Aug 01 2006

The biggest blow

Published by at 1:12 am under Blogs

By Daoud Kuttab
One of the underreported motives of the capture by Hizbullah of two Israeli soldiers was the Lebanese Islamist attempts to help out besieged Palestinians.  For those with short memories, Gaza was being pounded indiscriminately in what many considered a collective punishment to the Palestinians because of their capture of an Israeli soldier.
It is unclear whether the war on Lebanon has helped or hurt the embattled Palestinians of Gaza. On the one hand, the vast majority of the political and media attention has shifted almost exclusively to put out the fires in Lebanon and the north of Israel, allowing the Israelis to continue punishing Palestinians without any international protest.
Palestinians continued to be killed on a daily basis not only in Gaza but also in Nablus. Nearly 100 Palestinians have been killed
since this round began with July 26 one of the bloodiest days; 23 Palestinians, including children and mothers, were among the
victims of the Israeli attacks.
THE FACT that Hizbullah’s capture of two Israeli soldiers followed the Palestinians’ capture of one soldier contributed to the anger in Israeli circles.  Newly elected political leaders Ehud Olmert and Amir Peretz, whose resumes don’t contain many military credits, felt they had to prove themselves in this field. The army, which had been caught flat-footed, felt it needed to make up for its slighted pride.
And security strategists continued to repeat the need to regain their long-held deterrence advantage, which they felt had been
damaged and needed to be restored.  The statements by Hizbullah’s Hassan Nasrallah, echoed by Hamas leaders, about negotiating a prisoner swap with Israel for all three captured prisoners further compounded the problem.  Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas quickly realized that this was a bad idea, one that would have negative results on Palestinians. He has tried very hard to separate the two cases, knowing full well that in this particular situation, dealing with one Israeli soldier
held in Gaza is much easier than the case of those held by Hizbullah.
BUT WHILE the war on Lebanon distracted attention from Gaza and complicated things, international leaders and experts were not as quick to discount the relationship. The visit of Condoleezza Rice to Ramallah, the statement of British Prime Minister Tony Blair and the analysis of all key experts cited the need to solve the Palestinian issue as key to any regional solution.
In a special cover report Time magazine listed the need to address the Palestinian issue as second in a six-point answer to the best way to defuse the Israeli-Palestinian war.
The crisis between Lebanon and Israel has brought to the forefront two very important issues for the peoples of the region: prisoners and unilateralism. After the two concurrent attacks aimed at capturing soldiers, the wisdom of holding prisoners for a long time is now being questioned.  The Israeli media reported that Israel’s national security adviser, Giora Eiland, had advised his prime minister in May that Israel should hand over the Shaba Farms area and return Lebanese prisoners to Lebanon’s PM Fuad Siniora, but Olmert reportedly said there was no need. Holding the Lebanese, and nearly 10,000 Palestinians – all of the first group and many of the second without charge or trial – has proven a major source of irritation to the Arab peoples of the
One group of prisoners that will very likely benefit from the present violence are Jordanian prisoners still held in Israeli jails. Jordan, a US ally and only one of two Arab countries with a peace agreement with Israel, has not been able to diplomatically
have its 30 prisoners, some held since before the Jordan-Israel Agreement, released.
PERHAPS THE biggest blow in this conflict will certainly go to the concept of unilateralism. Both the uncoordinated withdrawals from south Lebanon (by the Labor Party after 22 years of occupation) and from Gaza (by the Likud after 39 years of occupation) have proved that you cannot simply get out of an area, throw away the keys and forget about it. The needs of the population on the other side of the border can’t be ignored.
Both the Lebanese and Palestinians were interested in things such as prisoners still held in Israel; also, in the case of the Lebanese, maps of mines, and in the case of the Palestinians the economic situation and relations with their brothers and sisters in the West Bank.  The unilateralism Israelis overwhelming voted for in the recent elections is also based on the idea that security can somehow be achieved by erecting high cement walls. If anything, the barrage of rockets of all types, whether home-made or sophisticated, has shown the folly of such thinking. Although the West Bank has not seen the use of rockets against Israel, there is no reason why Palestinians will not resort to such weapons if the walls continue to be built deep inside their territories and the Israelis continue to act with arrogance and superiority toward them.
Military strategists are probably the first to agree about the limits of military power in achieving long-term peace. It is time
for political leaders on both sides, especially moderate ones, to understand that they need to work together, through negotiations, to solve the problems that simply cannot and should not be solved by brute force.


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