Having already subjected the people of Gaza to a disproportionate and brutal aerial bombardment (which has resulted in hundred of deaths) Israel has now stepped up its assault on the embattled territory by launching a full-on ground offensive. On the face of it, Israel’s goal is to destroy Hamas’ ability to fight (specifically by destroying their tunnel network), thus protecting their civilians from indiscriminate missile attacks, although concerns about ‘mission creep’ are already being voiced, and it is inevitable that the already unacceptable death toll will rise over the coming days and weeks. What makes this worse is that those deaths are not just avoidable, but also, ultimately, pointless.
Put simply, Israel’s ground assault will fail because victory is impossible. Even if Israel does manage to destroy all (or most) of Hamas’ tunnels – which is extraordinarily unlikely – the organisation, and it’s dedication to armed resistance, will remain. In order to achieve the sort of ends that Israel seeks, it would have to inflict (and suffer) the sort of casualties that would force even Israel’s staunchest supporters to demand a halt to the operation. At present, Israeli military deaths seem to be hardening the people’s stance, but how long can that possibly continue? And with the British leader of the opposition (and possible next PM) stating clearly that he opposes the recent actions in Gaza, how much goodwill would Israel really be willing to sacrifice in pursuit of an impossible goal? Of course, much would come down to the actions of the USA, but even there small cracks are beginning to appear in what has previously seemed an unshakeable edifice.
In all likelihood, the end-game to this current conflict is largely predictable: Israel will eventually agree to a ceasefire once a few thousand Palestinian’s (mostly civilians, many of them children) and a few dozen Israelis (mostly soldiers still in their twenties) have died, and claim a triumphant victory over the Hamas ‘terrorists’. Hamas, however, will have survived and, like all “terrorist” organisations, will likely enjoy a recruitment surge. If – as seems likely – Israel continues to refuse to negotiate with Hamas (or Fatah, so long as they deal with Hamas) then an uneasy and volatile ‘peace’ will fall into place, but nothing will be solved: the Palestinians will still live under illegal occupation and blockade, Israel will remain in possession of stolen land (regardless of which year its borders are to be based on) and a lasting peace will be further away than ever.
A question that is yet to be satisfactorily answered, however, is what a ‘lasting peace’ would actually look like. Almost universally, commentators and negotiators still cling to the idea of the two-state solution, but might we have reached the point where that is simply no longer an option? In practical terms, a two-state solution would involve Palestinians giving up vast areas of illegally occupied and settled land (an unlikely compromise given Israel’s contested origins in the first place) whilst Israel would, among other things, be required to ‘relinquish security control’ of Palestine. Is either side ever likely to accept these sorts of conditions? Is it possible that the formation of two ideologically-opposed states is a recipe not for peace, but for further intractable conflict?
Consider, first, the position of the Palestinians, whose land was first given away by their former colonial rulers and then stolen by the very people to whom half of their land had initially been given; who have endured decades of occupation and domination; and who, despite the efforts of a long line of ‘deal-brokers’, find themselves no closer to reclaiming a state of their own.
On the other side are the people of Israel, whose ancestors suffered the worst act of genocide in recorded history; who believe that Israel is their promised land; and who, to be frank, possess a military apparatus so powerful that the existence of their state is not threatened by home-made Palestinian rockets.
With all this in mind, perhaps the time has come for us to ask whether we have reached the point where the solution is not for two different states, but for one shared, genuinely equal state, where Jews and Arabs enjoy the same rights and protections and work together at all levels? In practical terms, could the road to peace require the dissolution of both Israel and Palestine and the formation of a new, secular nation?
Such a solution may seem completely fanciful, even utopian, but at this point is the two-state solution really much more realistic? Of course the clear stumbling point is that those on both sides would see such an outcome as a defeat, but given that neither side can claim a victory independent of the other, a shared defeat might be the only way to secure that elusive lasting peace for the innocent people of both Israel and Palestine.
The first step towards achieving this aim would be the imposition of a military blockade on both sides of the conflict (as Amnesty International have called for), and a concerted international effort to find the best solution for all residents of this terribly troubled land.