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The peace process ends
– by Bettina Marx
Israel does not want peace. That was made abundantly clear by the cynically named military operation "Cast Lead". The offensive in Gaza lasted three weeks, and left at least 1300 Palestinians dead. The Gaza Strip was literally bombed back into the Stone Age. On the Israeli side, a total of 13 people were killed, ten of them soldiers.
The 1.5 million people living in the grinding poverty of Gaza cannot recover from this blow on their own. They will need another massive injection of foreign aid to repair the damaged infrastructure, re-build demolished homes and take care of the wounded and traumatised. Without outside support, Gaza has no economic future. Even before the military offensive, 80 % of the people depended on foreign aid.
Since the beginning of the Oslo peace process in 1993, the international community has pumped $18 billion into the Palestinian territories. But that has not put the economy on a sound footing. Hundreds of roadblocks prevent any free movement of goods within the West Bank and between the West Bank and Gaza.
Gaza was granted only apparent independence in 2005; since then, it has been totally cut off from the outside world. The small, arid coastal strip was economically destitute even before the recent military operation. Israel's isolation policy drove unemployment to dizzying heights, and, over the years, it forced every last tenacious business down to its knees.
When the recent military operation ended, Defence Minister Ehud Barak proudly stated on Israeli TV that the army had spent months preparing for the offensive. So it was not a spontaneous response to Hamas rocket fire, as the Israeli government would have the world believe. It was an operation aimed at isolating Gaza once and for all and destroying its economy.
The offensive was planned as long as half a year ago, when Israel was engaged in – initially successful – negotiations with Hamas over a ceasefire. And it was not Hamas that broke the ceasefire last autumn after five months of largely intact truce. Israel ended that truce on 4 November with a targeted military operation on Palestinian soil and an airstrike. Hamas responded to the provocation as anticipated – with a massive rocket attack on Israeli settlements. Israel thereupon launched its long-prepared military operation.
Jerusalem has thus ditched both the peace process and the two state vision. The goal now is not peace but merely quiet on Israel's southern and northern borders. To achieve that, the government aims to establish what conservative opposition leader Benjamin Netanjahu calls an "economic peace". With Europe's help, the Palestinian enclaves in the West Bank are expected to experience a modest economic upswing that will placate these "Bantustans".
The Gaza Strip is a fly in that ointment. Hamas, unlike the Autonomy Authority in Ramallah, is not prepared to settle for so little. Therefore, the unruly area is now being cut off entirely in an attempt to gradually made this territory an Egyptian responsibility. From Israel’s point of view, this approach will reduce the urgency of finding a solution to the Middle East conflict, while giving the Jewish state more time to establish faits accomplis, by expanding settlements and thus extending its territory. The prospect of a viable Palestinian state thus becomes increasingly remote.
But the Palestinians will not be satisfied with economic titbits forever, however. They will strive to assert their rights as a nation, they want self-determination and freedom. They want the Palestinian state to which they are entitled and for which they have been waiting for more than 60 years.