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A battle that both have lost

india Updated: Jan 15, 2009 20:26 IST

Hindustan Times
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The Right to defend oneself is a fundamental right, whether that someone is a State or a people without a State. In that sense, both sides in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that has raged for the last 19 days have trotted out their cause for digging their heels in and calling themselves the ‘victim’. Regardless of who has better merit in their argument, the fact of the matter is that close to 1,000 people have died in Israel’s hammering attack of Gaza, with most of the fatalities and casualties being civilians. That, above everything else, should be reason enough for the blood flow to stop. The singular problem when it comes to diplomacy — usually conducted in this context through war — is that both Israel and the Hamas, which governs the Gaza Strip and has been firing rockets into Israeli territory, want to showcase victory to their respective galleries. For Tel Aviv with elections a month away, victory is nothing less than the destruction of the Hamas, an elected component of the Palestinian Authority that unlike its West Bank counterpart Fatah, remains openly hostile to Israel. For Hamas, surviving amidst the ruins will be considered a victory.

Meanwhile, the body count mounts. The Egyptian-French-brokered ceasefire plan has been doing the rounds for some days now. From what one hears, it essentially means a ten-day ceasefire, with conditions imposed on both sides: Israel stops its attack, moves its troops out of Gaza, while Hamas stops its rockets and talks are started regarding stopping arms being smuggled into Hamas hands from Egypt and lifting the economic sanctions on Gaza. Understandably, Gaza resident Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh is willing to agree to conditions, while exiled leaders like Khaled Meshal are not.

It is imperative that Israel stops the war for humanitarian reasons. Tactically too, one is unsure what the continued pummeling has achieved in terms of delivering a death blow to its proclaimed target: Hamas. In fact, Israel’s ‘Operation Cast Lead’ seems to have reinforced Hamas support, not undermined it. Like the temporary truce that is being sought, deterrence of only a temporary kind has been achieved. Hamas, on its part, should realise that being the legitimate voice of Gaza Palestinians does not give it the sanction to use a battered people as cannon fodder. The ceasefire, even if it clicks into place, will bring nothing except tentative solace to a people caught between a boulder and a very hard place. At this moment, even that looks worth demanding.

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