How the world is failing the Palestinians

Palestinian woman fleeingWith nearly 1200 Palestinians dead in the Gaza Strip after three weeks of fighting, Israel has offered a ceasefire. Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has declared that Israel has achieved its objectives. This is highly doubtful.

What will be the achievements of Israel's 'shock and awe' campaign in Gaza? The objective has been to destroy the infrastructure of Hamas in order to prevent the firing of further missiles at Israeli cities.

This was a very tall order. Not only because it expected the Israeli Defence Force to accurately target Hamas fighters in the densely populated Gaza Strip when they could simply blend in with the general population, but also because it did nothing to prevent the resurgence of Hamas, which is inevitable once the IDF leaves Gaza.

The overwhelming show of force was supposed to act as deterrence against future Hamas missiles. This is a tried and failed tactic. The 2006 operation against Hizbullah was conducted along the same lines.

Instead Hizbullah surprised Israel with its resilience and grew in esteem in the Arab world. The 2006 campaign in Lebanon proved to be a major embarrassment for Prime Minister Ehud Olmert who was criticised by his peers for not defeating Hizbullah once and for all. Now the Israeli leadership claims to have learned from that experience. That is why the military operation in Gaza has been so intense. The IDF threw all its weight on Hamas.

But that was a wrong lesson. It must be obvious to any observer that even in the unlikely event of the IDF destroying the fighting capability of Hamas, the grievances that propelled Hamas onto the political stage in 2006 when it won the parliamentary elections, will continue to sustain it.

This is bad for Israel and bad for the Palestinians. Mahmoud Abbas, who is still recognised by the international community as the president of the Palestinian Authority (PA), has been losing popularity and support because of his failure to achieve Palestinian statehood.

A veteran of the Oslo peace process which established the PA in 1995 as a first step towards statehood, Abbas must seem like a spent force. His diminishing popularity and that of his associates among the Palestinians leaves the political stage open to less accommodating leaders. The intensity of Israel's operation in Gaza has sidelined moderate Palestinian leaders who have lost credibility to the more radical factions.

For the Palestinians, it must seem like the whole world has turned a blind eye to their plight. The ineffectiveness of the international community to stop the disproportionate use of force by the IDF sends a worrying signal to the Palestinians.

Israel chooses to ignore the UN Security Council resolution for the immediate cessation of hostilities (passed 9 January 2009) and the international community appears powerless to do anything about it. The IDF shells a UN run school, killing Palestinian refuges, and the UN Relief and Works Agency in Gaza and get away with it.

The situation in the Gaza Strip is a very unfortunate diplomatic failure. As far as the Palestinians are concerned it leaves little room for hope. Hopelessness and the feeling of being forgotten by the world are very dangerous. It is exactly the kind of sentiment that puts Israel at more risk.

The ineffectiveness of international diplomacy in halting the Israeli operation is even more striking in relation to Arab states. For more than five decades the Arabs have lamented the Palestinian plight. They even went to war with Israel. But since their defeat in 1973 and the failure of the oil embargo to influence US/international policy in favour of the Palestinians, they have no stomach for more confrontation.

Besides, they now have a real worry about al-Qaeda type groups within their own domains and are quietly delighted to see Hamas receive a pounding. Unfortunately for the Palestinians, all this means that they cannot hope to receive any support beyond rhetoric from Arab states.

This leaves the door wide open for Iran and its highly exaggerated position on Israel. As far as the Palestinians are concerned, President Ahmadinejad is the only world leader who has been unequivocal about the Israeli-Palestinian dispute. His calls for the destruction of Israel and reported arm shipments to Gaza, places Shia Iran right in the middle of the on-going Israeli/Palestinian dispute.

With its growing esteem as a champion of the Palestinian cause, however misguided, the Shia Iran has managed to bridge the gap with the Sunni Arabs.

Israel's choice for a disproportionate use of force in Gaza and the inevitable loss of civilian lives will have long term repercussions. This experience will make it even more difficult to garner popular support for diplomatic negotiations regarding the future of Palestine.

Shahram AkbarzadehAssociate Professor Shahram Akbarzadeh researches the politics of Central Asia and the Middle East, political Islam, and US relations with the Muslim world. He is Deputy Director of the National Centre of Excellence for Islamic Studies at the University of Melbourne.


Topic tags: shahram akbarzadeh, israeli defence force.gaza strip, middle eastern politics, iran, Ahmadinejad



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Existing comments

More Jesuit inspired left wing clap trap.

philip herringer | 19 January 2009  

Well, this is a Jesuit publication, after all.

Charles Boy | 19 January 2009  

An excellent piece! As a European I am ashamed by the dumb complicity of the European Union in Israeli terrorism but am convinced that the latest atrocities visited on the people of Gaza will sap the world's tolerance of violent Zionism - and not before time.

Zionists and non-Zionists alike would do well to read the clear-eyed works of Prof. Shlomo Sand, a distinguished Israeli scholar, on the real nature of Jewish heritage. Some of these ideas are available in French and English on the website of Le Monde Diplomatique.

The professor is wrong, however, when he says only the Iranian government supports the Palestinians. Hasn't he been following the actions of the Bolivian and Venezuelan governments?

Hugh O'Shaughnessy | 19 January 2009  

Well put advisory but not entirely true. It is obvious that the international community are up in arms over this IDF instigation & the refusal to accept the terms of the UN. Please, no more fork tongue.

Atheistno1 | 19 January 2009  

This is a sad, but doubtless realistic assessment. The devastaion in Gaza is heartbreaking, but the way leaders of the USA, and Australia, endorsed Israel's assault, invoking the mantra 'Israel has a right to defend itself', is shockingly insensitive. Almost no acknowledgment that while few Israelis are affected by rockets (and I don't support the use of those), everyone in Gaza is affected by Israel's bombs and artillery. The death toll tells us a lot about the relative strength of these opponents, yet Israel claims to be the victim, and is seldom challenged. Israeli children’s fear of potential rockets is offered as justification for the slaughter and maiming of hundreds of Palestinian children. The underlying message is clear: Israeli lives are more valuable than Palestinian lives. As long as that position is taken, Palestinians will have grounds for anger. The reality of their dispossession, impoverishment and virtual incarceration, especially in the Gaza Strip, must be addressed compassionately and equitably. Iran is only stepping into the lacuna that more powerful nations have failed to fill. The role of Tony Blair, as Special Envoy is proving especially ineffectual.

Myrna Tonkinson | 19 January 2009  

I submitted a comment on Dr Mendes’ Best of 2008 article Israeli History’s definitive re-write pointing out that the ancestors of today’s Jewish people are descendants of only some of the inhabitants of Judea, that the descendants of the rest of the inhabitants of Judea are now Palestinians.

Mr O’Shaughnessy above refers the reader to the work of Professor Shlomo Sand, which sets out the case for my point that Jewish-Palestinian bloodshed is fratricidal.

Professor Akbarzadeh argues that the world is failing the Palestinians. I say that, by not advocating the disarmament of all the Holy Land and by not facilitatin a one-state solution, the world is also failing the Israelis.

David Arthur | 19 January 2009  

Another article on Israel/Palestine! Lots of criticism of Israel never much criticism of Arab collective efforts to, despite pain caused to Palestinians, kill off Israilis.

brian martin | 19 January 2009  

It's not only Israel's grotesquely disproportionate use of force in Gaza that's an overwhelming addition to its war crimes's also its totally lopsided approach to solutions.In recent days,the last days of the Bush administration it rushed its Foreign Minister to Washington to get the US to sign up to a plan to stop the flow of weapons into Gaza from Egypt.But what about the flow of warplanes,missiles and frightening new bombs into Israel from the US. Who is to police..let alone stop...that?

The Iranian leader's threat to wipe Israel off the map is horrible but it is also to be noted..with the same horror I hope, that Hillary Clinton has also declared that were she US President, she'd "completely obliterate" Iran. Now that's food for thought.....

Brian Haill | 19 January 2009  

It is very sad to watch the events in Gaza and the lack of active support by western nations and the church too has not been too loud in its protest against a bully neighbour and a weak foe. To believe that the action will "harden the hearts" of all Palestinians and make peace even more distant is not to face reality. It is interesting that the media does not mention Iran. I think the article is an excellent depiction of what outcomes will come from "this abuse of power". May God keep protecting us from this craziness!

Joe | 19 January 2009  

The former Israeli Prime Minister, Golda Meir, once said... 'Palestinians? Palestinians do not exist!'

If the western world can dumb its ears to her inhumane words all those years ago, there is not much hope that they will respond to the cries of human beings dying in Occupied Palestine.

The ONLY hope is in the heart and spirit of the Palestinian people to this evil with... love. All people should stand in solidarity with them.

Damien D'Cruz | 20 January 2009  

"Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has declared that Israel has achieved its objectives. This is highly doubtful." Perhaps, but what if Olmert's objectives were purely internal and political, that is to get his party re-elected?

Warwick | 27 January 2009  

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