Gaza's Unfinished Business
Ramallah/Gaza City/Jerusalem/Brussels |
23 Apr 2009
If the underlying factors that precipitated the Gaza war are not addressed, Hamas and Israel could soon find themselves on the edge of another explosion.
Gaza’s Unfinished Business,* the latest report from the International Crisis Group, argues that the fundamental crisis today is not humanitarian but political. If the siege remains, Hamas could launch large-scale attacks. If weapons smuggling and rocket fire persist, Israel could mount a new offensive. Without some Palestinian unity, Gaza’s rebuilding will not begin. In short, defusing this crisis requires a sustainable Israel-Hamas ceasefire, Gaza’s reconstruction and Palestinian reconciliation.
The war galvanised the world’s attention, but three months later, urgency has given way to complacency and complacency to neglect. Delinking a ceasefire from a prisoner exchange might be politically costly for Israel’s Prime Minister Netanyahu, but it is necessary. “A ceasefire is a vital first step”, says Nicolas Pelham, Crisis Group Senior Analyst. “It will be difficult to achieve, but its components are obvious: Gaza’s borders need to open, the rockets need to stop, and some form of third party monitoring must take place”.
The endless deferral of reconstruction, hamstrung by continued closure of Gaza’s borders, is equally dangerous. While Israel has legitimate concerns about Hamas diverting imported material, holding Gaza’s population hostage is wrong and will backfire. Instead, Israel should be satisfied with end-use verification by an independent, international body.
Little progress can occur without Palestinian unity. A principal roadblock has been insistence that any new government abide by the Quartet’s three conditions – recognition of Israel, acceptance of past agreements and renunciation of violence. As Crisis Group has argued, words matter but actions matter more. The international community should judge the government on what really counts: willingness (or not) to enforce a mutual ceasefire with Israel, acceptance of the PLO Chairman’s authority to negotiate an agreement with Israel and respect for the results of a referendum on an eventual accord.
“A comprehensive unity agreement between Hamas and Fatah appears unlikely now, but a more limited agreement is still possible”, says Crisis Group Senior Analyst Robert Blecher. “Neither Fatah nor Hamas wants to give up the territory it controls. But that should not prevent a unified government from rebuilding Gaza and providing President Abbas greater legitimacy”.
“The world is adjusting to the status quo, but the status quo is not sustainable”, warns Robert Malley, Crisis Group’s Middle East Program Director. “Getting out of the current deadlock will require courageous and forward-looking adjustment by all – Palestinians, Israel and the international community alike. Otherwise, a besieged Gaza once again will reach a boiling point”.