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Gaza First:
But Not Gaza Only!

M.J. Rosenberg

All too often one hears that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is destined never to be resolved. "Not all conflicts are solvable. Americans have to get over their naïve notion that every international conflict has a solution," or so we are told.

Of course, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is not the only one deemed unsolvable by partisans of one or another of the sides. I have heard Serbs and Croats say the same thing: Indians and Pakistanis, Irish Protestants and Irish Catholics, and Greek and Turkish Cypriots, to name a few.

The irony is that the closer one is to a particular conflict, the harder it is to see that it is eminently solvable. Thus, Jews will look at the Irish situation and say that resolving it can't be that difficult. Both sides are Irish and Christian; what's the big deal?

And most of the world had a hard time seeing what Serbs and Croats were battling over. They speak the same language and share a common ethnic heritage.

To outsiders, these wars made little, if any, sense. Couldn't these folks understand that ethnic hatred was getting in the way of a prosperous and secure future?

But, for the most part, it is only the outsiders who view these ethnic wars dispassionately. The same people who view others’ strident nationalism as ridiculous will quite often become equally chauvinistic when it comes to his or her own group.

And so we hear from otherwise enlightened people that, while other national and ethnic conflicts are throwbacks to the bad old days, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is, in fact, the one that cannot be resolved.

Some Jews say that it is unique because the Arabs will never accept a Jewish state and their Arab counterparts say that Israelis will not be content until they have taken every last dunam of land.

But the conflict is not unique. In almost all its basic elements, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict resembles virtually all the other national/ethnic conflicts on the planet. It's about land, refugees, religion, holy places, borders, minority rights, etc. -- and so are many of the other conflicts.

In only one respect is the Israeli-Palestinian conflict different from the world's other well-publicized conflicts. And the difference is that many of these other conflicts are moving toward resolution, not in the opposite direction.

The "Good Friday Agreement” of 1998 has had its ups and downs but, fundamentally, Northern Ireland has been peaceful ever since it was signed (and now has the fastest growing economy in the United Kingdom). The country is flooded with tourists and foreign investment is flowing in. And, other than a few extremists, no one, on either side wants to return to the days of hate.

The Yugoslavian wars are over. Milosevic is on trial and the people of Serbia-Montenegro, Croatia, Slovenia, Bosnia, and even Kosovo are, at last, recovering from the wars he initiated. Amazingly, Sarajevo is slowly regaining the multi-ethnic character it had before Milosevic set out on the path to war.

And, even the world's most dangerous and explosive international conflict, the one between India and Pakistan over Kashmir, is approaching resolution.

"We have a basic roadmap for a Pakistan-India peace process, to which we have both agreed," Pakistani Foreign Secretary Riaz Khokhar told a press conference the other day. "War is simply not an option."

Within the last few years the struggle over Kashmir has, on several occasions, threatened to plunge the subcontinent into nuclear war. Tens of thousands have been killed in acts of violence since 1989 but now the two sides say they are done with it. And most international observers believe they are serious.

And then there is Cyprus. The present phase of the civil war between Greek and Turkish Cypriots has been going on since 1964, although ethnic hostilities between the Muslim Turks and Christian Greeks are centuries old. Turkey invaded Cyprus in 1974 out of fear that Greece was about to annex the island. And, ever since, the island has been split: two-thirds Greek, one-third Turk.

This was no benign split either. The two communities were separated (along a so-called "Green Line") by fences and walls. Refugees stranded on the wrong side were unable to go home. Both sides blamed the other for acts of terror and barbarism. Throughout the Cold War, one of NATO's biggest concerns was that two member states, Turkey and Greece, would go to war over the treatment of its respective kin in Cyprus.

But now the Cyprus conflict is ending. The fences are coming down, and a peace plan drafted by Kofi Annan is about to go into effect.

The question is: why now? Did Greek and Turkish Cypriots decide that their mutual animosity is baseless? Have Greeks forgiven the Turks for the invasion? Have Turks forgiven the Greeks for precipitating the invasion by pushing for unification with Greece?

No, the old grievances are still there. The reason both sides are accepting compromise now is that Cyprus is joining the European Union on May 1, 2004.

Without a peace agreement, only the Greek part of the island will be invited in and Turkey itself, which desperately wants in, would be blocked.

So, not in the name of brotherly love, but in pursuit of the better life, Greeks and Turks are sacrificing some principles and making peace.

The parallels with Israel and the Palestinians are obvious. Both Israelis and Palestinians are suffering as a result of the collapse of the peace process. Economic boom and growing prosperity has been replaced by severe economic decline. The number of victims of terrorism and violence on both sides has skyrocketed. A general hopelessness has replaced the soaring optimism of the years prior to the catastrophic failure to reach an agreement at Camp David.

But there is some movement. Prime Minister Sharon has pledged to withdraw from Gaza and from parts of the West Bank.

This could be very good news. But only if Sharon’s proposed unilateral moves are coordinated with the Palestinians. No warring party has ever made peace by itself. Look at the list above. Did any of these people end hostilities without consultation with the other side? Unilateralism, without coordination with Palestinians, can easily become just another means of sticking it to them.

That is why the Bush administration should step in and shape Sharon’s proposal in a way that ensures that “Gaza First” is not “Gaza Last” or “Gaza Only.” Rather than telling Sharon (as the media reports) that he should delay Gaza withdrawal until after our Presidential election, it should be encouraging him to move as swiftly as he can -- but to do it in coordination with the Palestinians. The last thing Israel (or anybody else) needs in Gaza is a Hamas-run entity, firing rockets into Israel and instigating suicide bombings. The Palestinian Authority should be encouraged to help control the situation and Egypt and Saudi Arabia can be pushed to use their influence on Hamas to ensure that Gaza does not become an autonomous terror base.

Otherwise, Israel is simply throwing up its hands and leaving, without reciprocal actions from the other side and without concern over how Palestinians will be affected. Working with the Palestinians, a Gaza withdrawal (followed by substantial withdrawal from the West Bank) can be part of an Israeli-Palestinian solution. Going it alone, as if the Palestinians did not exist, will almost surely deepen the problem. The Bush Administration should view Sharon’s move as an opportunity to be seized, not a problem to be finessed.

M.J. Rosenberg (email: mj847@aol.com) is the Director of Policy Analysis for Israel Policy Forum and is a long time Capitol Hill staffer and former editor of AIPAC’s Near East Report.
Source: Israel Policy Forum, March 5, 2004,

Cooperation needed:
From Pullout to Peace
In light of recent speculation concerning Israel’s withdrawal from the Gaza Strip and maybe some West Bank settlements, this Jordan Times editorial highlights the need for coordinated efforts with regional and international actors. The editorial also points out that, “Israel must start putting its own rhetoric aside and make some political calculations. What is good for the Palestinians is good for Israel. The better life is for Palestinians, the more secure Israelis will be.” (Source: The Jordan Times, March 14, 2004)

Rehow Sumsum:
Sesame Street Divided
Lauren Gelfond reports on the latest reincarnation of Middle East Sesame Stories - three separate Palestinian, Jordanian, and Israeli versions inspired from the U.S. production “Sesame Street”. In these versions produced during the current Intifada, ‘characters no longer meet “the other” in the street or at all. But they -- human, animated, or Muppet -- must observe a mandate of tolerance’. (Source: Jerusalem Post Magazine, March 5, 2004)

A Palestinian Refusenik's Open Letter:
To the Jewish People
“If we look to find a reason to hate each other, we will always succeed individually, and then fail together. But if we constantly strive to find reasons to come together, to seek hope and to achieve fairness for both sides, not even the worst kind of hate can stop us.” Palestinian American columnist Ray Hanania discusses his efforts in advocating in favour of the moderate Palestinian voices in the face of ongoing violence and hatred in the Israeli-Arab conflict. (Source: http://www.hanania.com/, January 14, 2004)

Common Ground News Service February 20, 2004
CGNews promotes constructive perspectives and dialogue about current Middle East issues.

From the Common Ground News Service
hagalil.com 22-02-2004



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