Even after its collapse, the Cairo negotiations between the Israelis and Palestinians were, perhaps, the most important in many years. For the first time ever, Palestine Liberation Organisation/Palestinian Authority negotiators were joined at the table by representatives of the armed resistance movements, notably Hamas and Islamic Jihad. Thanks to the Israeli war on the people of the Gaza Strip, the Palestinians are united in their immediate demand for an end to Israel’s aggression and its eight-year blockade of the enclave.
Reflecting on these developments, Khaled Meshaal, the head of the Hamas political bureau, said that he has no doubt that this latest battle in Gaza will shorten the journey towards achieving the prime Palestinian goal of ending Israel’s decades-long occupation. “Whatever you take away from the negotiating table,” insisted Meshaal, “is a consequence of your position on the ground and the outcome of the balance of power in the field.”
Hamas’s position on the ground today has changed drastically and so too has the balance of power. Not only has the movement repelled the Israeli ground offensive, but, equally importantly, it has also repositioned the Palestine issue and that of the blockade firmly at the top of the regional and international agenda. Even the Obama administration now recognises the need to end the collective punishment that is the disgraceful blockade.
In the past, Israelis milked the so-called peace process and negotiations to present themselves as straightforward and reasonable people who sought peace but couldn’t find willing partners among the Palestinians. Now, by rejecting the legitimate demand to end the blockade, they have exposed themselves as nothing less than serial aggressors.
In Gaza, Palestinian citizens insist that they have made every possible sacrifice and will, as a consequence, accept nothing less than the unfettered opening of their borders, seaport and airport. As an indivisible part of Palestine, they believe that the Gaza Strip is entitled to have access to the outside world.
To the same degree that Israel’s 2008/9 Operation Cast Lead ended the political career of Ehud Olmert, so too Benjamin Netanyahu’s Operation Protective Edge is threatening to bring his career to a close. Having spent an estimated $2.5 billion to $3.6 billion in the first four weeks, Netanyahu can ill-afford to fund a prolonged campaign. Already, the financial cost is beginning to have a negative impact on the lifestyle of Israel’s consumer society and the country’s 2015 budget deficit is expected to rise significantly. Sooner or later Netanyahu will have to pay a political price for jeopardising the social comforts of Israeli citizens.
The position of President Mahmoud Abbas, is no less tenuous. True, Palestinian control over the land, sea and air space in Gaza will carry the symbolic trappings of sovereignty, the ultimate achievement that he has laboured for. However, even if this comes to pass, many Palestinians will view it as a vindication of the resistance agenda and not Abbas’s negotiating strategy. That in itself is enough to damage his leadership position.
Ultimately, Israel will have to make concessions. As part of its psychological war against the Israelis, Hamas is keeping mum about prisoners of war and the remains of soldiers killed. There will obviously be a price to pay for their return to Israel. Already, Hamas has demanded the names of Palestinian collaborators in return for Israel’s dead soldiers. The chances are that if Israel hands them over, no one will ever want to collaborate in future; if it doesn’t, its demand for the return of its troops’ remains will be ignored.
In this context, there is also the future of the settlements that form a belt north of the Gaza Strip to consider. Given the inability of the Israeli army to guarantee their security, Netanyahu has no choice but to meet the demands of the Palestinian resistance if he really wants the settlers to be able to return to their homes.
This is the changed situation on the ground that Meshaal alluded to. The balance of fear and deterrence is now evenly spread. Just as the Palestinians in Gaza must live with the threat of F16s and drones, so too will Israelis have to put up with the fear of resistance fighters coming out of tunnels under the border with Gaza.
The new realities in Palestine have shaped events and influenced popular thinking well beyond the region, despite Israel’s well-oiled propaganda and war machines. Universal demands for justice in Palestine can only grow stronger. Even if the demonstrations in cities around the world peter out the support for Palestinian rights will continue to be manifested in the fast-growing international Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign.
For sure, neither the resistance nor negotiations are ends in themselves; they are both means employed by the Palestinians to achieve their strategic national goals. To the same degree that there has been a shift in the military balance on the ground, there will be a shift in the negotiating balance that must be capitalised upon. When the parties finally return to the negotiating table one thing will be certain; that open-ended Palestinian concessions to Israel are a thing of the past.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.