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Securing an impossible peace
By FIORELLO PROVERA
11/29/2012
For the EU, it is imperative that member states appreciate that Israel has the right to defend itself and send a clear message to Hamas that it cannot act as a facilitator for militant groups, which aim to attack Israel, no matter the cost.
 
Israeli streets are heaving a sigh of relief after eight days of rocket attacks, air strikes and the first bomb attack on board a bus in Tel Aviv since 2006, which came as a sharp and deadly reminder of the early 2000s when the country was the scene of multiple attacks, which set the peace process on a treacherous footing.

On November 21, a cease-fire was brokered after marathon negotiations between US President Barack Obama and Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi. Some have credited the Muslim Brotherhood’s historical link with Hamas, as giving Morsi the necessary weight to secure an agreement. He has become the surprise peace maker, since the Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party even released a statement calling Israel a “Zionist occupier” and a “racist state.”

The negotiations taking place between Israeli and Egyptian officials in Cairo focus on easing the blockade of the Gaza Strip and opening border crossings with Israel. There is also a need for reconstruction materials to be allowed to enter and reducing the number of banned luxury goods into Gaza.

On the other hand, Israel needs assurances regarding its security and more importantly, an end to rocket bombardments. In Israel, citizens are left pinning their hopes that the cease-fire will hold. Operation Pillar of Defense wreaked havoc on both the Palestinian and Israeli side. This culminated in the deaths of 168 Palestinians, 6 Israelis and extensive damage inflicted on Hamas targets.

Further killings were avoided by Israel’s decision not to launch a ground offensive and the efficiency of the Iron Dome anti-missile defense system.

Meanwhile in Gaza, fear and suspicions abound and numerous Palestinian civilians have been arrested and shot on suspicion of being collaborators with Israel. One was even dragged through the streets of Gaza City attached to a motorcycle for CNN to broadcast around the globe. Hamas-controlled media has worked to incite violence and celebrate the targeting of civilians.

Outside the remit of Hamas’s control are numerous other militant groups who have cells operating in both the Gaza Strip and the Sinai Peninsula. These include Majlis Shura Fi Aknaf Bayt al-Maqdis (MSM), Jaysh al-Ummah (JU) and Jaysh al-Islam (JI). Throughout November, they were responsible for launching dozens of rockets at Israel. It is clear that a sustainable cease-fire will require Hamas to reign in such groups.

Further away, Hamas is supported by Iran, which will not heed the calls for restraint by Western powers.

It is with the advanced Fajr-3 and Fajr-5 rockets that allowed Hamas to penetrate deep into Israeli territory. While relations between Hamas and Iran have been strained due to events in Syria, in this latest escalation of violence, Tehran’s support proved invaluable.

The Iranian Parliament Speaker Ali Larijani said that: “The Zionist regime needs to realize that Palestinian military power comes from Iranian military power.” Reports have alleged that Iran gives $20 to $30 million each year to Hamas. Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh thanked Iran especially in supporting the group in its battle with Israel.

If a long-term peace is to be secured between Hamas and Israel, it will take significant arm wringing from the United States, the European Union and more importantly, other Arab states. Egypt must adopt a firmer line in preventing Iranian arms from entering the Gaza Strip.

Moreover, Hamas has to make overtures to renounce elements of its founding charter which are committed to the destruction of Israel and its call to raise “the banner of Allah over every inch of Palestine.”

It must take responsibility, as a governing authority, to rule in the best interests of Palestinian civilians and Egypt, as a neighbor needs to understand it will only achieve lasting solutions to this intractable conflict if it adopts a mature and honest approach.

For the EU, it is imperative that member states appreciate that Israel has the right to defend itself and send a clear message to Hamas that it cannot act as a facilitator for militant groups, which aim to attack Israel, no matter the cost. This includes having the backing of Iran, which is a chief exporter of terror in the Middle East.

EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton has been unequivocal in condemning Hamas and other factions who launch attacks against Israel. It is thus important for all member states to lend their voices in calling for the group to renounce its mandate which condones the use of violence, and embrace a peace process, which will hopefully bear fruit after the end of the negotiations in Cairo.

The writer is the vice chair of the Committee on Foreign Affairs of the European Parliament.
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