Thursday, 8 January 2009

Even if this is the end of the battle, the war still rages on

As many feared, the bombing campaign against the people of Gaza by the Israeli Defence Force turned out to be just the first stage. Seven days after the attacks began, the IDF entered Gaza in force and split the region in two. The death toll is now well beyond five hundred for the Palestinians, whilst just eight Israelis have died. Now, however, the end of this particular conflict may be in sight. As it did six months ago with the ceasefire whose end signalled the start of this battle, Egypt has stepped in and is attempting to broker a truce between the two parties.

If indeed Israel has agreed "on the principles" of the truce and Hamas is seeing "positive signs," then the main concern now is "to get the details to match the principles," in the words of Israeli spokesman Mark Regev. And there is cause for optimism. Even if it resumed the bombing almost immediately afterward, the IDF's three-hour ceasefire to allow humanitarian aid to reach the Gazans must be seen as a positive given the previous uncompromising stance of their leaders in Tel Aviv.

However, any optimism on this front must of course be muted. The fighting still rages on, and Israeli tactics and attitudes towards the Palestinians remain terribly inhumane, as demonstrated by the Red Cross's accusations after discovering Palestinian children clinging to the corpses of their mothers, and of course the 18-month long blockade of Gaza continues. World Vision has reported its fears for the psychological health of children there, and the humanitarian crisis caused by the blockade has only worsened in the wake of the invasion.

As reported by Chinaview, the cease-fire already faces problems because of the contrasting demands of the two sides:
The Egyptian proposal contains the following points: firstly, Israel and the Palestinian factions should accept an immediate truce for a limited period, during which time safe corridors for relief supplies into Gaza would be opened.
The initiative then invites Israelis and Palestinians to meet to discuss how to avoid a resumption of fighting, including securing the borders and lifting the blockade of Gaza, which Israel says rocket and mortar attacks by Hamas have forced it to impose.
Egypt would also invite the Palestinian Authority and all Palestinian factions to respond to its efforts to achieve Palestinian reconciliation, which Cairo has failed to broker so far.
However, the proposal seems to be some distance away from what Israel has demanded in return for a ceasefire.
"We will hold our fire under two conditions: one is an end to the arms smuggling from Sinai (Egypt) into Gaza, and the other is the cessation of all terror activity, not just the rocket fire," Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said Tuesday.
Israel has also asked for an international border crossing with Gaza and a halt to weapons supplies to Hamas through tunnels along the border with Egypt.
The priority now must be to put all these conditions together. Clearly, Israel will not end its operation whilst rocket attacks by Hamas continue. However, just as clearly, the rocket attacks will not cease until the blockade ends and the people of Gaza have access to adequate food and medical supplies. As the prime aggressor in this conflict - rejecting the renewal of the ceasefire last month, organising the blockade, and enacting collective punishment against an entire people - the onus must be on Israel to take the first step. If that condition is not there, then all hopes for a future peace, fragile as they already are, may be irretrievably lost.