With the Cease-fire in Gaza broken twice in the last few days, the chances for peace without change in the status quo are about zero. It's the only thing that both sides in the conflict are willing to bet on.
An initiative from President Obama might break the Israeli-Palestinian deadlock. In his recent interview with Al Arabiya and his instructions to his new Middle East envoy, George Mitchell, we have the beginnings of a shift in American foreign policy.
"And so what I told him is start by listening, because all too often the United States starts by dictating. . ."The problem is if this is another fact-finding mission, all the facts are already in, and not much can be gained by rehashing what is already well known to everybody involved, except more time to do nothing. The situation in Gaza is critical.
Once the formalities are over like Mitchell's tour (another link to Reuters Video below) through Arab capitals that started with Egypt, and Israel where he is now, are we going to get any new insights or action, when no one seems to know what to do? It's not only true in Washington, it's true throughout the Arab world and right inside what's left of Palestine. Even Israelis are divided. If they want peace, few are willing to make any concessions to Palestine. Some Israeli settlers in the West Bank would even fight their own government if they should be evicted as part of a peace deal with Palestine. In Gaza, the Arabs think all they have been doing is making concessions or being forced into more of them by Israeli influence and its war machine.
In Israel, Mitchell has been confirming the unchanging U.S. position of full support for Israel, though making it clear the U.S. still wants a Two-State solution for Israel and Palestine. Israel could have delivered this solution a long time ago unilaterally, in the same way it launched the recent war on Gaza and then its own cease-fire. Israel must know negotiations with Palestinians will always fail now, because after repeated humiliations, Palestinians can't face conceeding the loss of Palestinian territory for any other State, namely Israel which has been doing the humiliating. In the West we've learned to swallow our pride to avoid conflict, but any student of Arab culture knows that there's only one thing of more importance than saving face: Never submit to any humiliation whatever the cost.
The humiliations suffered by the Palestinians have peaked with the fierce and disproportionate retaliation on Gaza by Israel. There was a chance when Yassr Arafat was alive and a deal was close, but at the last minute, arguably one side or the other backed off, and then Arafat was bombed in Ramallah in a seige calculated to demoralize and humiliate. Falling sick, it wound up costing him his life and the chance for peace.
After his death, Hamas came to the fore, a Muslim brotherhood encouraged initially by the Israelis as a counterweight to Yassr's Fatah. But Obama's positive approach and outlook on Palestine, still looks like a good sign if he follows through. He has an ally within the Israeli Government for his old Two-State solution. The question is will he support the Israeli Foreign Minister, Tzipi Livni, against Prime Minister Ehud Olmert?
"I think it is possible for us to see a Palestinian state - I'm not going to put a time frame on it - that is contiguous, that allows freedom of movement for its people. . ."
Here's the CBS full coverage page of Obama and his message to the Arab world on Al Arabiya and a complete transcript of what he said. It's the old Two-State solution. While we're waiting on a time frame, perhaps some people in DC should do some homework.
In an interview on The Real News Network, Jan 6, 2009, Phyllis Bennis, a Senior Analyist with the Institute for Policy Studies in Washington DC, considers (video and transcript) "Historical amnesia and Gaza":
"The key question is where we start, because when you decide to start the clock determines how you define the crisis. If you start the clock on the day that a rocket from Gaza, whether it was Hamas or someone else, hit something in Sderot, then everything Israel is doing is a reasonable response to that reality, to rockets.
If you take a step back, you could begin with one week before the military strikes began, when the six-month-old ceasefire had begun to fray somewhat on both sides. And Israel responded by cutting off all entry and exit to the Gaza Strip—no food, no electrical fuel, no nothing. . .
You could go back six months and look at when the Israeli military, the Ministry of Defense, began planning for this attack, just as they were negotiating the ceasefire, according to the Israeli paper Haaretz. That was the beginning of the planning for this attack. It was not because the ceasefire didn't work. They were planning this attack even as the ceasefire was being implemented.
But ultimately you could go back and back, and you need to go back to 1967, when Israel occupied the Gaza Strip. . .Everything remained under Israeli control. So the occupation continued despite the fact that the settlers had been pulled out and soldiers were no longer permanently on the ground—they would enter, they would kill people, and they would leave.
It's that context and it's that time line that we need to start with. So the question of where do we start is exactly the most important question that is not being asked. . ."
Unfortunately, the 22 day war on Gaza is the bitter end of 60 years of conflict and neglect. It has been so devastating for Palestinians that it is in itself almost an insurmoutable obstacle to peace. In Palestine and in the UN the Israeli war has been seen not as a war against Hamas, but a war against civilians and Palestine itself, so overwhelming and brutal it flies in the face of the Geneva Convention.
The Phyllis Bennis interview continues in "Israel and international law" (transript and video) concluding with:
". . .Israel is the occupying power, and as the occupying power, it has very clear obligations under the Geneva Convention. One of the most clear, Article 33, is a prohibition on collective punishment, and it's absolute. . . you cannot punish any person in the occupied population, except for an act that he or she personally committed. . .Telling people in robocalls to their cell phones, "Your house is going to be bombed in five minutes," doesn't make it okay to then bomb a house. . .
And I would mention that Congressman Dennis Kucinich here in the United States has actually issued a call for the United Nations to investigate the violations of Article 33 of the Geneva Conventions.
Other international laws include the illegality of attacks on civilians. . .It is illegal to target civilian targets. And saying, for example, that the television station is pro-Hamas does not make it a military target; saying that the university is used for Hamas recruiters does not make it a military target. These assertions are simply false, and, unfortunately, in the mainstream Western press, certainly in the United States, they are not being sufficiently challenged.
There's another law, also within the Geneva Conventions and others, against disproportionate military attacks. That applies only when the idea of a military assault is legal. In this case, I think that's a very questionable one. But even if it's legal, you cannot use disproportionate military attacks. And in this case, the level of death and destruction should give very clear evidence that this is absolutely disproportionate."
"Allegations of (Israeli) War Crimes" go forward in this Jan 25 2009 ABC Video.
On the chances for peace, CBS News put together a segment for 60 Minutes, Jan 25, 2009, "Time Running Out For A Two-State Solution?" (Video and transcript)
Fifteen years of negotiations later, even those in Palestine and Israel who think it's the best compromise, don't think it will work now. History has passed them by. Correspondent Bob Simon reports:
"Palestinians had hoped to establish their state on the West Bank, an area the size of Delaware. But Israelis have split it up with scores of settlements, and hundreds of miles of new highways that only settlers can use. Palestinians have to drive - or ride - on the older roads.
When they want to travel from one town to another, they have to submit to humiliating delays at checkpoints and roadblocks. There are more than 600 of them on the West Bank. . .
Demographers predict that within ten years Arabs will outnumber Jews in Israel, the West Bank [280,000 Jewish settlers] and Gaza. Without a separate Palestinian state the Israelis would have three options, none of them good. They could try ethnic cleansing, drive the Palestinians out of the West Bank, or they could give the Palestinians the vote. That would be the democratic option but it would mean the end of the Jewish state. Or they could try apartheid. . .
Apartheid? Israel is building what it calls a security wall between the West Bank and Israel to stop suicide bombers. The Palestinians are furious because it appropriates eight percent of the West Bank. Not only that. It weaves its way through Palestinian farms, separating farmers from their land. They have to wait at gates for soldiers to let them in. Settlers get a lot more water than Palestinians, which is why settlements are green and Arab areas are not. . .
But one very important Israeli says she intends to move them out. She's Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, a candidate to become prime minister in elections next month. She's also Israel’s chief negotiator with the Palestinians, and she told 60 Minutes peace is unthinkable with the settlers where they are.
"Can you really imagine evacuating the tens of thousands of settlers who say they will not leave?" Simon asked.
"It's not going to be easy. But this is the only solution. . .As simple as that. Israel is a state of law and order," Livni said.". . ."
Yet the construction of new Israeli settlements and houses authorized and illegal still continues. An Israeli rights group with access to a classified Israeli Defense Ministry database says Israeli authorities are "systematically violating international law and the property rights of Palestinian residents", reported yesterday by AP.
Perhaps Livni is our last chance at peace. But critics say that the Gaza incursion just before Israeli elections, was to boost the popularity of Israeli hardliners like the current Prime Minister, Ehud Olmert and another rival, Benjamin Netanyahu. It seems to have worked with Israeli public opinion soaring in support for Olmert's successful operation in Gaza.
Meanwhile the brutal roadside bombing of Israeli soldiers 3 days ago and another massive retaliation by the Israeli Defense Forces crushes the last lingering hopes both peoples have, as in this Jan 28 2009 BBC Video, "Israel launches attacks in Gaza".
Obama isn't likely to meddle in Israeli internal affairs, like publicly backing Livni and knocking Olmert. Of course this is what all the diplomats are for. Signals in the dark, back off or else. But if Obama doesn't resort to the weapons of diplomacy, the reign of terror in Israel and Palestine will go on, as it has in the long ongoing wars in Iraq and Afganistan, largely a result of total American Foreign Policy support of Israel. Like a gift of $3 billion a year in American weapons and military aid for Israel.