Mideast tinderbox: For Israel and Gaza, the violence increases

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For those who want long-term peace between the Israelis and Palestinians and in the wider Middle East, the violence between Israel and Gaza, a Palestinian territory, is disheartening.

Both sides claim the other started it; both sides have had a share in the violence. Palestinians in Gaza fired more than 450 rockets into Israel, including Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, claiming at least three lives. Hamas, the Palestinian party that governs the territory, claims it has tried unsuccessfully to bring the smaller militias firing the rockets under control. Israel killed Hamas military chief Ahmed Jabari in an air strike Wednesday, then said it hit 450 targets in Gaza in the past several days, causing the deaths of at least 27 Palestinians. On Friday, Israel called up 16,000 reservists, moving toward a possible ground offensive.

Gaza is one-tenth the size of Rhode Island, with 1.7 million people. It has borders with Egypt, Israel and the Mediterranean Sea.

A fundamental problem is no negotiations are under way between Israel and the Palestinians. The most recent effort, launched by President Barack Obama in 2009, quickly fell apart. The Israelis refused to stop putting settlers into the other Palestinian territory, the West Bank, which it occupies militarily. The Palestinians refused to negotiate with the Israelis until they did. The United States declined to insist, even though Mr. Obama had in principle given the two sides a one-year deadline to reach agreement.

The more basic problem is that Israel and the Palestinians had a period of relative stability in their area of the Middle East from the 1979 Egypt-Israel accord to the beginning of the Arab Spring in 2011. Egypt was ruled by a conservative government; Jordan, by a king; Syria, by a dictator; and Lebanon by a government that was unstable but presented no threat to Israel. Rather than negotiating a settlement of the Palestine issue, Israel instead poured a half-million settlers into the West Bank, which in any negotiations would constitute the core of an independent Palestinian state.

Negotiating an agreement in today's regional political context would be much more difficult. Egypt has a new, democratic, more Islamic government. The Jordanians are calling for the head of the king. Syria is torn by civil war. Hezbollah in Lebanon has grown stronger. In Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, his Likud party and their right-wing and religious allies are conducting a campaign to win parliamentary elections in January.

It doesn't help for Israel and the Gazans to fight each other. All international parties and reasonable elements in Israel and the Palestinian territories need to push hard for a cease-fire and a beginning of meaningful negotiations. Horror at what is taking place could prompt them all to realize the need for a lasting agreement.

The alternative, which is more bloodshed in Gaza and Israel, is simply unacceptable.

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