“The stated objective of Israel's aggression on Gaza is to restore the status quo that existed before, i.e., ‘calm for calm’”, writes Hani al-Masri on the independent Palestinian website www.masarat.ps.
The reality though is that Binyamin Netanyahu’s government wishes to destroy the infrastructure of Palestinian resistance and demoralize the Palestinians by making [Gaza’s] disarmament a key condition of a ceasefire agreement.
Palestinian resistance is still active despite last week’s punishing Israeli air raids. Palestinian rockets are still hitting Israeli cities. The resistance refuses to return to the ‘calm for calm’ formula, and insists that any new ceasefire agreement should include stopping the aggression, lifting the blockade on Gaza, and releasing all Palestinians detained since the ‘Hebron attack’ [kidnapping and killing of Israeli settler youth] including those who were released in exchange for Shalit and then rearrested.
There is disagreement among the Palestinians about the efficacy and objective of firing rockets at Israel given the vast disparity in strength between the two sides. President Abbas has described the rocket-fire as futile and called for an unconditional return to the situation that existed nine days ago, thus demonstrating that the official Palestinian position coincides in some aspects with that of Israel.
This disagreement, which is the result of the continued division despite the formation of a unity government, confuses the Palestinian position and weakens prospects of victory, the only factor that frightens Israel and makes it reluctant to launch a new aggression.
In order to arrive at a new position, we have to bear in mind that the West Bank, which has no rockets and whose security forces coordinate their actions with the Israelis, has been unable to protect its people either. The Israelis have killed over 100 Palestinians in the West Bank since the beginning of 2013, half of them before the Hebron attack. Many were killed while the peace talks were still ongoing. This is not to mention other Israeli actions such as expanding settlements, Judaizing Jerusalem, attacking holy places, passing racist laws, and continuing detentions.
Palestinians must also remember that this is the third large-scale Israeli assault on Gaza in five years. Israel has been launching such attacks on a regular basis so as to ensure that the Palestinian resistance does not acquire a serious capability to threaten it by establishing a degree of mutual deterrence. Israel also wants to de-couple Gaza from the West Bank, and thus preclude the establishment of a Palestinian state.
The Palestinian people are defending themselves, which is a natural right enshrined in all divine and temporal laws. Israel by contrast is defending its occupation, settlement, racism, and colonial project. Israel also wants to train its troops and try out its new weapons systems, as well as to portray the Palestinians as perpetual enemies in order to ensure continued support from the Israeli public. It thus rejects any fair and balanced solution.
We must also remember that it was the Israeli army that began the current hostilities by deliberately targeting and killing a number of Qassam militants. Israel believes that this was an opportune time to launch a new aggression on Gaza given the poor state of Hamas's relations with the Arab world and regional states. Israel believes that Arab officialdom would welcome an attack on Hamas, and that the people of Gaza would not receive much Arab and international support. As an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood, which is banned in many Arab countries, Israel believes Hamas would be outcast.
It would be a serious error however to portray this war as a continuation of the war against the Muslim Brotherhood. It is a war targeting all Palestinians. The assault on Gaza cannot be separated from the continuing aggression on the West Bank and on Israeli Arabs. Although it takes on different forms, the objective of this aggression is the same: to break the Palestinians' will to resist and force them to acquiesce with Israel's plans to liquidate the Palestinian cause.
With Gaza holding out, confrontations still continuing in the West Bank and in the lands of 1948, and with international solidarity gaining strength, it is essential for the Palestinians to insist on lifting the blockade of Gaza, releasing prisoners and stopping the aggression as conditions for any new agreement.
Also, if the Palestinian rockets are as ineffective as Israel says they are, why has it imposed an information blackout? And why do Israelis scurry to the shelters whenever the sirens wail?
But given the great disparity in power between the two sides, the lack of strategic Arab, regional, and international depth, and in the light of current Arab weakness, Palestinian rockets cannot be said to constitute a suitable strategy for liberation. But they are a suitable defensive strategy because they emphasize the unity of the Palestinian cause, people, and land – the land of 1967 in particular.
Without the rockets, Israel would have invaded Gaza and separated it from the West Bank once and for all. But there are several other points that are worth dwelling on: Israel does not want to destroy Hamas. It wants to keep Hamas weak and perpetually on the verge of collapse, exactly as the PA is in the West Bank. Israel wants to keep the two rival Palestinian authorities at its mercy in order to prevent them from resisting its diktats. Removing Hamas would be costly and time consuming for Israel, and could have negative Palestinian, Arab, regional, and international repercussions. This explains the debates now going on in Israel about the objectives and efficacy of a possible ground offensive. Also, Hamas’s fall would automatically end the Palestinian split, which greatly benefits Israel.
Another important point is that the PA's decision to ban any confrontations with Israel in its [West Bank] areas– allegedly to protect the people – greatly weakens the prospects for meeting the resistance's conditions. Israel will only halt its aggression if it believes that the failure to do so would hasten the outbreak of a new uprising or the collapse of the PA.
Israel would also stop its aggression if it believes that the Palestinian leadership is ready to adopt a stronger stance more in line with the demands of the Palestinian people, who are calling for helping Gaza by ending security coordination with Israel and allowing the people of the West Bank to confront Israel. The Palestinian people also demand that the PA apply forthwith for membership of the International Criminal Court.
One of the pitfalls that threaten to squander all the achievements of the resistance is the rivalry between the two Palestinian factions to co-opt the battle for their own ends. This applies to the PA, which seeks to monopolize the peace process, and to Hamas, which wants to score a victory at the expense of Palestinian unity and interests.
In order to overcome this danger, the PLO’s interim leadership should hold an urgent meeting and come up with policies to manage the current political and military confrontation, and reach an agreement to stop the aggression, lift the blockade imposed on Gaza, and end the split once and for all such that the current duality of power is ended.
“The government and security forces must be unified, and resistance must be managed through a comprehensive national strategy”, concludes Masri.