Lib Dem Voice has invited both the Liberal Democrat Friends of Palestine and the Friends of Israel to submit articles looking at the current Middle East crisis. Today we publish this contribution from Andrew Baldwin, Secretary of Liberal Democrat Friends of Palestine.
The recent violence in the Gaza Strip is extremely damaging for the so called ‘peace process’ in the Middle East. The international community has been slow to act, issuing statements urging Hamas to stop firing rockets into Israel, but this almost abandonment of the Palestinian people is extremely dangerous for the future, and ignores the fact that the international community has to take a major role in this conflict.
It is extremely difficult for civilians in the Gaza Strip to view the outside world with anything but contempt. They are angry over the hypocrisy of the last few years. In January 2006, Hamas swept to victory in free and open elections in the Gaza Strip. They were then subject to international vilification for having the audacity to elect the wrong people. US support for Fatah increased dramatically, and Israel increased its stranglehold on the Gaza Strip. By June 2006, 80% of Gazans were living in poverty and the economic infrastructure was on the verge of collapse. The international community blamed Hamas.
It was very difficult for Palestinians to link demands that Hamas renounce violence, with tacit approval for Israel’s use of violence for its catch-all programme of ‘self-defense’. Indeed, as we have seen, Israel feels justified using F-16 fighters to bomb Hamas targets knowing full well that civilians in that location will be killed. The Western world is also fine with that but, as Norman G. Finkelstein writes*, how would we react if Hamas legitimized bus-bombings by arguing that there was a legitimate target on the bus and the other civilians were simply collateral damage?
This hypocrisy is damaging for prospects for peace. By all means express outrage at rocket attacks on Israel – indeed, I am sure most Israelis simply want to get on with their lives without fear of death from above. However, we must also express similar outrage at Israeli abuses of power in an occupied territory beyond its legal jurisdiction – I am equally sure most Gazans simply want to get on with their lives without fear of death from above as well.
If you force an animal into a corner it will bite you to escape. By ignoring Hamas, accepting the blockade of Gaza as legitimate, and failing to address Israel’s blasé attitude to international law (see Article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention, or General Assembly Resolution 194) we have forced Hamas into a corner where they believe they are on their own.
It is time for the international community to make the bold move to shake hands with the devil. Recent rumours are that President-elect Obama will do just that. Until the democratically elected representatives of the Gaza Strip are acknowledged as that, and inspite of how much we disagree with their views on Israel, we must enter into dialogue to give them an alternate platform to the barrage of rockets they currently rely upon. Until all sides are represented at the table, civilians on both sides of the Gazan border will live in fear of the other side.
* Beyond Chutzpah: On the Misuse of Anti-Semitism and the Abuse of History, p. xx