Mideast conflict demands resolution

The Israeli military action against Palestinians ended Jan. 18.


By the latest count, in 22 days, the Israeli army killed more than 1,315 Gazans. About 400 of them were children and 108 were women.

Of the adult men who were killed, only about one-third have been identified as being active in Hamas. This death toll represents approximately one-1,000th of the total population of Gaza.

In terms of the population of the United States, that would mean 300,000 deaths.

On the Israeli side, 13 were killed.

In addition, more than 5,000 Palestinians were seriously injured. The majority of these are children who will be maimed for life. The damage to the infrastructure, homes and businesses is estimated at $1.5 billion.

Thanks to international pressure, Israel halted its offensive and withdrew its ground troops. While this may be the end of this violent episode, the cease-fire is fragile, and the possibility of renewed fighting is ever-present.

This may be a good time to review the origins of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, and to consider the reasons why it has continued for so long and hopefully come up with a way to resolve it.

AS A RESULT of the 1967 war, Israel has occupied Jerusalem, which it has annexed, the West Bank, the Gaza Strip, the Golan Heights and Sinai Peninsula.

U.N. Security Council Resolution 242, which ended the war, stipulated withdrawal from occupied territories. The Camp David agreement, negotiated with the participation of President Carter in 1978, resulted in peace between Egypt and Israel and the return of the Sinai Peninsula to Egypt. With that exception, Israel has refused to comply and has maintained control over the West Bank, the Gaza Strip and the Golan Heights.

Later diplomatic efforts were made to resolve the conflict. The Madrid Conference was convened in 1991 under the auspices of President George H.W. Bush. President Clinton succeeded in bringing Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and Palestine Liberation Organization Chairman Yasser Arafat to Washington for a renewed round of negotiations in 1993.

Simultaneously, Palestinians and Israelis made direct contacts under the auspices of the Norwegian government. This resulted in the Oslo Agreements, which established the Palestine National Authority as a precursor to an independent Palestinian state.

The next round of negotiations took place in 2000. Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barack's proposal included a withdrawal from parts of the West Bank, but Israel would maintain control of access points away from the West Bank and within it, and Israel would take over outright areas with key water resources and existing settlements.

IN ADDITION, the Israeli proposal did not include a transfer of sovereignty over any part of Jerusalem, and did not recognize Palestinian refugees' right of return. The latest attempt was the "road map" initiated by President George W. Bush.

All of these processes have failed. Instead of Israel signaling its willingness to withdraw from the occupied territories and allow the establishment of a Palestinian state, it continued its policy of settlement expansion in the Occupied Territories. That is despite the fact the U.S. government, in accordance with international law, has called these settlements "illegal and an obstacle to peace." To build the settlements and connect them to Israel, Israel confiscates Palestinians' lands; builds roads that Palestinians can neither use nor cross; and sets up checkpoints that restrict movement between villages and, more importantly, to the major towns for essential services.

This failure has strengthened among Palestinians the view that military resistance in the form of attacks against Israeli soldiers and civilians and launching of rockets is the only possible means to pressure Israel into reconsidering its policies. It was in this environment that the social movement Hamas developed a military wing.

Hamas won a majority in the 2006 parliamentary elections. After the elections, Israel, the United States and the European Union all imposed sanctions on the democratically elected government.

WHILE ISRAEL withdrew from the Gaza Strip in 2005, it retained control over Gaza's borders by land, sea and air. Israel enforced severe blockades, crippling Gaza's economy, causing widespread malnourishment and environmental problems and disabling medical care.

This situation led many international observers to agree that Gaza is the world's largest open-air prison. Beyond that, since 2005, Israel has added 8,000 new settlers in the West Bank, thus sending the message to Palestinians that Israel intends to retain its control over the West Bank and its land and water resources.

Despite all this, Hamas and Israel had agreed to a six-month truce, which international observers and Israel's own defense ministry confirm Hamas maintained.

One of the terms of the truce was Israel's lifting its siege of Gaza. Since Israel never did that, Hamas did not renew the truce when it expired in December 2008. Had Israel's aim been the prevention of missile attacks, it could have done so by agreeing to lift its blockade of Gaza. Instead, its wanton destruction indicates that its true aim is destroying Palestinian resistance to occupation.

For Israel and its supporters of its recent massacres in Gaza to pretend that the issue is Hamas and not Israel's 40-year-old military occupation and its denial of the national aspirations and human rights of Palestinians is disingenuous.

THE ARAB LEAGUE'S comprehensive peace settlement proposal in 2002 offered Israel recognition and normal relations with all Arab states in return for Israeli withdrawal from all occupied territories. Israel, completely ignoring this proposal, proved that it is not fighting for survival but instead for domination.

There is great hope that President Obama will be directly involved in the resolution of this conflict. It can be resolved only through negotiations between Israel and a duly constituted Palestinian National Authority. The aim would be to achieve both Israeli and Palestinian security, and the establishment of a viable, contiguous Palestinian state. The negotiations should be in good faith. They should be based on compromises from both sides. They should begin now without the imposition of preconditions on the Palestinians. Illegal Israeli land seizures over the past 40 years and the annexation of East Jerusalem should not be considered non-negotiable facts.

When this is the clear intention of the negotiations and such aims are supported by U.S. policy, I believe militants on both sides will agree to a final status solution that will bring peace to the Holy Land, and will be in the best interests of the United States.

The writer, an Augusta resident, has been a practicing maternal fetal medicine specialist in Augusta for the past 33 years. He is a member-at-large of the Executive Committee of the Islamic Society of Augusta.