Friday, January 30, 2009

Two-State Problem

The two-state problem
New Indian Express, 30 January 2009,First Published : 30 Jan 2009 01:52:00

Two-state solution. This is universally recognised as the only realistic and just solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. All other ideas are non-starters.

Surprisingly the two-state formula is more than six decades old but always eluded mutual endorsement and hence remained unfulfilled. Of late, we have a new problem.

Thanks to the ongoing Israel-Gaza conflict the two-state formula is assuming dangerous interpretations. Unless resolved quickly this would have a debilitating impact upon the future of the Palestinians.

In November 1947, the international community, represented by the newly formed United Nations, proposed the formation of independent Jewish and Arab states as the solution for the future of Palestine. It was not an ideal solution but more workable than any other idea floated at that time, including India’s lopsided federal formula.

Egged on by the neighbouring Arab countries, the Palestinian leadership did not even consider the partition idea. They underestimated the Jewish longing for sovereignty and the resolve to realise their nationalist aspirations and overestimated the strength and political unity of the neighbouring Arab states.

So confident were they that they never visualised a double disaster; emergence of a Jewish state and Arab schism over Palestine.

Those parts of Palestinian captured by the Arab armies in 1948 came under the control of Egypt and Jordan. The latter annexed the West Bank while the Gaza Strip remained under the military control of Egypt. The Palestinian experiment to form an independent Arab state in the Gaza Strip ended bitterly. Most Palestinians do not wish to be reminded of the all Palestine government proclaimed in October 1948.

Before long the two-state solution of the UN ended. For long the Arabs and Palestinians were demanding a Palestinian state in place of Israel. Their struggle for ‘liberation’ was confined to the territories that made up Israel. The June war of 1967 and the Israeli occupation saw the disappearance of Palestine from Arab control. As the revised charter of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) demanded, the whole of Palestine, including the state of Israel, had to be liberated from the control of the Zionist ‘usurper.’ It was only after the first intifada that broke out in December 1987 that the Palestinian leadership, especially its charismatic leader Yasser Arafat, formally recognised the two-state option.

For the Palestinians Israel, which based its formation on the UN partition plan, moved in the opposite direction. Having been used to the political, economic and strategic advantages offered by the occupied territories, it hardened its stand and adopted an unsympathetic attitude towards similar demands of the Palestinian. Both Labour and Likud parties opposed the formation of an independent Palestinian entity west of the Jordan River. The fears of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan about Palestinian independence suited Israel well.

The intensification of the Palestinian uprising and international endorsement of the political rights of the Palestinians eventually forced a large segment of the Israeli population to re-examine the traditional view regarding the national rights of the Palestinians. Even though a twostate solution was not explicitly stated, many Israelis gradually recognised that the end result of the Oslo process would be the emergence of an independent Palestinian entity, if not a state in the occupied territories. Even a hardliner like Ariel Sharon was forced to recognise that a Palestinian state was inevitable.

Thus, more and more people both within and outside the Middle East recognised that the only solution would be the two-state option.

The peaceful co-existence of Israel and an independent Palestinian state emerged as the only solution to the vexed problem.

When the world was moving towards this direction, things went horribly wrong within Palestinian society. For Hamas, the militant Islamic movement, Palestine is an Islamic property whose unity should not be abandoned and ceded to non-Islamic control. The Hamas-Fatah differences are severe and deep-rooted. Having recognised the Jewish state through the Oslo process, the mainstream Fatah has a serious territorial dispute with Israel whereas Hamas has irreconcilable differences over Israel’s very existence.

Thus the Islamic militant movement opened a twin front. At one level, it fought Israel, the occupied power and launched some of the deadliest suicide attacks within the pre-1967 borders of Israel. At another level, it challenged the Palestinian Authority and the leadership of Arafat for pursuing a peace process that it saw as anti-Islamic. Hamas went back to the traditional position and advocated the onestate solution: a Palestinian state that encompasses the whole of Mandate Palestine including the State of Israel. This stand and the violent campaign that accompanied were partly responsible for the peace process coming to a grinding halt.

Emboldened by the spectacular electoral victory in January 2006 Hamas went a step further. The formation of the Hamasled government was followed by a series of internal tensions. This culminated in the militant takeover of the Gaza Strip by Hamas in June 2007. The open challenge exposed deep-seated internal divisions.

Not many would have forgotten that masked Hamas militants were stamping over the portraits of Yasser Arafat. That fellow Palestinians could be so disrespectful to someone who single-handedly put the Palestinian cause on the world map cannot be forgotten so easily; unless one suffers from selective amnesia.

Israel capitalised on this putsch and enforced a political boycott accompanied by strong economic sanctions and siege. Before the US and European powers followed in isolating the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip.

The Palestine Authority was not far behind and appointed a separate political arrangement for the West Bank. A statein- making is burdened with two prime ministers; Salam Fayyad for the West Bank and Ismail Haniya for the Gaza Strip. Nothing could be more ridiculous than this.

Even if political niceties prevented many Arab and Islamic leaders from deriding this development, the consequences are obvious.

It made a mockery of the two-state solution. Much of the international community, including most of the Arab and Islamic countries, recognise the Abbas-led Palestinian Authority while the support for Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip comes exclusively from the governments of Syria and Iran.

The Hamas-Fatah differences have become more obvious after the Israeli offensive against the Gaza Strip where nearly a thousand Palestinians were killed. Despite clarion calls for a third intifada, echoed by a section of the Indian media, the West Bank is relatively quiet. The residents of the West Bank could not be accused of being a traitor or collaborator.

Thus tragically the actions of Hamas have given a new and sinister meaning to the two-state solution. Two-state does not mean two Palestinian states co-existing in the Gaza Strip and West Bank. Time someone told Hamas this.

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Friday, January 23, 2009

India and the Gaza crisis

Conflict in the Middle East: Indias tightrope walk

By P R Kumaraswamy
Deccan Herald, 24 January 2009, Saturday

India expressed its willingness to recognise the complex Middle East realities by refusing to join the anti-Israeli chorus.

Pin-pricks! That was how a colleague described the barrage of rockets from the Gaza Strip that were pounding Israel. While having no qualms about depicting the Israeli response as ‘disproportionate and brutal’, the academic carefully skirted any reference to the Qassam rockets which precipitated the recent round of violence. Those who are unfamiliar with the Middle East realities might be wondering why Israel was using such a massive force against unarmed Palestinians especially when it was at the receiving end of international criticism and condemnations.

These ‘pin-pricks’ did not cause much human casualties. Not that their launchers did not want to kill but they did. Effective early warning systems and organised safety mechanism saved scores of lives in Israel.

But why dismiss the Qassam rockets as pin-pricks? Admitting that rockets were launched against Israeli civilians would weaken the case against Israel. Such a one-sided understanding of the Middle East is not unusual to mainstream Indian intellectuals. They choose to ignore the relative quiet of the West Bank. How come over two million residents of the West Bank remain mute spectators? Are they all collaborators?

India’s response to the latest battle was curious, to say the least. There were political pressures. President of the Indian Union Muslim League Panakkad Muhammedali Shihab Thangal demanded the resignation of his party’s representative E Ahamed from the Union cabinet. For his part, the Minister of State for External Affairs maintained that he would follow “the government’s view” which he felt strongly condemned Israel for its action.

This intellectual one-sidedness is in contrast to the tightrope walk done by the Indian government. This time around it had been more nuanced than the second Lebanon war that broke out 2006. In its first statement issued within hours after the hostilities began, the Indian government ‘condemned’ the Hezbollah whose abduction of two Israeli soldiers precipitated the crisis. This balance quickly disappeared thanks to domestic pressures from the Left and widespread support within the Arab street for the Islamic militants.

In its first statement, the Indian government admitted that it was “aware of the immediate cross-border provocations resulting from rocket attacks particularly against targets in southern Israel.” In later pronouncements, however, it accused Israel of using “disproportionate force” and “indiscriminate force” which were “unwarranted and condemnable”. Since the conflict erupted on December 27, the Indian government came out with as many as five official statements on the Gaza crisis.

In a statement issued following Israel’s ground offensive, it demanded “an immediate end to military action by all concerned,” an indirect reference to Hamas. A few days later it described the Israeli offer of a three-hour cease fire as ineffective because “nearly three-fourths of the Gaza population” was without electricity and food. Welcoming the peace initiatives of Egypt and France, it hoped for an early end to the plight of the people of Gaza Strip and an early resumption of the peace process.

Through these statements, India expressed its willingness to recognise the complex Middle East realities than in the past. One could fathom a few possible explanations for the Indian refusal to join the anti-Israeli chorus.
The crisis over the Gaza Strip highlighted the internal schism within the Palestinian society. The West Bank was relatively quiet and tranquil when the Gaza Strip was literally on fire. Obviously, the Fatah and Hamas are not in sync over the Gaza crisis. This naturally calls for a measure of caution and balance. Going overboard may garner media headlines but is disastrous as a national policy.

As far as India is concerned there is only one Palestinian Authority, the one that is headed by President Mahmoud Abbas. Without saying it in so many words, it has not recognised the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip. Due to security concerns in August 2003, more than a year before Arafat’s death, the office of the Indian mission representative was shifted from the Gaza city to Ramallah. Thus, New Delhi cannot ignore the implications of Abbas’ not so subtle criticisms of Hamas for the current round of violence.

Furthermore, the Left is weaker than in the post. Their withdrawal of support to UPA government has considerably undermined their influence. Ever since the formation of the UPA government, the Left had been demanding a ‘course correction’ in India’s Israel policy. Recognising that the termination of relations was impossible, the Left parties had been calling for an end to military-security ties with the Jewish State. Much to their consternation and disappointment, the UPA enhanced the level of security ties with Israel. The launching of an Israeli spy satellite in January 2008 was a case in point.

Echoing the calls by Hamas leaders for the Palestinians to rise against Israel, some Indian media pundits talked of the third Palestinian intifada. In their eagerness to condemn Israel, they conveniently ignored the situation in the West Bank. How to square up the violence in Gaza Strip with total indifference of the West Bank Palestinians? Were the latter merely collaborators or have fundamental differences with Hamas over Palestinian destiny? Why get into uncomfortable intricacies. So is the Indian government’s nuanced approach.

(The writer teaches at Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi.)

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Sunday, January 18, 2009

Israel model for India

The Israeli model - Learn but observe the differences

January 18, 2009 | RSS

In recent weeks, many have drawn parallels between the Israel's ongoing war against the Hamas and the Indian response to Pakistan over the Mumbai terror attacks. For some, India has more valid grounds for an aggressive response than Israel; and for others Israel is a far too controversial and unsavoury model. But there are those who wish and demand that the Indian government emulates Israel in dealing with Pakistan.

Not many countries and societies endorsed the Israeli action, especially the death of hundreds of Palestinians. India is not an exception in deploring Israel.

However, the political disapproval of the Israel's policy towards the Palestinians should not prevent the professionals from examining Israel's experiences. Not learning from the successes and failures of others is often costlier.

At the same time, if India were to adopt an Israel-type strategy vis-à-vis Pakistan, a number of crucial issues have to be recognized and sorted out.

1. Israel is able to pursue an aggressive strategy against the Islamic militants primarily because of the unqualified support of the Bush administration. Whether it gave an official approval or merely signalled its understanding, the US support is crucial. Without it the massive operation would not have happened. Can India secure such a support from the US or any other power or a constellation of powers for an aggressive counter-terrorism strategy against Pakistan?

2. Likewise, thanks to the American support, Israel has managed to ward off any punitive measures by the UN Security Council. Does India enjoy such a guarantee if the friends of Pakistan were to lobby for international sanctions against it?

3. Mounting international criticism has not prevented the Israeli leaders from pursuing a course of action that they consider vital for the security of their citizens. They are prepared to stand to the widespread international disapprovals, large-scale protest rallies and adverse coverage by the international media. Do the Indian leaders have the stomach to withstand massive public demonstrations in different parts of the world?

4. Israel was able to launch an aggressive campaign because of its vast and at times unparalleled intelligence base. For example, it struck nearly 50 targets in the Gaza Strip within the first few minutes of the air campaign. As of now, real-time intelligence and successful surgical strikes are possible only in Bollywood movies. Actionable intelligence still remains a pipe dream and would be so for a long time.

5. Israel could launch its war because Hamas is a non-state actor that controls only a part of the Palestinian territories. The internal schism between the mainstream Fatah and the militant Islamic group came out clearly during the current crisis. While over a thousand Palestinians have been killed in the Gaza Strip, the Fatah-dominated West Bank remains relatively tranquil. This crucial divide has partly enabled Israel to pursue its military option. This is not the case in Pakistan. Despite all the internal tensions and acrimony, 'neutrality' over an Indian action is not an option for any Pakistani group. As highlighted by the recent statements, even jihadi groups opposed to the military crackdown would rally behind the Pakistani flag.

6. The military arsenal of Hamas is rather limited and largely consists of short range rockets. Its widely-published threats of turning the Gaza Strip in to a volcano if Israel were to launch a ground offensive has not materialized. There are signs of fatigue and internal divisions within its ranks. Pakistan is entirely different story. It is not a paper tiger but a nuclear power. Even the BJP-led NDA government refused to cross the LoC during the Kargil war, notwithstanding its past hard-line statements. Thus a militant counter-terrorism strategy against Pakistan is no longer the last option, unless one is prepared for thousands of civilian deaths on both sides.

7. Since mid-2005, the Hamas has launched over 5,000 rockets against Israel and despite the ongoing crisis, rockets continue to fall into Israel. Some had landed almost 40 km deep inside Israel. Yet, the major population and economic centres are beyond the range of Hamas rockets. This is not so for India. A number of critical economic targets are within the range of a Pakistani counter-offensive. This would mean large-scale destruction of economic assets accompanied by unacceptable human casualties.

8. Despite the accuracy of its military machine, Israel could not escape causing civilian deaths. Various human rights organisations agree that a bulk of the Palestinians who were killed in the Gaza Strip were civilians. Likewise, India would not be able to escape from a large scale 'collateral damage' which would have unbearable political consequences.

9. So far the campaign against Hamas enjoys widespread domestic support within Israel. Months of insecurity against rockets has made the wider public to rally around the government. Democratic societies cannot launch a war without such a strong backing of its citizens. Would there be a strong internal support within India for a war against Pakistan over Mumbai attacks?

10. Ultimately military campaign alone will not stop the Hamas violence. Israel has been seeking to end the rocket attacks by forcing Hamas to accept a ceasefire from a position of weakness. In the process Israel has squandered considerable international understanding and sympathy. Likewise, a military campaign will not end Pakistan's support for terrorism against India. At best it could make such a policy a costly enterprise, not just for Pakistan but also for India.

Above all, military successes rarely ensure political victory. The Middle East had many such examples. In 1956, for example, Israel won the Suez war but handed over the leadership of the Arab world to President Gamal Abdul Nasser. President George Bush (Sr.) won the Kuwait war but lost his re-election bid in 1992. His son quickly overthrow of the Saddam Hussein in 2003 only to find himself in the Iraqi quagmire. Thus even if it achieves the impossible 'victory' over Hamas, Israel's search for peace would be settled only in the negotiating table. Likewise, any realistic end to terrorism in South Asia rests on Pakistan's cooperation and not its defeat, even if that were possible.

Thus war is still an option. But look before you fire.

(18.01.2009 - P.R. Kumaraswamy is a professor of West Asia studies at Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi. He can be contacted at ) (IANS)

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Monday, January 5, 2009

Hamas must get real

New Indian Express carries my peice on the ongoing crisis in the Gaza Strip. For full text click here.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

The Gaza War

Israel's end game in Gaza

What are Israel's goals? The overthrow of the Hamas government is often mentioned as a potential long-term objective...

Even by West Asia standards, the scale of the Israeli offensive against the Gaza Strip and the magnitude of casualties are astounding. Ever since Israel launched the ‘Operation Cast Lead’ two days after Christmas, close to 400 Palestinians have been killed and over a thousand injured. In the retaliatory attacks by the Hamas four Israelis were killed, including a Druze soldier and an Arab citizen. With an immediate ceasefire not in sight the casualties are bound to increase.

Prolonged rocket attacks from the Gaza Strip not only tested Israel’s deterrence but also have generated widespread domestic anger. With the Knesset elections just weeks away, Israeli politicians compete with one other as strong on security. The dwindling popularity of the Labour Party had put additional pressures upon Defence Minister Ehud Barak.

What are Israel’s goals? The overthrow of the Hamas government is often mentioned as a potential long-term objective. It is colourful and might even be popular to talk of ending the militant control. At least in private many Fatah would like see such an outcome as a sweet revenge for the Hamas takeover of the Gaza Strip in the summer of 2007.

To accomplish this far-reaching goal Israel would have to opt for, as Barak put it, boots on the ground. Israel cannot accomplish this without a full-scale ground offensive and the re-occupation of the Gaza Strip. There are signs in that direction. So far the army has called up about 9,000 reserve soldiers. This is one of the largest mobilisations in recent years. A large number tanks and artillery are stationed around the Gaza Strip. These make a ground offensive an extreme possibility.

At the same time, Israeli leaders know the pitfalls of such an option. Pin-pointed operations and smaller incursions are more successful than a large-scale ground offensive. Hamas definitely has an upper hand in any conventional urban guerrilla war situation. In 1982 Israel needed days to reach Beirut but took more than quarter of a century to get out of Lebanon. The American experience is no better and before long the fall of Baghdad turned into an Iraqi quagmire. Hence, Barak would have to carefully weigh the pros and cons.

This means that Israel’s campaign would largely be aerial raids accompanied by naval bombardments. That nearly 50 sites were attacked within the first few minutes of the campaign indicates that it had planned the offensive long and hard. The aerial offensive has its advantages. It can benefit from Israel’s technological superiority and minimise army casualties.

The aerial campaign has its limits. The Gaza Strip is not a continent. The total area of this impoverished and most crowded place on earth is only 360 square km. The city of Bangalore, in contrasts, spans over 690 sq km. Therefore, even if it targets every known site associated with Hamas, before long Israel will run out of military targets.

Despite the technological advances, aerial campaign comes with a price: civilian casualties. Even if unintended, air raids against a crowded place like the Gaza city invariably kill a number of innocent bystanders. According the UN and other agencies, nearly a fourth of all those Palestinians killed so far are women and children. Civilian deaths are always emotional and potentially damaging to Israel. Already there are protest rallies in various western capitals and cities and they would only increase if the conflict prolongs.

Some Israeli estimates suggest that that only 220 out of 390 killed were members of Hamas. It is unclear if Israel distinguishes between members and militants of Hamas. With the Hamas leadership largely remaining underground, it is unclear if there are any political casualties.

The scale and intensity of destruction would suggest that the military potential of Hamas has been considerably reduced and not eliminated. That Hamas could launch longer range rockets into Israel, with some of them reaching 40 km, highlight its military potential. It is down but not out. Green and not white flag still flies in Gaza.

Thus, Israel would not be able to prevent the rocket attacks only by its military campaign. The massive deaths and devastation might persuade the Hamas to re-examine its strategy and seek a political understanding and renew the ceasefire. The maximum that Israel could expect from this campaign is this: a militarily weakened Hamas would be more willing for a political understanding.

At the same time, Israel also would have to accommodate some of the demands of the Hamas. They are also Palestinian demands. It would have end the siege of the Gaza Strip and stop its periodic military incursions into the Gaza Strip.

As one commentator reminded the Israelis, since the October war of 1973, each time Israel fought a war, the defence minister lost his job. The last one was Amir Peretz who led Israel into the disastrous second Lebanon war in 2006. If Barak were to avoid joining that company, he would require tangible results and a quick end to the military campaign.

To accomplish this, whether he likes or not, Barak would need a helping hand from the Hamas. That is the irony of West Asia.

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(The writer teaches at Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi)