Saturday, August 16, 2014

A Chance for Meaningful Change in Gaza?

Storm clouds are lifting and spirits are rising.  Tonight in Israel, where 95% had approved of the assault on Gaza,  where fascist elements beat down scant attempts at protests during the campaign, 10,000 gathered in Rabin Square to sing the praises of peace.  
Rabin Square, Tel Aviv,  peace rally, August 16, 2014
The left wing parties, including Meretz and Hadash were in attendance; Peace Now and other left wing organizations joined in; novelist David Grossman spoke.  [I'm reading Grossman's "To the End of the Land" and book review is forthcoming]  There were demands for an end to the occupation and an end to the blockade of Gaza.  

The goal of Israel in this war, if "goal" isn't too dignified a term, was to destroy tunnels and degrade Hamas's ability to launch rockets.  The goal did not include getting rid of Hamas, and it did not include lifting the blockade.  Eliminating Hamas in house-to-house and tunnel-to-tunnel combat in the heart of Gaza City would have been too expensive (in lives lost) and unnecessary.  From Israel's point of view, any lifting of the blockade with Hamas still in power would just result in an accelerated rearming of Hamas.  So, by all appearances, Netanyahu would have been satisfied to withdraw unilaterally, as he started to do.  No negotiations needed. Return to the status quo ante.

So it was a puzzlement to Larry Derfner, why Netanyahu is participating in negotiations at all.  Yet, negotiations have been going on for a week now. Moreover, it appears that Netanyahu is speaking to Hamas directly! 

Here is Noam Sheizaf
For the past week Israel has been negotiating with Hamas in Cairo. While the Palestinian delegation to the talks includes a representative of Mahmoud Abbas, and while the Egyptians are the ones carrying the messages back and forth between the two parties, everyone knows exactly what this is all about. These are no longer talks about prisoner exchanges, but rather a first attempt to touch upon the core issues relating to the siege on Gaza and the status of Hamas as ruler of the Strip. Israel is talking to Hamas (and to Islamic Jihad, which is closer to Iran). Better get used to it.
And it appears Hamas is hanging tough in these negotiations. 

In the meantime, the European Union is putting on pressure by offering to take charge of the Rafah border crossing.  Kerry is staying mum. 
Arutz Sheva. "[T]he EU says Israel must lift its blockade to allow "a fundamental improvement in the living conditions for the Palestinian people in Gaza." The EU foreign ministers said the bloc is also prepared to prevent arms smuggling and launch a training program for Palestinian Authority police and customs officers to be deployed in Gaza. "The situation in the Gaza Strip has been unsustainable for many years and a return to the status quo prior to the latest conflict is not an option," they said, according to AP."
To be sure, if the surprising result of this war is that the blockade is lifted in any meaningful degree, and the EU were to become involved as a security guarantor, this war would have to be considered a huge success for Gazans (and Hamas), for Israel and the entire region. 

I'm rooting for Gazans; I'm rooting for the EU; I'm rooting for Kerry to exert positive pressure in the background; and, yes, if Netanyahu can bring himself to make meaningful change happen, I'm rooting for him too in this negotiation. The weight of depression is lifting ... optimism can reassert itself.  There is a chance for meaningful change.  

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