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OP-ED: Is a Palestinian state still possible?

  • Published at 08:15 pm June 1st, 2021
A Hamas rally in Gaza
A Hamas rally in Gaza REUTERS

Why Hamas needs to stop its rocket attacks on Israel

To recap recent events: Hamas reacted to violence against Palestinians in East Jerusalem by firing rockets from the Gaza Strip into Israel. Israel reacted to Hamas rockets by attacking the Gaza Strip with warplanes, killing 248 people, including 66 children. 

Bangladeshis sympathize with the Palestinians; many have expressed the opinion that Hamas rockets are an appropriate response to Israeli oppression. However, Palestinians need a peace agreement with Israel to create a Palestinian state. A decades-long peace process attempted to negotiate such an agreement. When Hamas responds to Israeli provocations with rockets, a peace agreement becomes a distant dream. 

At the Camp David summit negotiations in 2000, Bill Clinton proposed a peace deal to which Ehud Barak was agreeable. Clinton’s proposal would have led to a Palestinian state, but Yasser Arafat refused to sign it. At the Annapolis Conference in 2007, peace talks were revived. Ehud Olmert offered Mahmoud Abbas a similar peace deal, which Abbas rejected in 2008. 

At present there is no deal under negotiation. Talks collapsed because of enmity between the right wing Netanyahu government in Israel and Hamas in Gaza. Right-wing Israelis argue that Israel must prevent the creation of a Palestinian state; they argue that if Hamas were to come to power in a Palestinian state, there would be full-scale war between Israel and the Palestinian state. When Hamas launches rockets, this argument becomes more convincing to Israeli voters. Hamas rockets do not benefit Palestinians in any way, but they do benefit right wing Israeli politicians. 

I understand why the people of Gaza support Hamas rocket attacks. Every person who has ever been hit understands the desire to hit back. However, Palestinian violence ensures that the Israeli politicians who are willing to create a Palestinian state will not be elected. If Palestinians want a state, they will have to accept that their response to Israeli provocation must always be non-violent protest and diplomacy. 

Palestinian leaders have often expressed the view that Israel must end its occupation to comply with international law (UN resolutions and the Geneva Conventions). However, in a legal dispute, the only opinion which matters is the opinion of the judge. In disputes between states, judgment is in the hands of the UN Security Council, which is empowered to impose sanctions on law-breaking countries. 

Israel has long said that it will continue the occupation until Palestinian leaders sign a peace agreement which is acceptable to Israel; the US considers the Israeli position reasonable. US support for Israel has prevented the UNSC from using sanctions to force Israel to end its occupation. The judge clearly favours the Israeli side.

UNSC permanent members are powerful countries which each have the power to veto sanctions. That’s why the US was never sanctioned for its war in Vietnam. That’s why Russia was never sanctioned for its war in Afghanistan. That’s why China will not be sanctioned for the mass incarceration of Uighurs. If the “Great Powers” had not been given the power to veto sanctions, they would not have joined the UN. The UN system reflects reality; all countries are not equal. 

US support for Israel ensures that the UN Security Council will not sanction Israel for its response to Hamas rocket attacks. In other words, Hamas will always be considered the aggressor when it launches rockets into Israel. Israel’s response, however lethal, will be considered self-defense.

Israel is likely to continue its occupation until the Palestinians (meaning both Fatah and Hamas) sign a peace agreement which is acceptable to Israel. Such an agreement would probably cede the largest West Bank settlements, and probably most of Jerusalem, to Israel. It would certainly require the Palestinian side to accept that refugees will not be allowed to return to Israel; and it will probably require the Palestinian state to be a de-militarized state. 

Just as Hamas rocket attacks have bolstered support for Netanyahu, a commitment to non-violence by Palestinian leaders would increase the sympathy that Israelis feel for Palestinians, and would probably lead to the election of Israeli leaders who are willing to create a Palestinian state. In the 1960s, the Civil Rights Movement in the US led to the enactment of laws against racial discrimination. Non-violent Black protestors won the sympathy of most white Americans. Non-violence succeeded where violence would have failed. Palestinians will not have a state unless the Israeli public is sympathetic enough to give them a state. 

American support is crucial for Israel to avoid UNSC sanctions. Over decades, Palestinians have been vilified by the American media, and painted as terrorists. By renouncing violence, Palestinians can also convince the American public that Palestinians want peace, and that the continued Israeli occupation is the obstacle to peace. American bias allows Israel to continue occupation without facing sanctions; Palestinian leaders should accept that they need to improve the way they are perceived by Americans. 

The conflict is complex, but not hopeless. The blockade of Gaza should end. Hamas rocket attacks should also end. Both sides know this; therefore it should be possible to negotiate a permanent cessation of violence. Israel should be willing to end the blockade in exchange for a commitment from Hamas to stop attacks against Israel; Fatah made such a commitment decades ago. An end to attacks by Hamas could eventually lead to the election of an Israeli government which is willing to sign a peace agreement and create a Palestinian state.

Kazi Zahin Hasan is a businessman living in Dhaka.

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