Gaza, 2014: Where the Streets have No Names
It is a cycle. A deal sits within grasp. It literally sits on the table and awaits a nod, smile and elongated signatures. The deal is the result of a lull in violence that produces confidence and confidence generates channels of discussion and dialogue between the belligerents. Hamas may not recognise Israel, but it still speaks to it via European and Middle Eastern interlocutors. Fatah and Israel speak directly. In its turn, belligerent-to-belligerent dialogue is often the engine for meaningful rewards: prisoner releases, financial pacts, shared industrial zone construction, tax money transfers and, very occasionally, the halting of Israel’s destructive settlement activities in the occupied territories.
And then, just as the Israelis and Palestinians reach for their collective pens and weigh them with the historical gravity they deserve, someone does something so dastardly to smash the coming peace. Once upon a time ago Hamas smashed the coming peace under the Oslo I Oslo II Accords by launching a devastating suicide bombing campaign while Israeli Jewish extremist, Baruch Goldstein put a sizable nail into the Accords’ coffin with his massacre of Muslim worshippers in Hebron’s Tomb of the Patriarch – coveted by Muslims and Jews – and Israeli terrorist, Yigal Amir, assassinated Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin to scupper Israel’s territorial concessions to Syria over the Golan Heights.
Now, in 2014, the deal was on the table and – for the first time in nearly a decade – a single Palestine was present; Hamas and Fatah had recently reconciled their ideological differences. Then, on 12 June 2014, three Jewish boys were kidnapped and executed by, allegedly, Hamas members. As a ‘price tag’ reply, a group of Israeli Jews abducted and brutally murdered – by torching alive – a 16 year old Palestinian, Mohammed Abu Khdeir. Such wanton murders unravelled months of progress, led to mutual recriminations and then the Israelis and Hamas did what they know best; they escalated criminal wrongdoings into inter-communal warfare.
That is the cycle on the ground and often it is within these themes that people stop thinking and start dwelling. Motives are narrowed and the media has a field-day fanning the flames.
But there is something more to this latest Israel-Hamas bout. There is something cataclysmic on the horizon. Israel and Hamas, Fatah and the Tanzim, Jewish nationalists and pan-Arabists have exposed the weaknesses of international security organisations and the world’s largest state actors. Not NATO, the UN, US, Russia and China, to say nothing of the fledgling EU, have been able to halt the violence. Secretary of State John Kerry looked particularly feeble on his shuttle diplomacy to the region where his mobile was hacked by Israel (and others) and his demands ignored.
Obama’s pleas that Israel stop bombing Gaza and Hamas end its missile fire may have been echoed by European and international leaders, yet none of the belligerents took heed. Putin did not even try. The indication is that the age of great power penetration of the region is nearing its end and local powers are rising to fill the emerging vacuum.
As the US and European states lose regional sway, there will be more alliances formed and, soon after, broken. There will be less stability, security, polarity. And there will be more localised conflicts. While Israel fought Hamas, ISIS defeated Kurdish defence forces in Northern Iraq and consolidated their positions in and around Aleppo, Syria. Yemen is now neck-deep in civil war as the Iranian-backed Houthi continue their onslaught while Libya continues to spiral out of control. Iran is again stoking tensions in Bahrain. In short, the wider Middle Eastern region is experiencing the pangs of independence; the strategic umbilical cord to exogenous powers is being cut and local actors are trying to carve out their own strategic niches.
How this will all end remains a mystery. However, if history is anything to go by, it is likely to get much worse before it gets better. In this, the centennial year of WWI, the Middle East and the archaic squabbles unfolding there are an embarrassment to humanity and civilisation matched only by the embarrassment of US, Russian and European duplicity in selling uncontrollable belligerents weapons of conventional destruction and then complaining when they are used. 2014, 1914 … what is the difference?