Raghida Dergham
Dar Al-Hayat (Opinion)
January 2, 2009 - 1:00am

Israel and Hamas have set traps for themselves and for each other; these traps will bring about dangerous repercussions as the escalation in Gaza lacks a clear-cut objective and an exit strategy. Both sides need help to escape this predicament. Otherwise, their recklessness will entail further loss of innocent lives as well as loose wars and catastrophic measures that must be prohibited. Neither Hamas nor Israel is going to win this war. Gaza's women and children and the innocent civilians on both sides will be the sole losers. Hamas has embroiled the Palestinians in a war without their consent and in the absence of any prerogatives, preparations, and precautionary measures. The Israeli leaders have lost their senses once again; they staged a war which will come to end once hundreds of civilians are slaughtered. Hamas might welcome an Israeli invasion of Gaza in order to hunt the Israeli soldiers in the lands familiar to its fighters. But Hamas' leaders know very well that such a development will finish off the movement as a political organization, and that Israel's retaliation will be unaffordable for the entire Palestinians. Thus, Hamas' leaders have minimized their show-off and pride. For its part, Israel is reluctant to regain control of Gaza and is uncertain about its ability to inflict a crushing defeat on Hamas, whether through air strikes or ground invasion. Accordingly, Israel has fallen into the trap of rushing to war and is now looking for an exit strategy. Bearing in mind the elections and power, both leaders - from Hamas and Israel - enticed each other into escalation and acted as if they needed each other's contributions to achieve their political ambitions. Both the leaderships may have wished to change the rules of the game on the ground before the US President-elect Barack Obama takes office on January 20. Should the world's leaders refrain from instantaneously enforcing courageous, creative and comprehensive plans to settle the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the situation in Gaza will not only lead to the collapse of the two-state solution, but also to the collapse of the Palestinian Authority, provoking an all-inclusive mayhem, the ramifications of which may prove uncontrollable.

One of the black scenarios involves a comprehensive escalation by Israel as a pretext for the mass expulsion of the Palestinian citizens living inside Israel, within a strategic plan to resolve Israel's demographic crisis caused by the citizenship of a million Palestinians living in "the Jewish State." Israeli Foreign Minister Tsipi Livni has finally broken the silence and overtly raised the need for a "Jewish State" free of Palestinians. Hamas' measures justify such a plan which can hardly be perceived in the 21st century. Redrawing the map will seal Gaza off and force it into the Egyptian lap, thus turning Hamas from an Israeli problem into an Egyptian one. The mayhem in the West Bank will be an excuse to revive the so-called Jordanian option, based on promoting Jordan as an "alternative homeland" for the Palestinians.

Aside from this hardly believed, definitely immoral possibility that is based on ethnic cleansing, such a scenario will not bring about any calm in Israel regardless of how many separation walls it erects. Only the two-state solution will allow the Israelis to live peacefully and securely. Even if Hamas is defeated - which is an if clause - it will remain a source of tension for the Israelis, and the Gaza Strip will remain an extremist and armed neighbor regardless of the measures taken to cut it off Israel. Furthermore, the instability in Egypt will pose a threat to Israel, especially if Iran benefits from the Israeli extremism and manipulates the Gaza impasse to undermine the Egyptian government.

Iran leads the Hamas-Hezbollah-Syria axis, and relations between the Islamic Republic in Iran and Egypt have remarkably deteriorated. Hezbollah's Secretary General Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah has called upon the Egyptian people and the armed forces to topple the Egyptian government on charges of letting down the Palestinians. This verbal escalation might backfire; it may stir up patriotic feelings in the Egyptian street against such instigations and humiliation. The Sunni-Shiite rift might also widen, provoking another level of violence and perhaps various wars.

Lebanon remains the Pandora's box, with its destiny partially determined by Iran. In its capacity of the party's primary provider of weapons, the Islamic Republic absolutely controls Hezbollah's war decisions.

Syria did not open its borders with Israel to the resistance volunteers - neither to those protesting in Arab streets, nor to those whom Tehran's mullahs call for training in Iran.

Israel's leaders deceive themselves and others by claiming that their offensive against Hamas will serve and support the Arab moderates. It is nonsense to pretend supporting the Arab moderates, while at the same time, the Israeli leaders elude every chance to push forward the negotiating option favored by the Palestinian Authority.

As a matter of fact, the Palestinian Authority and Hamas disagree over the best option to be adopted. Is it the peaceful negotiating track towards a two-state solution? Or the armed resistance to liberate Palestine? It is Israel - with its adopted measures and attempts to elude the negotiation requirements - that has undermined the moderate line and provided sufficient ammunition for those mocking the Arab moderates. At this juncture, the Arab moderates will not serve as a scapegoat or a buffer zone between Hamas and Israel.

What must be done goes beyond Gaza. International and regional leaders should carry out collective action regardless of how frequent and deep are the disputes and divisions. More is required than a call to announce a ceasefire and restore the truce. The leaders of the so-called Quartet must shape an appropriate plan for Obama to adopt once he assumes power.

Many of the wise and intelligent people across the world are weighing such a plan. Some of the ideas exclusively focus on rescuing Hamas and Israel from the predicament. Others insist that nothing can be done if Hamas and its infrastructure are not destroyed as a starting point. Other suggestions involve deploying international military observers to monitor the checkpoints and crossings between Gaza and Israel and between Gaza and Egypt. Others call for establishing security partnerships to set up a new Middle East order, one that embraces Western states and Israel alongside Iran, Turkey and Pakistan.

All of these scenarios must understand how uncomplicated are the calls for a peaceful solution to the conflict. Any preconditions, such as ceasing violence and holding the Palestinian Authority responsible for the deeds of Hamas and the other Palestinian factions, will only undermine the choice of negotiations and dispel the hopes for moderation. This issue should be distanced from the argument of which came first, the chicken or the egg.

The Palestinian Authority is Israel's legitimate partner in any negotiation solution. Israel should engage in serious peace talks with the Palestinian Authority, the legitimate representative of the Palestinians, and both sides must cooperate in monitoring the crossings into Gaza.

International and regional leaders must first and foremost seriously press Israel and the Palestinian Authority to resume their peace talks regardless of where Hamas ends. There is an inevitable international responsibility in this regard, be it an immediate meeting for international and regional leaders, or preparations for an international conference in Moscow or any European capital. If Hamas decides to turn on itself and agrees to partake in any political settlement, then be it. But it is the responsibility of the Palestinian Authority - not Hamas - to conduct and carry on the negotiations.

Hamas' engagement in these talks or destruction must not be a precondition for successful talks. Obviously, the partner is the Palestinian Authority, the collapse of which will bring about ruinous repercussions for the Palestinians and Israelis alike.

Israel's shelling may eventually close the underground crossings and choke the people and Hamas' fighters further with more crossings closed. But this collective punishment will backfire on Israel. The time has come to seriously consider the available options impartially.

Israel repudiates the one-state solution, as it consecrates equal treatment for all and democracy embedded in giving every man a vote. Instead, the Israelis want the world to bless Israel as a pure "Jewish state," where no one else enjoys a similar citizenship. This is the story in brief.

Some Israeli leaders believe that the two-state solution will fail to address the demographic crisis inside Israel, so they refuse this option. They want Jordan to be an alternative homeland for the Palestinians; they want to drive the Palestinians in Israel to Jordan by any means possible.

The US alone can prevent this madness from becoming a reality. To this end, it must voice its objection, saying: This is absolutely unacceptable. The time has come for this "no" now more than ever. President-elect Barack Obama must reemphasize his commitment to Jordan's security and entity as a State. He must also reaffirm the US serious commitment to the two-state solution.

Also, there is a need for a clear message from President-elect Barack Obama to all concerned sides - Iran among others - that instability in Egypt is totally rejected. It is not about loving or hating the ruling regime in Egypt, but about the repercussions this instability will beget. Washington must pressure President Hosni Mubarak's regime, while drawing red lines.

For its part, Iran needs to hear from the coming US administration that the new president will listen and engage Iran, only if the latter stops meddling and wreaking havoc in Palestine, Lebanon, and Egypt. This message should be delivered to the mullahs and revolutionists ruling Tehran. They must realize that there are new conditions for the US to engage Iran; its leaders should stop provoking chaos in their Arab neighboring countries.

Arab leaders must also stop outbidding when it comes to Palestine. Those backing Hamas in its armed resistance to end Israel's occupation of Palestine must candidly speak out. They must open their borders for the resistance, arm Hamas, and reconsider their recognition of the Palestinian Authority. If not, then let them stop their hypocrisy which kills more and more Palestinians.

As for the Arab leaders, advocates of the option of peaceful negotiations, they must dare to stand out against Hamas; they must face it for having taken the Palestinian citizens as hostages in its failed adventures for power. They must actively support the Palestinian Authority, initiating an aggressive diplomatic campaign in Europe and the US to highlight the mistakes of absolving any party to the conflict.

President-elect Barack Obama would have preferred not to have his assumption of power synchronized with the current dilemma. He certainly would have preferred to avoid this slippery road in the mazes of the Middle East. But now, he might not have another option. However, there might be an opportunity for the coming president to play a leadership role instead of following the steps all parties wish to draw for him. If he sets things clear from the start and decides by himself on the courageous steps to be taken, he would be doing himself and the world a great favor.


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