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Wednesday, 27 August 2014

Are we really back to where we started?


Life returns to Gaza as truce holds but Netanyahu faces criticism in Israel over the offensive.


Palestinians celebrate the beginning of the truce in Gaza City.
Palestinians celebrate the beginning of the truce in Gaza City

After 50 days of intense bombardment by Israeli military forces and fierce resistance from the Palestinian factions within Gaza, the ceasefire brokered by the Egyptians came into effect at 17:00 yesterday (26th August). Not withstanding what Mark Regev, the Israeli mouthpiece for Benjamin Netanyahu, may say to try to convince you otherwise, the ceasefire terms agreed to in Cairo are not the same as those that were "on the table", 3 weeks ago. By now of course, we are only too well aware of how Mark Regev, Peter Lerner,  Ron Prosor and other Israeli spokespersons are, without even batting an eyelid, able to turn fantasy and wishful thinking into their presentation of "fact and truth". Regev's phrase "and that is fact" after practically every sentence always had a hollow ring to it.
Mark Regev

A browse through this mornings Israeli newspapers particularly the Jerusalem Post and Haaretz, demonstrate all too clearly the divisions within Israeli society following the announcement of the ceasefire. There are those perhaps in the majority, who believe that Israel should have done far more in destroying the so-called terror tunnels and rocket launching sites in Gaza. They believe that Netanyahu has cut and run in his eagerness to come to some sort of ceasefire arrangement with the Palestinians. In the Israeli cabinet there are divisions between those who agree with Netanyahu's position and those who believe that operation Protective Edge should have continued. On the other hand there are those within Israeli society and within government who believe that the past 50 days of intense fighting and more than 60 Israeli soldiers killed as not advanced the prospect of security or calm in Israel. Consequently, they are of the view that the offensive operation against Gaza should never have taken place and blame Netanyahu for bulldozing the military action through the Israeli government in July.No matter which way you look at it, Netanyahu's position within Israel seems to have become marginalised by both sides of the argument. His prospects at the next Israeli election must be very bleak.

Israel's Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, after explaining in a statement why Israel had agreed to the ceasefire.
Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu

There was no dancing in the streets last night in Tel Aviv, Haifa, West Jerusalem or any of the other towns in Israel, where a mood of sombre reflection dominated the atmosphere. Knesset member Danny Danon said , “Despite the heavy price Hamas paid, we did not defeat them. Fifty days of fighting, 64 soldiers killed, five civilians killed, 82,000 reservists called up, and in the end we’re back to the agreement from Operation Pillar of Defence.” These words, or something very similar, were repeated in towns across Israel. The Israelis do not feel that they have obtained a victory with the operation in Gaza, but despite all their military might together with all the damage inflicted upon the infrastructure and of Gaza, together with more than 2100 civilians killed, most of the people of Israel, feel that they have somehow been defeated, as they were with their disastrous invasion of Lebanon in 2006.The Israelis know that they have been forced to concede a partial lifting of the blockade with all border crossings between Israel and Gaza now being opened and the fishing limit off the Gaza coast being extended from 3 to 6 miles. These two concessions alone have completely undermined Israeli confidence and the credibility of the Israeli government in being able to achieve its objectives as stated at the start of the operation.

The celebrations in Gaza were completely the opposite of the atmosphere in Israel. Although undoubtedly tempered by the reality, that at least for now, the fear of Israeli air strikes and artillery bombardment had been lifted, the Palestinians were very much aware that big concessions had been extracted from the aggressor. The cost in human lives had been significant, and the destruction caused to homes hospitals, mosques, schools and infrastructure will require a great amount of cash and building materials which have so far been prohibited from entering into Gaza by the provisions of the blockade. The Palestinians in Gaza had taken on the might of the Israeli army and had continued to offer resistance for more than 50 days and now face the prospect of obtaining, more concessions during the negotiations commencing next month in Cairo, in respect of building an airport and a new deep sea port.

Gaza declares 'victory' as ceasefire holds

The international community have seen over the past two months, how the myth of invincibility surrounding Israel has been challenged, and Israel though perhaps not defeated militarily has suffered a significant setback in terms of his domination of the area.

Clearly it would be wrong to suggest that we are now only where we were two months ago. The concessions gained by the Palestinian resistance has given new impetus to the not unreasonable aspirations of the Palestinian people, in respect of their demands for a free port and airport allowing them to trade with the rest of the world. The negotiations in Cairo next month, must ensure real progress towards the expectation that a just settlement may be reached. In this objective the West, particularly the United States, must ensure that Israel will cooperate fully and negotiate in good faith with the Palestinians to make positive moves towards a resolution to this long-standing addition to the questions of lifting the blockade and ending the occupation of Palestine, there must also be positive moves towards theestablishment and recognition of a free Palestinian state,with full United Nations representation.

Notwithstanding the concessions already gained from the Israelis, unless the remaining issues are resolved within a reasonable period, a matter of months rather than years, we may yet see the continuation of hostilities between Israel and its neighbour with all the resultant killing,destruction and misery such a resumption would undoubtedly create.