Pragmatic Thinking on Israel-Palestine Mess


Despite the worsening morass in Israel-Palestine circumstances in which kidnapped IDF soldier Gilad Shalit still has not been recovered and Israel is wading deeper into its former role occupying and controlling Gaza, there are still some who see a possibility of restoring progress in place of constant deterioration.
Gareth Evans and Robert Malley of the International Crisis Group have an important piece in the Financial Times. Here is an excerpt:

There is a desperate need for all parties to reassess pragmatically their positions.
The first step is to understand what the crisis is and isnotabout. Israeli and western analysts swiftly concluded that Hamas’s decision to resume armed attacks reflected a deep internal split, that it was dictated by a harder-line Islamist leadership in exile bent on confrontation in order to embarrass a more pragmatic Islamist government obsessed with self-preservation. If tensions within Hamas prompted the violence, then the way to end it was surely to isolate its more radical external wing while pressuring local leaders to make a more decisive break.
This analysis, and the policies to which it has given rise, display unhappy ignorance of how Hamas functions and what its current leadership is about. Differences of opinion do exist, but they are far more complex than any tidy inside/outside split could possibly suggest.
The International Crisis Group, as a conflict prevention organisation, meets very regularly with its leaders, in the occupied territories and elsewhere. We have little patience for Hamas’s ideology and nothing but revulsion for its terror tactics. But we listen. Over the past several weeks, we have heard divergent tonalities, distinct priorities – and one overriding message: let Hamas govern or watch it fight.
Governing is what Hamas has not been permitted to do. From Fatah, its rival secular movement, to Israel, the Arab world and the west, the strategy since the January 25 Palestinian elections has been roughly similar and wholly transparent: to pressure and isolate the government, squeeze it of funds and count on popular discontent with its non- performance to ensure the Hamas experience in power comes to a rapid end. In this context, the recent attack on the Keren Shalom military base came neither out of nowhere nor out of intra-Hamas divisions. It came, chiefly, from the Islamists’ calculation that they should show they had options other than electoral politics – and that the consequences of their governmental failure would be borne by all.
It is understandable, in this fraught environment, that Israel may believe that punishing the Palestinian people in violation of international law is all it can do to preserve its deterrent credibility and discourage future abductions. But lead to the soldier’s release unharmed? Strengthen Palestinian pragmatists? Restore the ceasefire? By now, through trial and serial errors, one would hope Israeli leaders know better. In the current confrontation, Hamas’s support is growing, its ranks are becoming more unified and its detractors are being reduced to silence.
None of this paints a pretty picture but it may suggest a way out. If a deal is to be reached, its rough outlines are predictable: Israel wants quiet, and Hamas wants the ability to govern. Hamas must release the soldier, reinstate the truce and stop all militias firing rockets. Israel must end its Gaza incursion, cease disproportionate military action in the occupied territories and release recently jailed ministers and parliamentarians as well as Palestinian prisoners who have not been charged with an offence. Getting any such agreement will require far more active and assertive third party mediation than has been the case so far.

When both sides have their hackles up and are determined to make sure that the other has lost face, it’s hard to see a sensible path out of conflict.
But Ariel Sharon once said that his views changed when he sat behind the Prime Minister’s desk and considered Israel’s future.
It seems to me that serious strategists and visionaries — particularly those who staff Israel’s Prime Minister and Defense Minister as well as those who surround the Palestinian Prime Minister and President — who want to lead Israel and Palestine in the years ahead find their way out of the conflict box they are in.
Evans and Malley have some of the pieces for such an approach.
— Steve Clemons


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