The National
January 5, 2009 - 1:00am

The Israeli military’s ground incursion into the Gaza Strip is a tragic but unsurprising development in the current conflict, with the ostensible goal of stopping the rocket fire into Israel. An aerial bombardment was never going to be enough to eliminate the highly mobile rocket teams employed by Hamas and other militant groups based in Gaza. But because the escalation of violence was so readily apparent, the continued refusal of the United States to allow a UN Security Council mandated ceasefire to pass is inexcusable.

The US and Israel seem not to have learnt the lessons of the 2006 war in Lebanon. International efforts to bring about a cessation of violence during that month-long conflict were stymied by US negotiators who refused to agree to any draft ceasefire that did not “address the underlying cause of the conflict”. From the American perspective, the underlying cause was Hizbollah’s anti-Israel platform, just as the US has asserted that the underlying cause of the current violence in Gaza is the rejectionist rhetoric of Hamas. Considering that Hizbollah was not defeated and the movement’s standing in Lebanon has only improved as a result, it is puzzling to see the US once again supporting Israel in another misguided attempt to destroy its enemies through military means.

But unlike the 2006 war in Lebanon, the US cannot be counted upon to end the violence in Gaza. With a little over two weeks left in office, George W Bush has little incentive to stop a campaign that has the chance, however slight, of breaking Hamas. The hardline movement’s capture of the Gaza Strip undermined US-led efforts to empower more moderate elements of the Palestinian hierarchy. He is undoubtedly more than eager to see Hamas punished as a result. The invasion of Gaza is likely also to force Barack Obama to carry on with Mr Bush’s efforts to sideline Hamas and its fellow rejectionists. If Mr Obama had any intention to open channels of dialogue with Hamas to coax them out of the diplomatic cold, that option is now all but closed. Before the assault on Gaza, moderate voices within Hamas were beginning to emerge and the movement showed signs of fracturing. Those dissenters appear to have been silenced in the wake of the invasion.

If any ceasefire is to take effect before the inauguration of Mr Obama, it will most probably come as a result of diplomatic efforts from the European Union. But with Nicolas Sarkozy ending his term as the EU presiden and being replaced by the Czech president, those efforts may stand a smaller chance of success. Without a powerful nation such as France at the helm of the EU, Israel has less incentive to listen to the demands of that body. Mr Sarkozy is still actively involved in attempts to broker a ceasefire, and leads an EU delegation seeking to achieve an armistice. The French President’s efforts are to be commended as they offer the only real chance for any diplomatic breakthrough.

However, Israel appears determined to repeat the mistakes it made in southern Lebanon in 2006. Unless it commits to the reoccupation of Gaza and the Israeli casualties that will ensue, something the country’s politicians are reluctant to do with an election looming, it will fail to destroy the Hamas movement or even to curtail the rocket fire into Israel. Hamas has only to avoid defeat to justify its uncompromising vision to the Palestinians and the Arab world. But it is the peace process and the Palestinians that, ultimately, will suffer as a result of any renewed recalcitrance from Hamas.


American Task Force on Palestine - 1634 Eye St. NW, Suite 725, Washington DC 20006 - Telephone: 202-262-0017