With the shaky cease-fires that keep getting extended every 72 hours by both Hamas and the Israelis, the Gaza Strip and its inhabitants have finally been able to breathe a little and attempt to begin the long journey of recovery after a month of relentless Israeli pounding that left 1,945 Palestinians dead and the devastation of the enclave’s infrastructure.
Credit must be given to the negotiating efforts of the Egyptians who have been hosting the joint Hamas-Islamic Jihad-Palestinian Authority negotiating team and the Israelis in separate rooms. Running back and forth with messages from both sides, and getting caught in between, cannot be an easy task. As the Emirati political commentator Sultan Al-Qassemi told me this week over dinner here in Brasilia, the Egyptians have a huge advantage over the Qataris and Turks in that they have one of the two land borders with Gaza. And they control the Rafah crossing, one of the major entry and exit points into the strip.
After all, we Arabs cannot just throw money at the Palestinian dilemma, and hope that it will magically solve all of their problems with the Israelis and among themselves. Intense diplomatic efforts, with endless rounds of talks and negotiations, with both sides giving up on some of their demands, is the only way a permanent solution is going to be found to this 60-year-old problem. It was therefore with great pleasure that I read a wire report from the Spanish news agency EFE this week, quoting an anonymous source, which said the United States had proposed the creation of a new floating seaport in Gaza facing the Cypriot coast under international control. An international team would be in charge of inspecting merchandise being shipped in and out of Gaza. The construction of a seaport and the rehabilitation of Gaza’s international airport have long been demands of the Palestinians.
More good news came from the Palestinian news agency Maan, which reported that Israel had agreed to allow the number of trucks entering Gaza to rise from 250 a day to 600; to expand the fishing waters off Gaza’s coast from its current six miles to 12 miles; to issue more border passes for Palestinians at the Erez crossing, especially for students and the sick; and allow the reopening of the Rafah crossing on the border with Egypt. Finally, Israel was allegedly ready to allow the Palestinian Authority to transfer money to Gaza to pay the local government workers.
So why haven’t these advances made headlines around the globe? One reason is that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is facing stiff opposition from the right-wing members of his Cabinet, who want nothing less than the destruction of Hamas. But I am sure that if the appropriate economic incentives were dangled in front of the Israelis, they would come around fast.
A case in point happened here in Brazil recently. A few weeks ago when the Brazilian Foreign Ministry released an official statement harshly criticizing Israel’s excessive and disproportional use of force in Gaza, protesting the killing of innocent Palestinian civilians, and recalling the Brazilian ambassador in Tel Aviv for consultations, the Israelis reacted fiercely. The spokesman of the Israeli Foreign Ministry lashed out at Brazil, calling the South American giant a “diplomatic dwarf” that carried no importance in world affairs. Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff, much to her credit, held her cool and instructed her officials not to react to the insults.
At the beginning of this week, the new Israeli president, Reuven Rivlin, called Dilma and apologized for the insult, saying that Israel wanted to return to its close relations with Brazil. Dilma reiterated Brazil’s stand for the need for an independent and viable Palestinian state next to Israel. A few days later, O Globo newspaper reported that according to the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, the Israelis had only apologized to Brazil under pressure from the Israel Aerospace Industries company which is trying to sell military aircraft to Brazil. The company feared that the insult could jeopardize the sale, and therefore lobbied heavily for the apology. The Israelis should realize that making peace with the Palestinians will not only bring them security, but also economic prosperity through trade with Arab countries. They should not rely solely on economic handouts, such as the $3 billion in annual US aid.
Finally, the news that US President Barack Obama had stopped a shipment of Hellfire missiles to Israel, seemed to me vintage Obama retroactive spinning of the news to try and regain brownie points with international public opinion after so many people had turned against Israel’s horrific carnage in Gaza, done mostly with US weapons.
According to a Wall Street Journal report, the White House and the State Department claimed that they did not know that the Pentagon was resupplying Israel with American weapons and ammunition in the middle of their Gaza onslaught. What?! How could they not know? It was all over the news. Do they really expect anyone to believe this? In any event, the report says that Obama has ruled that all future sales of weapons to Israel must be approved first by himself and the State Department. If only he had said this a month ago, maybe less innocent Palestinians would have died by American bombs. What hypocrisy.