The bombing has resumed in Gaza after what had looked like a promising cease-fire agreement broke down all too quickly. The two sides, Hamas and Israel, had repeatedly extended the reprieve as talks in Cairo, brokered by Egypt, continued. Alas, the talks came to naught. The negotiators were too far apart, with two key issues creating huge stumbling blocks: the economic blockade of Gaza, and Hamas’s armed capabilities. Hamas is demanding the end of the former, Israel the end of the latter. Each conditions their acquiescence on the prior action of the other side: Hamas will disarm if Israel ends the blockade, Israel will end the blockade when Hamas disarms.
And thus, as for the last fifty years, we have a stalemate. Even if this round of fighting and talking miraculously leads to a breakthrough (partial disarmament for a bit of economic relief, perhaps), the deadlock will just re-emerge in another form. Neither side has any incentive to make serious, painful concessions because they won’t gain anything if they do.
The Israeli-Palestinian conflict, as real and important and heart-breaking as it is, is also a proxy war. The behind-the-scenes belligerents are America and Iran, two of the world’s most bitter foes. Their animosity fuels the activities of Hamas (supported by Iran) and funds the Israeli’s disproportionate response (America supplies the IDF). As with all Middle Eastern conflicts, everyone gets drawn in by the cobweb of geo-political, religious and downright cynical allegiances which smothers the region.
There is some sign that America’s blind support of Israel has become a little more conditional on good behaviour, but this is only likely to last as long as Obama’s presidency. In the long run, with a hawkish Republican or different kind of Democrat (read: one who relies on the money of the Jewish lobby) in the White House, Israel can trust in America to have its back, especially as it desperately tries to retain a foothold in the region now that many of its old dictator friends have fallen.
On the other hand, Iran backs Hamas as a mere pawn in its plan to dominate the Middle East and create a Shia monopoly on power and, in turn, belittle Washington into leaving the region alone. For this to happen, Israel must be weakened.
Until these two begin to work together, there is little hope of peace in Palestine. The prospect seems unlikely, although they have recently found common cause with opposition to the Islamic State. It is doubtful that this small glimmer of shared aspiration will materialise into anything more; America and Iran are still on opposite sides of the Syrian civil war, a conflict not likely to be resolved anytime soon.
The best bet is to appeal to Iran’s craving for stability, and to tweak sanctions in response to its behaviour – good or bad. In the US, it is time that politicians on all side explain that a wish to see a two-state solution in Palestine is not an abandonment of Israel. Until we end the proxy war, rounds of violence will continue to devastate Gaza. Don’t hold your breath.