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What Next for Israelis & Palestinians?
A red-letter day indeed ... Hours before the divisional commander of the Israeli Army, Aviv Kochavi, became the last soldier to leave Gaza, thousands of Palestinians had already entered the 'forbidden' Israeli settlements that, together with their military infrastructure, once consumed over 30% of Palestinian prime land in the densely-populated Gaza Strip...

13 September   |   2005   |   Subject  Middle East & North Africa (MENA)

This was a moment of joy, a carnival of celebration and political grandstanding, let alone of some scavenging or looting, as Palestinians reclaimed their occupied territory and resumed the oft-interrupted process of nation building. The ephemeral celebrations that overtook the whole of Gaza in the past couple of days were orchestrated by different segments of Palestinian society - from the Palestinian Authority itself, to Fatah, Hamas and Islamic Jihad.

But the future now perches not so much on the victory of the moment, but rather on what happens next within the broader context of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Let me put forward a few pointers, perhaps even goalposts, which might help suggest a peaceful edifice for the future. In so doing, I shall look at the context not from a Middle Eastern perspective, but rather from a Western one. Having been in the USA over the past week, I have re-discovered that external persuasions and indicators for rallying support go hand-in-hand with the more familiar internal considerations and reactions.

  • The Israeli withdrawal from Gaza - no matter how painful for some Israeli Jews, no matter how staged for political or media purposes - happened in part because of Palestinian resistance to Israeli occupation and colonisation of this strip of land since 1967. However, Palestinians should not gloat far too much, because the withdrawal was also in part due to an Israeli willingness to disengage from a hot-spot that was a source of constant trouble for it. In other words, they could have 'toughed it out' in Gaza despite the casualties and tensions, and the withdrawal is in some small part also an acknowledgement by PM Ariel Sharon that strategic planning could overtake tactical obduracy.
  • During the celebrations in Gaza, one could see many more black, green and yellow flags representing Islamic Jihad, Hamas and Fatah than Palestinian national flags. This is not conducive to overall social cohesiveness within Palestinian society. It is not factionalism, tinged with ideology, but a national purpose, soldered with resolve, that would enliven and strengthen Palestinian hopes for state-building and ultimately future peace.
  • Palestinians - whether in the now freed Gaza Strip or the occupied West Bank - should all remember that legislative elections take place in January 2006. They are crucial toward mapping out a strategy for nation building. In fact, many observers and pundits would be following the Palestinian initiatives in Gaza to determine whether they are capable of good governance, human and minorities' rights as well as development on a larger scale. What happens in terms of elections and achievements could have repercussions across the whole Palestinian landscape.
  • It is important to recall that this moment of victory, for it is a victory at the end of the day, is merely a small achievement when one adds that the Palestinian lands from Hebron and Bethlehem in the south to Nablus and Jenin in the north, alongside east (Arab) Jerusalem, still remain occupied by Israel. There are numerous sprawling settlements, and many smaller outposts, on those vast stretches of land, with other equally illegal ones under International law being built even today over Palestinian lands adjacent to the segregationist separation wall. This is a sobering challenge that the world community ought to take up as they labour toward peace.
  • Finally, let us not forget that an occupation does not end, nor is a conflict resolved, after withdrawing from Gaza. Rather, this would only happen once Israel allows Palestinians control over their land, air and sea outlets in Gaza, and later withdraws from other territories in accordance with the 'roadmap for peace' defining those steps necessary for a comprehensive peace. However, Israel has already rejected a proposal by James D Wolfensohn, former president of the World Bank and current mediator between Israel and the Palestinians, to allow Palestinians safe passage through Rafah to Egypt with European officials supervising the process on behalf of Israel.

Alexander the Great, one of the fearless but overzealous warriors of history, adhered unfailingly to his motto that fortune favours the bold . Although the setting of his time in history was certainly different from ours today, I still pray that Israel, the Palestinians and the international Quartet would together show boldness in following through with the crucial and painful steps that could herald peace for Israel and Palestine - let alone for the Middle East and the world at large.

© Dr Harry Hagopian   |   2005   |   13 September


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