x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

A de-escalation in Gaza requires US leadership

Ending the current cycle of violence in Gaza is possible with strong political leadership. Removing the seeds that sowed this latest round of fighting will be far more difficult.

On Friday, Egyptian prime minister Hisham Qandil flew to Gaza for talks with the Hamas leadership about the current conflict with Israel. Although Israel observed a ceasefire during the brief visit, once Mr Qandil left, it bombed the building where the talks had occurred. Hamas headquarters has been reduced to rubble, and many fear that the uneasy peace between Egypt and Israel, which has existed since the Camp David Accords came into effect in 1980, will soon be in tatters.

If all-out conflict ensues it will be a war that few want and nobody can afford. And, once again, we will see the deaths of many civilians whose only aspiration is to live in peace and freedom.

By now it should be well within the purview of regional and international actors to avoid the first challenge - more civilian deaths. Achieving the second objective - peace for Palestinians - will be far more difficult. But even as rockets rain again on the Levant, there is a clear way forward.

Ending the current cycle of violence will take political will from leaders in Gaza, Egypt, the US - and of course, Israel. Egypt's Islamist president, Mohammed Morsi, has political ties to Hamas, via the Muslim Brotherhood, and could push Hamas towards a ceasefire. That was probably the objective of Mr Qandil's visit. For this to happen, though, the US would have to do the same with Israel. And so far, Washington has only offered the slightest condemnation for Israeli's continuing aggression.

The longer-term challenge is one Palestinians have been denied for decades: a state of their own, free from Israel's containment strategies and expansionist tendencies. History has not been kind to expansionist states - and there is no doubt Israel's settlement policies are expansionism at its worst. Hamas may have provoked Israel into this recent flare-up, but it is Israel's policies targeting Palestinians that give Hamas's "resistance" narrative room to breathe.

The Obama administration, so silent on the peace process in recent years, can no longer afford to sit on the sidelines as its ally pummels Palestinians' right to self-determination. Free from the political calculations of a re-election campaign, President Barack Obama now has the space to challenge Israel's Benjamin Netanyahu. So far, we've heard only words of solidarity, and vague calls to "de-escalate".

Any solution that the Americans or Egyptians can broker in Gaza will be short-term. And as needed as a short-term solution is now, there can be no hope of a true, lasting peace until the creation of a separate state or a truly autonomous Palestinian region that is recognised under international law.