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Changing contours of Israel-Palestine conflict

Perimeters for a peaceful resolution of Palestine conflict are well known; all that is needed now is political will — and the courage of conviction

Gulf News

Yet another war against Gaza, ferocious, merciless and destructive. What else is new? It came complete with the usual features that we have come to expect from Israel’s bloody confrontations with the Palestinians. First, the gross inequalities of the parties — on the one side, the awesome military machine of a nation quasi-permanently at war; on the other side, a group of fighters with a high number of crudely made missiles that are fired at Israel. The hundreds of missiles launched by Hamas operatives typically cause negligible damage and could not, under normal circumstances, affect the outcome of a war. However, it is their lack of precision and indiscriminate trajectory that affect the psychology of the enemy.

Not surprisingly, the disproportionality in fire-power produced disproportionate damage — while the damage in Israel was limited, as was the number of victims, whole areas in Gaza lay in ruins with government buildings reduced to rubbles. The Palestinian victims included women and children and numbered more than 100.

Another common feature of Israel’s wars against the Palestinians is the role played by the western media. Ignoring history and setting aside cause and effect, they offer their readers and viewers a simplified and incomplete picture, which is not only a distortion of a complex reality, but can sometimes amount to complicity. Recall the role played by the media in beating the drums of war in the run-up to the war against Iraq.

A cursory examination of how one leading news organisation (CNN) covered the war against Gaza, reveals the usual shortcomings. In the dozens of interviews the CNN’s army of reporters had with Israeli officials, none contained any reference to the occupation. No one dared to ask if Hamas’ hostility to Israel was not induced by the Israeli occupation and the continued theft of Palestinian land.

At one point, Piers Morgan from the CNN speaks the unspeakable. Chatting via satellite with two of his colleagues, who were in Israel, he points to the disproportionality in the number of victims suffered by each side and asks: Who has the moral high ground here? Stunned by the temerity of the question, the two reporters froze for a few seconds, before one of them said something to suggest that the moral high ground had no place in Middle East.

In democracies, rule of law guarantees that an individual accused of something is presumed innocent until proven guilty. The burden of proof is on the accuser.

However, not for the Palestinians. The western media treat them as guilty until they prove their innocence. Their guilt? They harbour ill feelings against their oppressor and the burden is on them to prove that despite the expulsion, the dispossession and the continuing occupation, they feel no hostility towards their enemy. Simply preposterous.

In her interview with Hamas political leader Khalid Mesha’al. CNN’s chief foreign correspondent, Christiana Amanpour, kept asking him when he would recognise Israel, as if the burden were on the occupied to validate the occupation and recognise the occupier’s right to occupy, dispossess and oppress.

Mesha’al pointed out that it was he (Hamas) who needed recognition.

There were also instances of crude ignorance as when a female anchor at CNN tried to educate her viewers as we waited for Mahmoud Abbas’ speech at the UN General Assembly last week. She explained that The Palestinian National Authority (PNA) and Hamas were rivals. And that both had come to the UN to make their separate case and ask for UN support. Perhaps not surprisingly, all public opinion polls conducted during the war found that a majority of respondents supported the Israeli position.

There were also twists and novel developments. On the first day of the war, Egyptian Prime Minister Hesham Kandil went to Gaza to show solidarity with the Palestinian people. Other dignitaries followed suit. Hamas’ status was being upgraded as delegation after delegation came to Gaza. Israel and the US have been trying to isolate Hamas; but the war, the response of regional leaders and the democratisation process borne out of the Arab Spring reinforced Hamas’s claim to be an indispensable representative of the Palestinian people in any future settlement of the conflict.

For the Israelis, perhaps the most important lesson of the war is the remarkable performance of their Iron Dome anti-missile defence system, which registered 90 per cent success rate in an actual war situation. The Iranians are thus put on notice that their missiles no longer represent the threat they once did.

There were also something new about the negotiated ceasefire. First of all, it was negotiated through the good offices of the new President of Egypt, Mohammad Mursi. Unlike his predecessor, the deposed Hosni Mubarak, who cooperated with Israel against Hamas, Mursi shares with Hamas spiritual affiliation. In agreeing to be the guarantor of the terms of the ceasefire, Mursi also managed to broaden the terms of reference to include commitment by the Israelis to gradually lift the siege they enforce around Gaza.

The American support for Israel is nothing new, but it seems that President Barack Obama went beyond the call of duty in not only financing the Iron Dome anti-missile defence system but also facilitating a ceasefire. The prime minister of Israel, the president and other spokesmen of the Israeli government were effusive in their praise of Obama. It was not clear what other forms of support Obama mobilised for Israel. However, it is reasonable to speculate that he offered military, financial and diplomatic support.

The American president has a unique opportunity to use the political capital thus accumulated with Israel to advance his vision for peace in the Middle East.

He is relatively free from the constraints of domestic politics since he does not have to worry about re-election. He can keep his gaze on the horizon and think of his place in history.

The perimeters for a peaceful resolution of the Palestine conflict are fairly well-known; all that is needed is political will — and the courage of one’s convictions.

Let Obama seize the moment.

Adel Safty is distinguished visiting professor and special adviser to the rector at the Siberian Academy of Public Administration, Russia. His book, Might Over Right, is endorsed by Noam Chomsky and published in England by Garnet, 2009.