Uneasy Calm Over Gaza

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The final toll of the violent eruption in Gaza, as reported by the media, was 167 Palestinians killed, an indeterminate number injured, versus 6 Israelis killed and an undisclosed number injured. On the Palestinian side, observers estimate that at least half of the fatalities were those of women and children. The destruction of Gaza City’s infrastructure was also on a massive scale, which would take the beleaguered Hamas government many years to repair and renovate. While President Morsi of Egypt strengthened through the presence of Hilary Clinton – who conducted shuttle diplomacy, reminiscent of Kissinger, between Cairo, Jerusalem and Ramallah – were both rightly praised for their successful mediation. The cease-fire has held so far.
Meanwhile, Morsi has become embroiled with his judiciary after assuming sweeping powers, which he says he will relinquish when a new constitution is in place. His move, however, has ignited a storm of protest from the senior judges as well as elements of the populace. Morsi appears to be on the back foot and therefore does not have the time to follow through on the cease-fire by pushing along the implementation of the elements agreed to between Israel and Hamas. These include a stoppage of weapons into Gaza through the border with Egypt. In return, Israel would loosen the virtual siege of Gaza it has perpetrated on the 1.5 million Gaza Palestinians who occupy the world’s most densely populated strip of territory. The United Nations commenting on the worsening economic, social and human conditions of the Gazans has predicted that the territory would become uninhabitable by the year 2020. This is a sobering warning.
It is therefore imperative that Egypt, the United States, Turkey and Qatar should remain actively involved in pushing both sides to honor their commitments vis-a-vis each other. The process could be visibly improved if both Israel and the United States would bring themselves to talk directly to Hamas, instead of refusing to do so on the grounds that it is a ‘terrorist organization’. It is worth recalling that a few years back Hamas had offered a hudna (long-term truce) to Israel, but the proposal was not followed through. Since the device of the hudna has great religious significance for Muslims, such a truce would not be easily broken, even by an organization considered to be militant extremists. The mutual distrust between Israel and Hamas could have been mitigated by the acceptance of the Hamas proposal. Direct talks between adversaries are usually always more productive than going through intermediaries. Also, both countries could do well to heed the advice of Mother Teresa, who said that one does not need to talk to one’s friends, but one needs to talk to one’s enemies.

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