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Talk of deploying international troops divides Palestinians

Recent talk of a suggestion to deploy international troops in the Palestinian territories has sparked angry reactions from many in the Gaza Strip, although some in the Palestinian Authority support the idea.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) meets with Australia's Foreign Minister Julie Bishop in Sydney, Australia, February 26, 2017.  REUTERS/Jason Reed - RTS10BWD

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip — During a meeting in Sydney with the Australian foreign minister Feb. 25, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu provoked much anger among Palestinian factions in the Gaza Strip with his alleged statements on the Australian proposal to deploy international forces in the Palestinian territories to confront what Netanyahu called “terrorism.”

An anonymous source close to Netanyahu denied that the prime minister made such statements in a Feb. 26 interview with Israeli radio station Reshet Bet. The source said that the proposal to deploy international troops was made by Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop, and that Netanyahu rejected such a proposal, especially with regard to the deployment of international forces in the West Bank.

The source said, quoting Netanyahu, that the “solution to the Palestinian case would lie in Israel’s full control of the Palestinian areas, granting Palestinians partial sovereignty.”

Israel’s Channel 2 reported Feb. 26 that Netanyahu said during his Sydney meeting that it would be a possibility to deploy international forces only to the Gaza Strip.

The deployment of international forces in Gaza is not a new idea. Both international officials, such as European Parliament member Luisa Morgantini, and the Palestinian Authority (PA) have suggested such a deployment in past years. The PA requested that the United Nations deploy international troops throughout the Palestinian territories, especially in Gaza, which has witnessed three major Israeli aggressions in less than 10 years.

Chief negotiator for the PA, Saeb Erekat, told Al-Monitor, “It is the right of the Palestinian people to demand the presence of international forces across the Palestinian territories [the West Bank, Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem] in light of the escalation of the Israeli crimes.”

Erekat said that Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas reiterated these demands during his speech before the UN Human Rights Council on Feb. 27. Abbas called for the protection of the Palestinian people and the implementation of UN Security Council Resolution 904, which was adopted following the 1994 Cave of the Patriarchs massacre in Hebron.

Abbas said the PA would carry on with its endeavors through international institutions to provide such protection, including the deployment of international forces.

However, armed Palestinian factions in the Gaza Strip squarely rejected these demands. Hamas spokesman Abdullatif al-Kanou rejected the deployment of international forces in Gaza in a Feb. 28 statement to the Palestinian Information Center, which is close to Hamas.

Kanou said Hamas believes that bringing foreign troops to Gaza would be a serious matter only aimed at protecting Israel. He said that international institutions have to work instead on ending the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories.

Islamic Jihad spokesman Ahmed al-Modallal also expressed his opposition to the deployment of international forces in Gaza, stressing that this action only seeks to protect Israel. He said that such troops cannot protect the Palestinian people from Israel's continuous attacks.

“We refuse to have any foreign troops in the Palestinian territories, as their main goal would be to thwart the work of the Palestinian resistance, which defends its people and territories against Israeli crimes,” Modallal told Al-Monitor, calling upon other factions to join hands to block the PA's demands for the deployment of international troops.

Kayed al-Ghul, a Gaza-based leader of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, similarly rejected the deployment of international forces in the Gaza Strip.

“Deploying these troops in accordance with Israel’s vision — seeking to restrict and hamper the work of the resistance in protecting the Palestinian people and in retaliation for the Israeli attacks — is totally unacceptable,” Ghul noted.

At the same time, Ghul said that protecting the Palestinian people is a main responsibility of the international institutions. “It is a just demand to provide the Palestinian people with protection, including the deployment of international forces on Palestinian territories, provided that they work on halting Israeli aggression against Palestinians and not to operate according to Israel’s interests,” he told Al-Monitor.

Ghul added that this proposal comes within the framework of Israel’s project to separate Gaza and the West Bank after completing its settlements project in the West Bank. He said Israel sees Gaza as a future Palestinian entity and thus deploying troops would come as part of security arrangements to prevent the Palestinian resistance from carrying out any operations.

The Palestinian rejection of the deployment of such troops can be explained in light of the failed multinational mission in the city of Hebron in May 1994, following the Cave of the Patriarchs massacre. Back then, the international forces deployed to Hebron failed to protect the citizens from Israeli attacks. Their work was limited to monitoring and documenting the Israeli aggressions and the conditions of the people in Hebron. The term of this mission is renewed every six months in coordination with participating countries.

Abdel Sattar Qassem, a professor of political science at An-Najah National University in Nablus, told Al-Monitor, “It is no use to deploy these forces in the Palestinian territories, as Palestinians are totally convinced that they would serve the Israeli agenda and work according to Israeli conditions, which is to monitor the military actions of the Palestinian factions against Israel.”

Qassem said Israel would not allow the presence of any international force inside the West Bank, where it seeks to tighten its security grip as a way to further expand settlements and confiscate Palestinian land. He added that Israel is, however, ready to have such troops deployed to the Gaza Strip as a means to deter the work of the Palestinian resistance.

Mustafa al-Sawaf, a political analyst and former editor-in-chief of Felesteen newspaper, said any international presence in the Palestinian territories will be to the detriment of the Palestinian people and will be seen as part of the Israeli occupation. Sawaf said the Palestinian people need the international parties to deter the Israeli occupation in effective ways instead of these futile methods.

Sawaf told Al-Monitor that international forces are usually deployed in sovereign states to resolve conflicts, but the Palestinian people are still under the occupation of Israel and have the right to defend themselves.

This proposal remains far-fetched as Palestinian factions continue to oppose it and as the Palestinian people are convinced that these troops would serve as custodians for the occupation instead of protectors of Palestinians.

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