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Jüdische Weisheit
Middle East Roundtable / Edition 25

A Palestinian View:
A logical consequence of failed politics

by Ghassan Khatib

The dramatic Palestinian attack on an Israeli military post on the border with the Gaza Strip did not come as much of a surprise to anybody. On the contrary, it represented the gradual and consistent escalation of violence that has been witnessed since the unilateral Israeli withdrawal from the Gaza Strip and the subsequent siege that was imposed on Gazans.

And while, as usual, both sides have been blaming each other, the overwhelming weight of responsibility lies at Israel's door. Israeli violence, not just in the Gaza Strip but in the West Bank, has been steadily increasing. Assassinations and arrests often ending in killings, often of civilians, have been increasing and a months-long campaign of constant artillery fire has blighted Gazans' lives.

This violence has come in tandem with an Israeli siege that almost hermetically sealed off Gaza from the outside world and shut the door in the face of any chance that Gazans' lives and livelihoods might improve after the withdrawal. On the contrary, according to all relevant international agencies, especially the World Bank, the siege caused a sharp economic deterioration and poverty and unemployment rose dramatically as a result. The siege, furthermore, was in direct contravention to bilateral agreements that sought to avoid exactly such an eventuality.

Israel wanted to have its cake and eat it. Starting from the time of former Prime Minister Ehud Barak, Israel did not want to continue with the implementation of the peace process, and since then Israel has shown no interest in bilateral negotiations on the basis of international legality. Instead, successive Israeli governments have pursued a unilateral strategy, a strategy that is about Israeli behavior to achieve Israeli interests with no regard for international legality and certainly not for the Palestinian side. At the same time, Israel expected the other side to abide by the rules of a game that was created by the peace process.

It is this Israeli position--deviating from the bilateral process and its legal agreements--and the behavior that arises from it, that encourages, and in the eyes of many Palestinians justifies, Palestinian military activities.

But there are also ways of looking at these developments in the light of the internal Palestinian situation. There are two possible motives for Hamas to resume its involvement in military activities against Israel. The first is that Hamas' restraint in the face of these continuous Israeli attacks negatively affected its strong public position. The relatively moderate position of Hamas brought on by the responsibility of having formed a government created a vacuum that was being filled by other more extreme elements within Palestinian society that tried to answer the public's desire to avenge the continuous Israel attacks and the siege.

The other possible motive is to escape the responsibilities of government. Having won parliamentary elections, Hamas was unable to fulfill the obligations of governing. The faction is also unable to admit this or go for an alternative governing arrangement such as a coalition government, because that would imply that the movement has failed.

Of late, many politicians and analysts have warned that a continuation of the political vacuum will inevitably encourage and increase violence. In this context we must learn from the missed opportunities of the recent past. The post-Israeli and Palestinian elections period was an opportunity for third party initiatives to resume the political process, as was the period after President Mahmoud Abbas succeeded the late Yasser Arafat.

In both cases the international community failed to grasp the opportunity. This encouraged other elements, whether from the Israeli or Palestinian side, to try to fill that vacuum with alternative initiatives and programs of the kind that are responsible for the current deterioration.

It would take a bold initiative from a strong third party toward a bilateral political process based on international law rather than the balance of power and the use of force to bring back hope of any civilized and non-violent way out of the current situation.- Published 26/6/2006 ©

Ghassan Khatib is coeditor of the bitterlemons family of internet publications. He is the former Palestinian Authority minister of planning, and has been a political analyst and media contact for many years.

An Israeli View:
Israel's Gaza dilemma
Most Israelis, this writer included, believe that there is no moral equivalency between Israeli civilians deliberately targeted by Palestinian terrorists and Palestinian civilians inadvertently killed in the course of attacking the terrorists as a response to terrorism... is an internet forum for an array of world perspectives on the Middle East and its specific concerns. It aspires to engender greater understanding about the Middle East region and open a new common space for world thinkers and political leaders to present their viewpoints and initiatives on the region. Editors Ghassan Khatib and Yossi Alpher can be reached at and, respectively. 29-06-2006

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