The situation in the Gaza region in the Palestine territories has multiple issues. Foremost among them are the mounting civilian casualties in the clash between Israel and the Palestinian group, Hamas, an off-shoot of the Muslim Brotherhood. But there are also those issues that have a bearing on countries like Sri Lanka.
The ‘Palestinian problem’ if one was to broadly describe what is the single biggest outstanding issue in West Asia had its beginnings, like so many other conflicts of the modern world, in what colonial Britain left behind. The Balfour Declaration carved out a state of Israel and jettisoned the indigenous Palestinians from their homeland more than half a century ago. Today, the Palestinians are stateless.
There are two sides to the current crisis in the Gaza, as is always the case. The common factor, however, is that more than 1,600 Palestinians and 60 Israeli soldiers have been killed within one month, with thousands badly injured and homes reduced to rubble. World opinion is stacked against Israel which seems to have fallen into the Hamas trap of being provoked into military action. Unfortunately, the response is completely outside the scope of proportionality. Fighter bombers and tanks are deployed on a virtual ‘scorched earth’ policy of death and destruction. Footage of dismembered limbs and blood-soaked children, telecast around the world rouses the ire of reasonable people. Israel’s Prime Minister nevertheless enjoys his country’s support for his actions. On the other hand, Hamas has succeeded in winning the support of the Palestinians and even its political rival, Al-Fatah, due to the atrocities committed on the civilian population. War, it seems, often breeds unity as it does hatred.
The ongoing conflict, however, cannot be seen in splendid isolation. That trouble-spot of the world will never see peace as long as Israel has the absolute backing of the United States. President Barack Obama tried to reverse the trend with a new West Asian initiative when he took office, but the Establishment, given the rich, powerful and influential Jewish lobby would not allow a change in the status quo. Last month, the US Senate and the House of Representatives unanimously passed resolutions expressing support for Israel’s military action in Gaza. So the Obama administration has recognised Israel’s right to fight what it calls terrorism and only meekly expressed “concern” at what everyone knows is a calibrated war at the expense of innocent civilians. This is what is brutally called ‘collateral damage’ in times of conflict.
For the US what is permitted ‘collateral damage’ in the Gaza is not to have been allowed in Sri Lanka. Both, Hamas and the LTTE are designated terrorist organisations in the US, but the military campaign of Israel only warrants an expression of “concern” while that which Sri Lanka waged merits a concerted global campaign to sponsor a resolution calling for an investigation into allegations of war crimes.
Israel faces the same problem Sri Lanka faced being a sovereign state having to deal with a non-state actor using weapons as part of its political goals. What is sauce for the LTTE, must then be sauce for Hamas. A long time ago, the indigenous Americans recognised this bad trait in the new world Americans when they said, “white men talk with forked tongue”.
But that is not the lesson for Sri Lanka. Sri Lanka itself is in a dilemma. While a street is named after its President in Palestine, it was Israel that came forward to defend its sovereignty. Today Sri Lanka is doing business with Israel. That the US and the West adopt double standards is an established fact. The events in Gaza have shown that once again; that of the real-politik in this imperfect world.
The lesson is how the world’s superpowers react as the violence unfolds in the Gaza. Already, the US and the European Union have declared increased sanctions and embargoes on Russia over the events in Ukraine. A new cold war has been unleashed by the US-Europe axis to isolate Russia from the rest of the world.
Ukraine and now Gaza are where these superpowers are playing their chess games. While the United Nations Secretary General screams for a ceasefire, his appeal is not being heard. The big five nations which have veto powers to control the affairs of the world are playing cat-and-mouse in the long dark shadows of the events in Ukraine. Ukraine itself is being torn asunder; one set of people, mainly the young, wanting to join hands with Europe and the other, the older generation, preferring to stay with Russia.
Neither Russia nor China has sponsored any resolution condemning Israel for the incursions in Gaza. No doubt, the US will veto any such resolution, but they do not want even to risk embarrassing the US on this score.
And this, in the ‘UN Year of Solidarity with the Palestinian People’! That is why a former leader of the Palestinian people once exclaimed; “I will shoot the next person who shows solidarity with us” because nothing follows from such an expression. On the other hand, the Russians and the Chinese have vetoed UN Security Council resolutions introduced by the US on the Syrian Government for attacking its civilians. It appears that until it comes to that late stage, Russia and China are coy about meeting the US head-on. This has an antecedent in the case of Libya as well when neither Russia nor China intervened to protect the then Libyan leader in the face of US-Western pressure.
The Palestinian Authority has complained to the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC). Neither Russia nor China is canvassing support in the council which is pursuing war crimes investigations on Sri Lanka.
The upshot of this is that it is unlikely that either Russia or China — or India under the new dispensation — will take the side of the Palestinians on any political or moral grounds. The more worrying aspect for Sri Lanka is that the leaders of Russia, China and India met in Brazil while the fighting was raging in the Gaza but the summit declaration did not point fingers at anyone. In India, the new Government even prevented an anti-Israeli resolution being debated in Parliament. It only shows that relying on any one superpower — or putting all one’s eggs in one basket is to walk on thin ice. One cannot be assured of support when you need it most.
The war in Gaza will stop one day, but after more death and destruction. There will be no real winners; the truce will be an uneasy one — and only until the next flare-up. The long-term answer is the two-state solution — Israel and a sovereign Palestine — with a compromise on Jerusalem. Otherwise, we will see this conflict that has raged for generations in the 20th century continue in the 21st century too. Already, the next crop of guerrillas for Hamas has been baptized by fire