“To die or conquer the hill,”goes an old Israeli paramilitary anthem. It’s a theme that’s been repeating itself in spades of late, as Israel and Hamas keep scrambling to maintain the upper hand in a never-ending scuffle.
But with hostilities simmering, it’s about time that Canada get serious about inserting itself in what happens next.
Of course, there’s a lot of trepidation about jumping into quagmire. Nobody wants to stand in the way of the hill. The British are a cautionary tale — their efforts to impose an illogical mandate onto Palestine resulted in their eventual retreat, after Jewish gang Irgun bombed their headquarters, killing nearly one hundred.
And then the mouth-breathing hand-wringers at the UN tried to slap their crockpot map onto the tense situation, and a civil war broke out.
Since then, it’s been conflict after conflict, fuelled by money and weapons from the Americans and Saudis.
But recent political movement in both sides has opened the door for a short-term solution.
In Israel, an increasingly divisive political scene has pulled Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu madly off in all directions — thanks mostly to the rise of ultra-orthodox pro-settlement parties, intent on claiming their right to Palestinian lands.
In Palestine, a shaky unity government is fraying at the edges, again, as the four-year mandates of the Hamas-led Palestinian Legislative Council and President Mahmoud Abbas stretch into their ninth and tenth years, respectively. Sparse polling indicates rising fortunes for Hamas, but that ultra-popular powerbroker Marwan Barghouti, who is currently in an Israeli prison, could lead the more moderate Fatah to defeat their terrorist rivals.
Amid all this political friction, Canadian politicians have been tripping over themselves to offer unqualified support for Israel.
Which isn’t in and of itself a bad thing. Israel does have a right to defend itself and, indeed, most of the criticism of the Israeli Defence Forces’ current campaign casts a myopic view of how Hamas operates —whether it’s the terror tunnels, used to kidnap and murder Israeli civilians, or their cynical use of human shields.
The IDF has nearly destroyed, or at least hobbled, that tunnel network. Through its airstrike campaign, meanwhile, the IDF appears to have taken out sizeable chunks of Hamas’ infrastructure.
But in both operations, Israel has exacerbated two problems — one, it has kneecapped the network through which regular Gazans get ahold of legitimate goods like medicine and livestock and; two, it has further crippled the area’s ability to build a sustainable economy.
The two problems are interlinked.
For several years, until 2011, Israel experimented with loosening the oppressive ground and naval blockade of the Gaza Strip. The results were remarkably positive — unemployment dropped, and growth boomed. It was then that the Hamas, which feeds from ruin, started losing its grip on Palestine.
Skittishness, however, meant that the economic chokepoints were tightened and the area’s economy sagged once more. The influx of construction equipment, one of the most vital resources for the battered area, was all but cut off.
That meant that the tunnel networks then became all the more important, both for civilians and Hamas. While legitimate goods travelled through the winding network, all slapped with a 20 per cent tax from Hamas, the anti-Israel fighters moved rockets and small arms through the spiderweb of underground paths. They allow Hamas to play Robin Hood to Israel’s Sheriff of Nottingham. And, in rebuilding those tunnels, Hamas will rebuild its support.
Unless Israel wants to take on the Sisyphean task of destroying them all over again, it’s time to talk about ending the blockade and cutting off oxygen to Hamas.
Which is where Canada steps in. As the American moral authority is off wandering in the woods somewhere, Ottawa ought to leverage its newfound friendship with Israel.
To this end, both Prime Minister Stephen Harper and NDP leader Thomas Mulcair deserve credit — both represent half the equation. Harper, in that he recognizes that Canada is better served alongside Israel rather than howling at the moon in the UN, while Mulcair has finally taken the important step of discussing an end to the blockade.
Certainly, no real economic development can exist until short-term stability is established, just as no long-term peace agreement can be struck until there is long-term growth in Gaza.
It will be a short-term sacrifice from Israel for long-term gain. Its reflexive assaults, and sporadic tightening and loosening of trade restrictions has kneecapped Palestinian growth. In keeping a firm grip on Gaza City’s seaport, it has closed off a potentially lucrative shipping lane. Even many types of Hummus are denied entry into the territory. Hummus.
The West Bank stands testament to what can be done when Israel’s friends build a forum where it can work co-operative with Palestine, instead of antagonistically.
For Canada to get into that position, we need to stop this antagonistic yammering about moral absolutes. We need to dispense with this anachronistic idea of ‘honest broker.’ We need to drop all this foolish boycott/buycott foolishness.
In a test of Harper’s new, hard-nosed Canadian foreign policy, Ottawa needs to draw up and push a plan that builds Palestine without tearing down Israeli security.
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