Progress?

The cause of the world’s social liberals (along with those in favour of world peace) avoided a worrisome set back with the re-election of Obama early last month. On waking to the news, one could almost feel the entire populations of Europe, South America and various other countries breath a collective sigh of relief. The only people who were disgruntled were the banks (such a shame) and Israel’s right wing.

Israel’s Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, had obviously been hoping for a Romney win. He knew that the Republicans would back him in any attack against Iran (I’m not going to open that can of worms quite yet) and would invariably favour Israel over Palestine, no matter the question. Not to mention, such strong support from America would have helped Mr Netanyahu to re-election early next year. But things did not go the way ‘Bibi’ had hoped and now he will have to work alongside the more balanced Obama.

Obviously, Israel’s government was severely shaken by such a prospect. They had been doing their very best to ignore an increase in rockets fired from Gaza by Hamas, the strip’s militant leaders. Suddenly, however, Israel decided to retaliate, killing one of Hamas’s top men in an airstrike. Tensions flared and the rocket attacks on Israel increased. No-one can deny Israel’s right to defend itself, but the government’s reaction was extreme. It recommenced the shelling of Gaza we last saw in the six-day war of 2006, killing dozens upon dozens of civilians while claiming that it was targeting ‘military bases’. Although 12 Israelis sadly died, this was clearly disproportionate. The massing of Israel’s troops along the border even raised fears of a ground offensive. Mercifully – and, it seemed, just in time – peace talks in Cairo came to fruition with a ceasefire agreement and the fighting largely stopped.

But no-one, least of all those involved, thinks that the fighting has stopped for good. Small violations of the ceasefire by both sides have shown how easily the situation could escalate again – if not now, next year, or any year after that. It is time for Obama to act and save the world another half century of bloodshed and instability in the planet’s most combustible region.

Such a disastrous situation warrants a radical and risky solution. Until Israel still gains from the settlement-building in Palestinian territory which has scuppered movement towards a two-state deal, there is no hope of talks resuming on the matter. So Israel needs an incentive to halt new building projects. I would hazard a guess that the removal of financial and military aid from America would do the trick.

On the other side, Hamas needs to do a little growing up. It has a democratic mandate to govern, but still acts as a rebel group. It gains nothing from sending ineffectual rockets into Israel and it is time that ordinary Palestinian’s held their leaders to account.

The fact of the matter, though, is that a meaningful two-state solution is a long way off. To bring it nearer, the international community needs to start treating Gaza and the West Bank like proper countries. The upgrading of the latter to ‘non-member observer’ status at the UN is a step in the right direction, but nowhere near enough. My two-penny’s worth is this: lift the economic stranglehold which Israel exercises on Palestine and support for Hamas’s violent methods will fall as it begins to have other priorities, such as health care and education. Then there may, finally, be progress.

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