In March 1996, leaders from 29 countries met in the Egyptian resort of Sharm El Sheikh for a “Summit of the Peacemakers”. Co-hosted by the then Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and US President Bill Clinton, its goals were to formulate a peace plan to end the conflict in Palestine and begin the process of establishing a Palestinian state. Clinton said the summit was “proof and promise that this region has changed for good.” There was indeed a promise, but there was no proof of change. With Israel’s latest bombardment of the Gaza Strip, however, the real proof has finally emerged.
Whereas all the Arab states, with the exception of Syria and Lebanon, attended the Sharm El Sheikh summit to condemn the Palestinian resistance, in 2012 they gathered in Gaza, during Israel’s blitz, to proclaim support for the Palestinian resistance. Gaza is the proof of change that has been oft-promised but never delivered, until now.
While pledging to end all violence, the late Palestinian President Yasser Arafat told the “peacemakers” that, “Our dream of freedom and independence can never prosper in the middle of a sea of blood and tears.” He urged Israel to end its policy of closing off the West Bank and Gaza. “Collective punishment has never been the proper tool to provide security and stability,” he said.
Sharm El Sheikh offered yet another opportunity to Israel and those who stand behind it to honour their undertakings and recognise Palestinian rights. Not for the first time Israel squandered it by rewriting every agreement and spurning Palestinian and Arab offers of peace. It had, moreover, obviously bitten off more than it could chew when Netanyahu decided to carry out the extrajudicial killing of Ahmad Al-Jabari on 14 November.
From the onset, it was clear that Israel would not achieve any of its military or political objectives in the embattled Gaza Strip. Its leaders had misjudged, to their consternation, the resolve of the new Egyptian government and the mood across the region.
By itself, the visit of Egyptian Prime Minister Hisham Kandil would have been enough to convey that message to the Israelis. However, the cross-party visit led by the head of the Freedom and Justice Party, Dr Sa’ad Katatni, was perhaps even more significant and telling.
From a battered and devastated Gaza, Katatni said that their strategic choice is the choice of resistance, “and we are with our Palestinian brothers in the same trench”. The former speaker of the Egyptian parliament clarified his message further: Egypt is no longer a strategic treasure for Israel, as it was under Mubarak; it has become a treasure for Palestine.
Misled by the so-called experts who claimed that the Arab Spring had nothing to do with Palestine, Israel’s leaders believed quite literally that they could get away with murder. Now, there is a constant procession of delegations visiting Gaza, government and non-governmental, from across the region. The political isolation of Hamas, which the Sharm El Sheikh summit sought to achieve, has been ended.
By all accounts, the equation in Palestine will not be the same after the latest Israeli offensive against Gaza. The resistance factions led by Hamas may not have an army to defeat Israel but they have certainly developed a powerful deterrent capability. It has reinstated Palestine to the top of the agenda in the region. Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu acknowledged this during his visit to Gaza, pointing out that the resistance has restored the dignity not only of Palestinians, but all Muslims and all people who love peace.
The resistance has done what 21 Arab countries have failed to do since the start of the conflict with the Israeli state. Israel has to realise that Hamas doesn’t need a standing army of one million soldiers. Nor does it need volunteers from neighbouring Arab states. All it needs is a committed, well-trained, disciplined, highly-motivated and strong-willed militia to defend its people. This it has and its members enjoy the respect and support of the public; that can only grow after this round of the conflict.
In the beginning Netanyahu and Barak were speaking of eliminating the resistance once and for all. Before the eight days of intensive Israeli bombardment were over, they changed their objective to reducing the capability of the resistance.
If this was about testing the dynamics of the region they got the answer. If this was about eliminating Hamas and then turning their attention to Lebanon and Iran, this is no longer feasible.
True, they have set back Hamas’s development plans for the Gaza Strip, but the movement will rise from the ashes and rebuild as it has done before. Destruction and death is no victory; it depends on whether or not you have achieved your objectives. The Israelis have not.
This is an opportunity for the Palestinian people. To many Palestinians, Hamas has achieved in one week what the negotiators failed to achieve in twenty years. In the world of real politick, diplomacy is not enough to secure or protect rights; it must be accompanied by strength. Gaza has shown what can be achieved with few resources even against massive odds. For a people who hunger for freedom, the impossible is now possible.