When Self-defense breaches its bounds and why it will take the West to settle the Israel-Palestine Question

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By George Musiime

The situation in Gaza has been progressively deteriorating since last October. Yet even after a phone conversation with president Biden, Prime minister Netanyahu went on to make a televised statement in which he asserted that Israel could not defeat Hamas without marching on Rafa, alluding to the existence of battalions of Hamas operatives “among the city’s 1.4 million residents.” The impending offensive sets a couple of challenges including; where the 1.4 million people will go having seen the destructive nature of these operations, whether they will be allowed time to get to safety,  and weather the IDF will take the imperative to avoid civilian casualties this time. It is important to note that The United States has since the Carter administration acknowledged that lasting peace in this region could only come from a two state solution. However, for some reason the United States and the West in general have not used their influence over Israel to deliver on this goal, which should, undoubtedly  be within the power of their foreign policy machinery.

The Israel-Palestine conflict is among the world’s longest running conflicts, going back to the creation of the state of Israel on May 14th 1948.  The conflict started with the Arab-Israeli war which had displaced over 700,000 Palestinians by 1949 culminating into the division of this territory into the three parts we know today as Israel, The west Bank and the Gaza Strip.

Prof. Miershimer describes this terrible situation by referring to Palestine as the world’s largest open-air prison. However, judging by what has been going on in Palestine, this may be an understatement because never before, in its 75 year history  has this conflict nor any other conflict had such levels of destruction over such a short period; with millions displaced, tens of thousands dead and entire cities razed to the ground. While this has been so, the Western stance on this conflict particularly over the past four months but also during previous episodes has been non-committal in as far as calling Israel to order; always asserting Israel’s right to self-defense, while vilifying any differing views at times. Let us not forget that the Camp David accords of 1979 delivered gains in resolving tensions between Israel and Egypt alongside Syria. Moreover, the Oslo accords were viewed with much anticipation only to collapse with the assassination of former Premier Rabin Yitzhak in 1995 by elements opposed to the signing of the accords that fronted a two-state approach to this conflict. Attempts to resurrect these efforts through the Abraham accords brokered by the US are already coming under threat with Morocco seemingly decided to pullout from whatever concessions were reached in 2021. Nevertheless, the major flaw with this approach is that it attempts to create ties between Israel and Arab nations with the implicit aim of isolating Palestine.

What the world seems to ignore in this entire melee is that the Palestinians want the same thing the Israelis want. Meanwhile, the West has overseen the growth of a Militarily powerful and technologically advanced nation of Israel next door to Palestine. Creating a very powerful state of Israel that is not willing to afford the Palestinians most of the rights and freedoms that it wants for its own people, a deviation from the position of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which asserts the recognition of inherent dignity and of equal and inalienable human rights as foundations of…global peace.

Regardless, the occasional rockets fired into Israel and such horrendous attacks as the one of 7 October 2023 are evidence that this has not been without consequence. Moreover, this can be argued to have fueled the rise to prominence of extremist groups such as Hamas over the rather moderate PLO and Fatah.  The Israeli run apartheid state in Gaza has provided the necessary conditions for the raise of Hamas. More so, while this went on, the United States throughout the currently raging conflict has continuously stressed through the president its alignment with Israel amidst worldwide lamentation over the worsening situation in the region. President Biden has also argued that if there had been no Israel, The United States would have had to create one to protect US interests in the Middle East.

This goes to tell how the Biden administration views the situation in Gaza as long as Israel seems to be winning. It remains unpredictable the scale of destruction the offensive on Rafa might have. However, one can argued that this conflict is at a point where people may not necessarily fall to shelling or small arms fire. As the author Allan Weiss point out, you do not have to shoot songbirds out of the sky, sometimes all it takes is destroying enough of their sustenance and they will voluntarily start to drop dead on their own. Such has been the nature of Israel’s offensive against the Gaza strip; destroying  homes, schools, cutting  power and water supply, denying  or rather complicating (through countless checkpoints and deliberate sabotage of public infrastructure) the delivery of  food and essential medical supplies or setting troves of people on an exodus amidst stampedes and bombardment.

A glimmer of hope for world peace:

Emulating Chinese leadership is not a new concept; in fact, the French enlightenment period philosopher Voltaire, in one of his letters expressed his great admiration for the Chinese culture and praised the Confucian ideas of universal morality and good governance. At a time when conflicts are sending shock waves rippling through the world in the form of economic downturns, hunger etcetera, China could still have wisdom to share with the world. China is on record for being a strong advocate of noninterference in other countries internal affairs, and finding negotiated solutions to differences and conflicts. In the face of a tumultuous global peace landscape, President Xi Jingping in his opening address at the Boao conference for Asia, 2022 proposed for the first time the Global Security Initiative (GIS) as a response to global peace challenges.  China further elaborates a road to sustainable world peace and security in six key commitments under the GIS. These commitments include; common comprehensive, cooperative and sustainable security, Respect for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of nations, Respect for the purpose and principles of the UN charter,  Taking seriously the concerns of all countries,  Peaceful resolution of differences and disputes through dialogue and consultation  and Maintaining security in all domains. As a country committed to shared global prosperity, China understands that prosperity cannot happen in the absence of peace. Moreover, with the GIS, president Xi reaffirms China’s mindfulness  of the UN charter whose overarching goal is to save future generations from the scourge of war and the resulting devastation,  which today, the world needs to work double-shift to return a lid on.

Seventy years of the Israel-Palestine conflict is proof that cease-fires are not what we need in this volatile region. Frozen conflicts are constantly at the risk of eruption and with many militant groups itching to take a reprisal jab at Israel; finding a lasting solution to this conflict would certainly be in the best interest of both the Israeli people and the world. In fact, the West may be the only party that could call Israel to order but for as long as we remain adamant to recognize Palestinians as humans deserving of the same rights and freedoms as everyone, we can continue to expect this conflict to carry on, only intermittently!

George Musiime is a research fellow at the Development Watch Centre.



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