The 72-hour humanitarian ceasefire that went into effect in Gaza and Israel Friday morning — for half an hour, before collapsing into total war — should remind us what is needed to quickly shift the focus of discussion and analysis about the Israel-Palestine conflict into the rather convoluted realm of many political actors and their strategic aims, all of which are constantly evolving. The desire by most actors to extend a temporary ceasefire into a permanent one would be a constructive endeavor if it forces all concerned to genuinely grapple with the tough underlying causes of the conflict between Palestine and Israel, mainly the wider, older conflict between Zionism and Arabism.
The issues and the actors keep changing, but it is important not to allow a human desire for permanent calm to distort our analyses of why we experience only repeated conflict, and also of the many actors and aims that now flood the stage. The actors include Hamas, Islamic Jihad, Egypt, Qatar, Turkey, Jordan, the Palestinian Authority and its Fateh leadership under President Mahmoud Abbas, Gazans who do not support Hamas, West Bank-Jerusalemite Palestinians who do not support Abbas, Israel and its assorted internal ideological movements, Jews around the world, the United Nations, and many others.
They will all weigh in now on a combination of fleeting and even diversionary concerns as well as critical core issues, and we would do well to recognize the important differences among them. One way to do this is to always ask about cause and effect in assessing any party’s behavior. So issues like removing Israel’s siege and blockade of Gaza, ending Israeli aerial attacks against Gazans, closing Hamas’ tunnels and rocket launching sites, demilitarizing Gaza, and other such issues that now dominate these discussions can only usefully be addressed politically if one is clear about whether they reflect an underlying cause of conflict or simply a reaction to some existing problem that either side finds intolerable.
The most important, enduring and powerful driver of this conflict remains the transformation of historic Palestine from a majority Arab land to a majority Jewish one, culminating in 1947-48 in the creation of the state of Israel and the expulsion, war-time flight, and exile of half the indigenous Palestinian Arab population. It has been the reason why Palestinians and other Arab states have fought and resisted Israel and Zionism since the 1930s. Gaza, Hamas, rockets and tunnels are only the latest manifestation of an Arab determination to redress those core grievances; from the Israeli side, repeated savage attacks against Gaza, jailing thousands of Palestinians, non-stop colonization of Palestinian lands, Judaization of Arab East Jerusalem, and many other actions similarly reflect a continuation of Israeli priorities in the fundamental Zionism-Arabism conflict that has driven events for nearly three-quarters of a century.
In the short term, this means weighing the Israeli-Zionist demand for the demilitarization of Gaza against the Arab demand for the dezionization of the 1967 colonized occupied territories and redressing the 1947-48 refugeehood of Palestinians — because the resistance movements in Gaza that fight Israel are only a consequence of how Israel has assaulted, occupied, expelled, colonized, killed, jailed, sieged and brutalized the Palestinians for the past 65 years. If Palestinians enjoyed their national rights and lived in peace in their own state and lands, they would have no need to arm and fight Israel.
This also means weighing the Israeli-Zionist demand for returning Gaza to the rule of Mahmoud Abbas against the reality that Fateh-led diplomacy and governance for the past half century, but specifically in the West Bank and Gaza for the past 20 years, has been a massive mediocrity and disappointment for most Palestinians. Israel wants Abbas-Fateh to rule Gaza so it can act as the policeman for Zionist colonization, as it has in the West Bank and Arab East Jerusalem in recent decades. How can anyone in their right mind ever possibly believe that this is an option that Palestinians will accept without some gains of equal importance for them?
Similarly, the roles of Egypt, Qatar, the United States and others will now enjoy fresh scrutiny, always within the equation that seeks to benefit either Zionism or Arabism in the wider conflict. Most discussions about Arab actors, whether Egypt, Hamas, Abbas, or other Arab governments, tends to ignore the large gap that still defines relations between Arab governments-leaders and their citizens — the same massive and painful gap that sparked the Arab uprisings in late 2010.
A ceasefire, when it happens, could be an important moment during which all sides should courageously explore their willingness and ability to set aside short-term gains for the elusive but tantalizing long-term prize of genuine peaceful coexistence among Palestinians and Israelis who both enjoy equal national rights in their respective sovereign countries. If any real leaders and statesmen and women exist out there who can respond to this challenge, now is the time to stand up and act.
Rami G. Khouri is Editor-at-large of The Daily Star, and Director of the Issam Fares Institute for Public Policy and International Affairs at the American University of Beirut, in Beirut, Lebanon. On Twitter: @ramikhouri.
Copyright © 2014 Rami G. Khouri—distributed by Agence Global.