News / Middle East

    Column: Epitaph for Gaza: Just Another Cease-fire?

    A Palestinian man reacts as he stands next to the wreckage of a house, which witnesses said was destroyed in an Israeli air strike that killed at least nine members from the al-Ghol family, in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip, August 3, 2014.
    A Palestinian man reacts as he stands next to the wreckage of a house, which witnesses said was destroyed in an Israeli air strike that killed at least nine members from the al-Ghol family, in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip, August 3, 2014.

    Among the casualties of the latest Gaza war were nine relatives of a journalist colleague of mine, Asmaa al-Ghoul.  They died Sunday, just a day before Israel and Hamas finally accepted a three-day truce.

    Two missiles fired by a U.S.-supplied Israeli F-16 collapsed their one-story house in the Rafah refugee camp, killing Asmaa’s uncle, Ismail, his wife, Khadra, their two sons, Wael and Mohammed, their two daughters, Hanadi and Asmaa, and Wael’s three children, Ismail, Malik and Mustafa, the last only 24 days old. According to my colleague, none of them were members of Hamas or any other Palestinian political faction.

    It is easy to be cynical about this latest orgy of Middle Eastern violence. Why single out nine deaths when more than 1,800 other Palestinians – and more than 60 Israelis – also died in the last month, and scores of noncombatants are still perishing every day in Syria, Iraq and Libya?

    Yet this Gaza war – the third in six years – could have a broader meaning and not just lead to another short period of relative calm followed by a new conflagration.

    There are major dangers for Israel in continuing a lopsided conflict that dehumanizes Palestinians, distorts Israeli democracy and alienates even traditional friends. A collective online gasp greeted the blog post of an Israeli writer, Yochanan Gordon, who actually suggested that “genocide” of Palestinians was a possible solution to the conflict. Meanwhile, Nazi swastikas are popping up with increasing frequency in Europe.

    While the U.S. Congress, in one of its last acts before going off on a month-long vacation, dutifully approved an extra $225 million for Israel’s “Iron Dome” anti-missile system that protected most Israelis from Hamas rockets, a poll taken by a pro-Israel group of young Congressional staffers showed waning support for the actions of the Jewish state. Other polls have shown that only a quarter of Americans aged 18 to 29 backed Israel in this Gaza conflict.  

    If Israel is to avoid further de-legitimization, it should begin a new and more sincere effort to reach a peace agreement with Hamas’s political rival, the Palestinian Authority (PA). Salam Fayyad, the respected former Palestinian finance and prime minister, suggested in a speech in Washington last week that the two sides actually set a date for the Israeli occupation to end and work backwards from there.

    As radical and unrealistic as that might sound, “a date certain” for the end of occupation, as Fayyad put it, would push Israel and the PA to finally reach understandings about territory and security that have so far eluded them despite intensive U.S. mediation.

    A first step would be to solidify the latest cease-fire by transferring as much responsibility as possible for Gaza back to the PA under the leadership of President Mahmoud Abbas. Egypt, now ruled by a tough, anti-Hamas government, is in favor of the PA taking over security at the Rafah checkpoint. Egypt can provide additional assurances to Israel that it will not permit Hamas to smuggle in materials to rearm.

    The Israelis should recognize the technocratic unity government created by the PA and Hamas before the latest fighting and resume financial aid to the West Bank. With Abbas on top of this arrangement, the PA can expand its presence in Gaza and seek to prolong the cease-fire.  That would enable international organizations and other foreign donors to begin providing the resources needed to rebuild Gaza’s shattered infrastructure, including homes for more than 200,000 people displaced by the fighting.

    Fayyad also suggested further broadening the political base of the PA by reviving something called the Unified Leadership Framework, which includes all the factions of the old Palestine Liberation Organization. This would be a prelude, he said, to parliamentary and presidential elections, which are long overdue.  

    The Barack Obama administration also needs to play a role in brokering a longer-lasting cease-fire and ultimately a political solution, despite the hard knocks it has taken from Israel for its efforts over the past month. 

    The F-16s that killed Asmaa al-Ghoul’s relatives were supplied by the United States along with other military hardware worth more than $3 billion a year. It is not enough for the State Department to condemn Israel’s killing of civilians as “disgraceful” – as it did a few days ago when Israeli rockets killed 10 people at a U.N. school sheltering displaced Palestinians. Obama should do more than just have the State Department press office shake a rhetorical fist; he should table a U.S. framework for a comprehensive peace agreement.

    There are many doubts about whether Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has the desire and courage to conclude an agreement. But to paraphrase former U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, you make peace with the leaders you have, not the ones you wish you had. The U.S. has the leverage to prod Netanyahu back to the negotiating table. Obama cannot run for re-election and after this fall’s midterms, has nothing to lose in domestic politics by standing up to Israel. Netanyahu, already Israel’s longest serving prime minister, should be thinking about his legacy, too.

    The regional environment also offers possibilities. Two major Arab states – Saudi Arabia and Egypt – support Abbas and are eager to further isolate Hamas, an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood that both have banned. Syria and Lebanon – and Iran’s ally, Hezbollah – are preoccupied with sectarian battles; Iran is more worried about Iraq and Syria than shoring up Hamas. Israel should take advantage of this period while it lasts.

    Asmaa Al-Ghoul writes in her tribute to her slain relatives, “Never ask me about peace again.” But given the alternatives, a better question is: How can you not seek peace again?


    Barbara Slavin

    Barbara Slavin is a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council’s South Asia Center and a correspondent for Al-Monitor.com, a website specializing in the Middle East. She is the author of a 2007 book, Bitter Friends, Bosom Enemies: Iran, the US and the Twisted Path to Confrontation, and is a regular commentator on U.S. foreign policy and Iran on NPR, PBS, C-SPAN and the Voice of America.

    You May Like

    Vietnam Urges US to Lift Lethal Weapons Ban Amid S. China Sea Tensions

    US president’s upcoming visit to Vietnam underscores strength of relationship, and lifting embargo would reflect that trust, ambassador says

    Are US Schools Turning a Blind Eye to Radical Qatari Preachers?

    Parade of radical Islamist clerics using mosque at Qatar’s Education City draws mounting criticism for American universities that maintain satellite branches there

    Why Islamic State Is Down But Not Out

    Despite loss of territory, group’s ferocious attacks over past three months seen as testimony to its continued durability and resourcefulness

    This forum has been closed.
    Comment Sorting
    Comments
         
    by: Walter from: Florida, U.S.A.
    August 09, 2014 12:16 PM
    You put the death toll of Palestinians down as if that is hard proven facts, which is absurd. You get the number of deaths from...hold on...HAMAS. Do you really believe their numbers? Are you really that naïve? Give authority to the Palestine Authority and Abbas? Isn't he the one the helped plan the massacre of the Israeli athletes at the Munich Olympics? Isn't he the one that along with Biscuit Lips Arafat reject every peace proposal put forth by the Israelis? You cas numbers of 'family' members killed. Those people breed like rats. They have no money, no industry, no way to make a living, but they have kids. Eight and Ten kids seems to be the norm for those welfare recipients. Why don't they try some 'keeping the legs closed' and 'their pecker in the pocket' and maybe they could help with the number of unemployed youth over there. They could have peace today if they wanted it. All they have to do is git rid of Hamas and life would become much better for those huge families.

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Displaced By War, Syrian Artist Finds Inspiration Abroadi
    X
    May 02, 2016 1:36 PM
    Saudi-born Syrian painter Mohammad Zaza is among the millions who fled their home for an uncertain future after Syria's civil war broke out. Since fleeing Syria, Zaza has lived in Lebanon, Egypt, Jordan and now Turkey where his latest exhibition, “Earth is Blue like an Orange,” opened in Istanbul. He spoke with VOA about how being displaced by the Syrian civil war has affected the country's artists.
    Video

    Video Displaced By War, Syrian Artist Finds Inspiration Abroad

    Saudi-born Syrian painter Mohammad Zaza is among the millions who fled their home for an uncertain future after Syria's civil war broke out. Since fleeing Syria, Zaza has lived in Lebanon, Egypt, Jordan and now Turkey where his latest exhibition, “Earth is Blue like an Orange,” opened in Istanbul. He spoke with VOA about how being displaced by the Syrian civil war has affected the country's artists.
    Video

    Video Ethiopia’s Drought Takes Toll on Children

    Ethiopia is dealing with its worst drought in decades, thanks to El Nino weather patterns. An estimated 10 million people urgently need food aid. Six million of them are children, whose development may be compromised without sufficient help, Marthe van der Wolf reports for VOA from the Metahara district.
    Video

    Video Little Havana - a Slice of Cuban Culture in Florida

    Hispanic culture permeates everything in Miami’s Little Havana area: elderly men playing dominoes as they discuss politics, cigar rollers deep at work, or Cuban exiles talking with presidential candidates at a Cuban coffee window. With the recent rapprochement between Cuba and United States, one can only expect stronger ties between South Florida and Cuba.
    Video

    Video California Republicans Weigh Presidential Choices Amid Protests

    Republican presidential candidates have been wooing local party leaders in California, a state that could be decisive in selecting the party's nominee for U.S. president. VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports delegates to the California party convention have been evaluating choices, while front-runner Donald Trump drew hundreds of raucous protesters Friday.
    Video

    Video Kurdish Football Team Helps War-Torn City Cope

    With the conflict still raging across much of Turkey’s predominantly Kurdish southeast, between the rebel PKK and the Turkish state, many Kurds are trying to escape the turmoil by focusing on the success of their football team Amedspor in Diyarbakir. The club is increasingly becoming a symbol for Kurds, not only in Diyarbakir but beyond. Dorian Jones reports from southeast Turkey.
    Video

    Video ‘The Lights of Africa’ - Through the Eyes of 54 Artists

    An exhibition bringing together the work of 54 African artists, one from each country, is touring the continent after debuting at COP21 in Paris. Called "Lumières d'Afrique," the show centers on access to electricity and, more figuratively, ideas that enlighten. Emilie Iob reports from Abidjan, the exhibition's first stop.
    Video

    Video Pakistani School Helps Slum Kids

    Master Mohammad Ayub runs a makeshift school in a public park in Islamabad. Thousands of poor children have benefited from his services over the years, but, as VOA's Ayesha Tanzeem reports, roughly 25 million school-age youths don't get an education in Pakistan.
    Video

    Video Florida’s Weeki Wachee ‘Mermaids’ Make a Splash

    Since 1947, ‘mermaids’ have fascinated tourists at central Florida’s Weeki Wachee Springs State Park with their fluid movements and synchronized ballet. Performing underwater has its challenges, including cold temperatures and a steady current, as VOA’s Lin Yang and Joseph Mok report.
    Video

    Video Somali, African Union Forces Face Resurgent Al-Shabab

    The Islamic State terror group claimed its first attack in Somalia earlier this week, though the claim has not been verified by forces on the ground. Meanwhile, al-Shabab militants have stepped up their attacks as Somalia prepares for elections later this year. Henry Ridgwell reports there are growing frustrations among Somalia’s Western backers over the country’s slow progress in forming its own armed forces to establish security after 25 years of chaos.
    Video

    Video Documentary Tells Tale of Chernobyl Returnees

    Ukraine this week is marking the 30th anniversary of the world's worst nuclear accident, at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant. Soviet officials at first said little about the accident, but later evacuated a 2,600-square-kilometer "exclusion zone." Some people, though, came back. American directors Holly Morris and Anne Bogart created a documentary about this faithful and brave community. VOA's Tetiana Kharchenko reports from New York on "The Babushkas of Chernobyl." Carol Pearson narrates.
    Video

    Video Nigerians Feel Bite of Buhari Economic Policy

    Despite the global drop in the price of oil, Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari has refused to allow the country's currency to devalue, leading to a shortage of foreign exchange. Chris Stein reports from Lagos businessmen and consumers are feeling the impact as the country deals with a severe fuel shortage.
    Video

    Video  Return to the Wild

    There’s a growing trend in the United States to let old or underused golf courses revert back to nature. But as Erika Celeste reports from one parcel in Grafton, Ohio, converting 39 hectares of land back to green space is a lot more complicated than just not mowing the fairway.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora