Gaza in Regional Context

Article Summary
Mustafa al-Labbad examines the different political trends at play in Operation Pillar of Defense, looking at the options and strategies for Israel, Hamas, Fatah, and Egypt.

The new Israeli assault on the Palestinian people in Gaza raises many questions about the operation’s goals and motives, especially after Israel's tough experience in the Gaza Strip four years ago.

While many have rejoiced over the ability of Palestinian rockets to reach Tel Aviv for the first time in the history of the Arab-Israeli conflict (and pessimists await the ground invasion of Gaza), discussion of the overall context of what is happening remains largely lacking.

It seems clear that Israel is not capable of translating its sweeping aerial superiority by ending the authority of Hamas in the Gaza Strip, or even disarming the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip. To achieve this goal would require a ground invasion in the densely-populated Gaza Strip over several weeks. Also, the human and material cost is clearly beyond Israel’s capability, which is something it has already experienced in the 2008-09 assault.

Why then is Israel waging a war whose result is already known? Is the common Arab explanation that [Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu launched the assault [on Gaza] to enhance his electoral chances enough? Why has there been frequent mention of a “truce” not a ceasefire in the Arab and regional discourse since the first day of the aggression?

This article attempts to explain the new regional context of the current Israeli aggression on Gaza. The article will focus on the emerging changes in the region and the political alliances among its states [which aim to] direct the events toward a long-term truce between Israel and Hamas, the features of which seem to be lurking in the horizon.

The options of Hamas

Under the presumed “truce,” Hamas would win the success of its project in the “State of Gaza.” As a result, the Palestinian cause would be embodied in Gaza and its leadership in the Hamas movement.

Under this condition, the blockade will be permanently broken. The crossings to Egypt will be opened, since the “truce” cannot be achieved without an Egyptian sponsorship. Maritime gateways to the Gaza Strip can even be negotiated freely under certain conditions and guarantees that will be subject to the “truce negotiations.”

In any case, the political horizon for the Palestinians is no longer represented in the establishment of a state on the territories occupied by Israel in 1967, i.e., the West Bank of the Jordan River and the Gaza Strip.

Since Hamas took control over the Gaza Strip in 2006, we have had two “Palestines:” One in the West Bank administratively ruled by Fatah without any form of control, and the second in Gaza under political and military control by Hamas.

Since that time, the two parts of 1967 Palestine, which were already geographically divided, took separate political courses, thus further complicating the Palestinian cause for its owners.

The geographical and political estrangement between the two parts of Palestine in 1967 reinforced contradictory locative/spatial?  laws, upon which the new context of events is based, because the provisions of a place impose their conditions in the end.

Ultimately, the liberation of Gaza would represent a certain victory for the options of Hamas, which has retained power and withstood the siege and invasion for six full years.

With the Egyptian logistical and ideological support, and the regional financial and political backing, the “truce” option appears to be highly attractive to some leaders of Hamas, especially those of them currently living outside Gaza.

The options of Mohammed Morsi

[Former Egyptian President Hosni] Mubarak’s favored option of besieging the Gaza Strip and colluding with the Israeli repression machine against the Palestinian people in Gaza is certainly no longer possible for the new regime in Egypt.

Moreover, the new Egyptian leadership is not hostile to Hamas for ideological reasons as was Mubarak. Hamas is the Palestinian branch of the Muslim Brotherhood ruling Egypt today. Therefore, the sympathy of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and other Arab countries with “the plight of Gaza” is natural, because ensuring the success of the experience of Hamas in the Gaza Strip would render the “Brothers’” project a success in the entire region.

This is reflected in the language that characterized the Egyptian reaction to the new Israeli aggression, [saying that] this is an “aggression on Gaza” rather than on the historical territories of Palestine based on the June 4, 1967, borders, and an “aggression against Hamas,” not the Palestinian people, who are being killed for that as well. The rockets and bombs do not ask the permission of victims before tearing them into pieces, whether or not they belong to Hamas.

But away from the [Egyptian] rhetoric, the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt can market and justify the “truce” between Hamas and Israel as “a victory they seized from Israel,” one that “guarantees freedom to Gaza and its population, relieves the siege on the Palestinian brothers, and restores Egypt’s role as the guarantor of agreements.”

It is no secret that the marketing of the “truce” is not difficult at home, given the increasing popular fears of losing control over the Sinai, and the awareness of Egypt’s current inability to engage in military confrontations amid a difficult economic situation and non-readiness at all levels.

Eventually, this “truce” might easily be translated into external gains, through a unique partnership with Washington after presenting [Egypt with] unique credentials such as “the godfather of the solution” and “the godfather of the truce,” which Mubarak has deservedly failed at.

Above all, Mohammed Morsi knows that the regional alliance that has been formed to forge such a settlement is essentially responsible for achieving a “political solution” for the Gaza Strip exclusively, not the entire Palestinian issue. This has been understood through the visit of the Qatari emir and Turkish prime minister to Cairo the day before yesterday [Nov. 17], and their meeting with President Mohammed Morsi to discuss the latest developments in Gaza and ways to ensure a political settlement that gives the Gazans a greater margin of freedom, but within a “long truce” between Hamas and the Israeli occupation.

Regional options

Hamas may be free to choose a “truce,” but it is certainly not free in terms of the structure of its choice. In other words, what is happening in Gaza falls within the wider regional context, whether or not Hamas approves.

Clearly, the failure of the so-called “axis of moderation” in reaching a political settlement to the Palestinian issue is one of the main factors that blew wind in the sail of the “rejectionist axis” led by Iran. Thus, forging a “political settlement” — a “truce” in Muslim Brotherhood terms — for the situation in Gaza is a regional priority on which the interests of various capitals converge, from the [Persian] Gulf and Turkey all the way to the United States.

In this case, a political settlement would allow the formation of new regional arrangements and presentation of different policies. This would give the anti-Iran axis the momentum it has lost over the past 10 years. With the exit of Hamas under the “truce” from the equation of actual conflict with Israel, the “objectionist axis” will lose its political extension and alliance within the Palestinian territories. This extension has extremely weakened in the last two years, despite the Iranian-made rockets that were launched by Hamas on Tel Aviv in recent days.

Furthermore, pulling Hamas from the political landscape and confrontation with Israel will greatly facilitate the task of painting the Iran-led axis with a sectarian brush, thereby limiting the scope of sympathy towards it by the masses in the Arab world.

According to the history of the region over the past two decades, every time the US seeks to isolate Iran and its alliances in the region, it launches a peace process between the Palestinians and Israel regardless of the final outcome.

Similarly, every time Israel acts intransigently and ignores attempts at a settlement, support for the resistance movements in the region increases, the presence of the “moderation axis” in the face of the “defiance axis” recedes, and the political and moral influence of the United States in the region declines.

Israel’s gains

When the military aggression is translated into a long “truce,” the Israeli occupation state is relieved of the brunt of the mass population of the Gaza Strip, and different scenarios to seize the remaining land in the West Bank open up before it.

This would be done by dividing the Palestinian issue into a “pro-Hamas Gaza” and a “West Bank” under demographic and military control.

Here, we quote former Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin’s statement explaining the significance of Gaza in the Israeli calculations: “I wish I could wake up from my sleep to find that Gaza had sunk into the sea.”

Even if Israel were to annex the West Bank to its territories, the demographic balance that is already tilted in the direction of the Jewish population will tilt toward them more clearly, especially after the exclusion of that portion of the Palestinian people living in Gaza.

The Gaza Strip or the “State of Gaza” could perhaps pledge the return of Palestinian refugees from the historical territories of Palestine in 1948 to it, thus Israel will have accomplished a net profit of its current aggression on the Palestinian people in Gaza.

In addition, Israel’s military options have decreased during the past years. Tel Aviv is no longer fighting classical Arab armies commanded by Third World countries and beating them with the latest technology of US weapons, and the superiority of the Air Force and its ability to pave the way for a ground war.

For years, Tel Aviv has been fighting movements that are lightly and moderately armed in terms of military weapons, but heavily in terms of ideological and doctrinal beliefs. This introduces an amendment to the nature of the conflict, and makes the militarily-superior Israel a political loser even before the battles begin.

Once again, the Palestinian issue stands on the altar of regional powers, which have exploited and extended its tragedies over the past decades for the benefit of their interests and policies.

Palestinian national unity is no longer an intellectual vanity, or even a political constant occasionally remembered by preachers to save face. Particularly during these defining moments, Palestinian national unity has become the guarantor and protector against the fall of the Palestinian issue into new abysses, under regional and international sponsorship and a unique convergence of interests.

If the various parties — belonging to any axis — wanted to prove their goodwill in solidarity with the Palestinian people and their just cause, they should take the initiative — parallel with steps to stop the aggression on Gaza and break the siege — to work toward achieving Palestinian national unity, actually and practically, not only verbally.

Without this main prerequisite, the slogan of the next phase will be one-way: “Gaza first and last!”

Found in: sinai, palestinian, hamas, gaza, forced displacement in the west bank, blockade

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