties for complying with agreements and does not hesitate to enforce them.

Ultimately, negotiating with a democratic, representative and all-inclusive Palestinian leadership is the only way to ensure that spoilers will not interfere with negotiations and that the Palestinian negotiating partner has the legitimacy to sign a potentially unpopular agreements.

It falls on the incoming Obama administration to promptly make these changes after several years of failed Bush Administration policy, if we are ever going to see peace in the Middle East.

No comments: