Middle East studies in the News
The Importance Of an Evenhanded Middle East Policy [incl. Rashid Khalidi]
by Ismail Muhammad
Though many have rightly condemned Hamas for its role in igniting the tragic Gaza conflict, American leaders of both parties have failed to point out Israel's role in creating the conflict. This episode is another example of American foreign policy failing to apply evenhanded standards in the peace process. Diplomacy will not advance if both parties don't honor their responsibilities and make concessions, and Israel has been let off the hook for far too long. In order to move towards the two-state solution in Palestine, the Obama administration must discard this unflinchingly mindless support of the Jewish state. A tough but fair policy that recognizes the faults of both parties, not just those of the Palestinians, must be adopted.
For example, there has been little mention among our leaders of how Israel failed to fulfill the terms of the six-month ceasefire before it expired. The terms of the hudna required that Israel ease the inhumane blockade on Gaza that severely limited Palestinian access to food, fuel, water, electricity, and medical supplies in exchange for a reduction of violence by Hamas. Hamas lived up to its part of the deal, reducing rocket fire (all the while smuggling weapons into Gaza), while Israel failed to make progress towards easing the siege on the residents of Gaza.
In addition, while Hamas is widely blamed for reigniting violence, Israel should share the blame. Israeli military forces entered Gaza and killed six Hamas soldiers on the night of President Obama's election, as pointed out by our own professor Rashid Khalidi in a New York Times opinion piece. This brazen breach of the ceasefire precipitated Hamas's resumption of intense rocket fire and helped to ignite the Gaza operation, which Israel had been planning before the ceasefire was even in place, according to an Israeli daily. However, this breach has been condemned by neither the Bush administration nor the Obama administration.
Most egregiously, Israel has continued to build and support settlements that are illegal in the eyes of the Fourth Geneva Convention. Not only has Israel not made any serious progress towards ending settlement construction and destroying existing ones in the West Bank, but it has taken steps to protect those settlements by building a separation wall that incorporates Palestinian land into Israel. These actions are impediments to peace—both President Obama and George W. Bush have acknowledged them as such.
Israeli missteps such as these not only impede the peace process but also radicalize Palestinians by humiliating moderate leaders who put their necks on the line to negotiate with Israel. When Palestinians see how political moderates such as Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas are rendered useless by the brutish, inhumane, and illegal policies of the Israeli occupation, they may assume that there is no reason to engage in diplomacy with a seemingly implacable colonizing power. In the 2006 election that brought Hamas to power, they instead rallied around violent factions.
The Obama administration must reprimand Israel for such missteps and push it towards policies that emphasize diplomacy over disproportionate and morally questionable aggression. The offensive in Gaza will do little to weaken Hamas's political position among Palestinians and will probably end up bolstering its leadership. The offensive will have a negative effect on the way Palestinians see Israel. Much as Hezbollah was bolstered in 2006, Hamas and its radical siblings may enjoy renewed support among the Arab people. There have already been worldwide marches expressing anger towards Israel.
The only way to bring about a fair and just two-state solution is for Israel to engage in honest diplomacy that leads to real results for both parties. Obama must press Israel to engage in diplomacy with Hamas, which was overwhelmingly elected by the Palestinians in 2006 and has not been as inflexible on the issue of Israel's existence as Israel would have us believe. The disputed Palestinian prime minister Ismail Haniyeh, who is a senior Hamas official, even expressed his approval of negotiations between Abbas and Israel after his election, according to former president Jimmy Carter. Hamas would be willing to accept the two-state solution under conditions that the Palestinian people find acceptable.
This openness to diplomacy must be tested. If diplomacy results in substantial agreements between the parties, Israel must make appreciable progress towards fulfilling its pledges. Only then can Israel, as the occupying power, say that it has exhausted its tools and claim war as a legitimate pursuit. After all, if Israel turns out to be a reasonable partner in peace, what platform would Palestinian radicals have to stand on? They would die on the vine as Palestinians see that moderate leaders are capable of bringing progress, and the two peoples may start down the road to the two-state solution.
Columbia students of all backgrounds have a duty to protest every injustice that occurs in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Yesterday was declared a day of national service by ServiceNation, and this conflict can serve as a first step for those who have never considered activism. This conflict costs lives and is a factor in America's inability to engage in normal political relationships in the Middle East. As students, the burden is on us to pressure our leaders to take up policies that improve the world we will inherit. The Obama administration presents us with a perfect opportunity to do just that, and we should be brave enough to take advantage of it.
The author is a Columbia College sophomore. He is an entertainment and arts page staff writer and the deputy editor of CubPub.Note: Articles listed under "Middle East studies in the News" provide information on current developments concerning Middle East studies on North American campuses. These reports do not necessarily reflect the views of Campus Watch and do not necessarily correspond to Campus Watch's critique.
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