While this editorial was being written, the focus of events shifted from the Palestinian Territories to Lebanon, where an open war between Israel and Hezbollah (an Islamist Shi'a militant organization) was taking place on a very large scale comprising attacks from the sky, land and sea.
Two similar, successive events had proceded the massive flareup sparking fears of a regional war. The first was an attack by Palestinian militants (Hamas) on an Israeli military post. Two Israeli soldiers were killed and a third was wounded and abducted to Gaza where Hamas demanded a prisoner exchange for his release. Israel refused to negotiate and demanded an immediate unconditional release of the kidnapped soldier. The Israeli army deployed tanks and artillery around the Gaza Strip and military operations have since been underway. The violence spread to the West Bank. Israel targeted infrastructure as well as the population. Additionally, Israel detained 64 Hamas political leaders including 38 parliamentarians and eight ministers, as hostages.
The second event took place a week later when Hezbollah attacked an Israeli military patrol on the northern border with Lebanon killing seven soldiers and abducting two soldiers. Israel rejected the demand for a prisoner exchange and called for the immediate release of the soldiers. Massive Israeli air attacks were taking place, more than 300 Lebanese, 100 Palestinians and 20 Israelis had been killed up to the time this issue went to print. Massive destruction of airports, bridges, electricity plants, roads, public buildings and property was taking place in the Gaza Strip, Lebanon, and northern Israel. Palestinians were firing locally made Qassam rockets at southern Israel causing almost no damage, apart from the psychological effect. Hezbollah was shelling northern Israel and threatened to shell the center. Hezbollah rockets caused much damage and casualties, inviting a harsh Israeli response. This confrontation could widen if for any reason Syria would become involved.
Regardless, in this editorial we will focus on the topic of this issue and concentrate on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. The humanitarian situation in the Gaza Strip has deteriorated to a degree that could develop into a catastrophe due to shortages in food, medicine and fuel supplies.
The Palestinian attack against the Israeli military post came in retaliation for the continuing assassinations by Israel of senior Palestinian paramilitary fighters. This escalation, and with such magnitude, comes less than a year after Israel's unilateral disengagement from Gaza, which was carried out without any coordination with the Fateh-led government at the time - prompting Hamas to claim the move as a victory for its policy of armed resistance against Israel. A situation has arisen whereby Israelis and Palestinians remain locked in a cycle of attacks and counter-attacks - including the shelling by Palestinians of locally made missiles into southern Israeli villages and towns like Sderot.
Israel's policy has been to deny the existence of a Palestinian partner in negotiations. The aim is to justify its unilateral setting of the borders with the occupied Palestinian territories. The process has already led to further land grabs by Israel, to the destruction of Palestinian fields and crops, and to the fragmentation and cantonization of the West Bank, making any territorial contiguity a virtual impossibility. Furthermore, Israel continues to surround Arab East Jerusalem with a belt of Jewish settlements, isolating the city from the rest of the Palestinian territories and undermining any prospect for the future establishment of a viable Palestinian state.
Unilateralism in essence means no negotiations and no partner. It will not work. Israel must learn from its recent experience in Gaza that unilateral steps cannot solve problems; they cannot bring peace and, even less, security to the Israeli people. Today rockets are being fired from Gaza into the south of Israel. Is there a guarantee that rockets would not in the future be fired from the West Bank, hitting at the very heart of Israel? In which case, Israel will retaliate with vigor, exacerbating the situation and leading to new lows in the relationship between the two sides.
Palestinians and Israelis are emotionally very deeply involved in this conflict. There is a lot of anger on both sides. But there is also a large majority on both sides that is fed up with the conflict and yearns to lead a normal life in peace and security. The claim that the time is not ripe for the conclusion of a permanent settlement and that the only possible course is an interim agreement is totally unfounded. One of the main reasons for the failure of the Oslo process was the postponement of negotiations on final-settlement issues and their prolongation over a long period of time. This enabled the enemies of Oslo on both sides to undermine the process and to eventually bring it to a halt.
Whatever happens, when the canons are silenced the parties have to sit down and work out a comprehensive political settlement. A courageous approach is now imperative. A clear, detailed plan for a solution and a timetable and mechanism for its implementation have to be set up. Faced with the possibility of a just and durable peaceful solution, both Israelis and Palestinians will unhesitatingly opt for this option over bloodshed and destruction. And although the Palestinians have lost hope in ever attaining such a solution, they are certainly prepared to back a negotiated settlement and to marginalize all extremist elements among them that call for the perpetuation of hostilities and armed confrontations. All that is needed is hope and a light at the end of the tunnel. Unilateralism cannot provide this; it is but a recipe for more violence and devastation. Only through negotiations can a just and lasting settlement be achieved.