Out of the Impasse: UN Mandate in Gaza to the Arab League

Israel had to strike against Hamas, and it probably will again. No sovereign country can sit tight while one of its cities is vacated by rocket attacks. Military action will have some impact, but not in the long range: the cycle will, most probably, repeat itself.

Military action, though inescapable at the moment, will not solve the problem. Without a viable Palestinian state, any armed gang can hold everyone’s future hostage, and force all sides into this vicious circle. There is no way to conduct a policy vis-à-vis chaos. There is no one to deter, no one to reward, no one to strike a deal with, or even go to war against. There is only a spiral in which violence breads more and more violence.

The Lebanon war taught Israelis the harsh lesson which Hamas, and a loose constellation of guerilla groups in Gaza, are now reinforcing: that unilateral withdrawal does not ensure peace unless there is some stable sovereign power to which authority can be transferred. But the Lebanon war also pointed the road to a solution: international intervention and an international peace-keeping force.

But such a force in the case of Gaza (and hopefully also in that of the West Bank), will have to do more than the force lead by Italy is doing in Lebanon now. First, it will have to be much stricter in controlling the proliferation of arms. But more importantly, it will face a far more daunting task in Palestine: it will have to facilitate nation building. In what one hopes would be a prosperous Palestine there is currently even less of a state than in Lebanon, and without such a state none in Israel or Palestine will be safe.

Against the backdrop of America’s faux-pas in Iraq, two things seem clear: that an international mandate must sanction the process of nation building, and that instant democracy is probably not a realistic prospect.

In order to steer clear of the shadow of Western colonialism, which still rattles old skeletons in the Arab closet, it seems best to have the Arab League play a central role in the process. In order to steer clear of Israeli fears, the League should work under the widest possible international umbrella. If Israel would be wise, it would support the creation of such a frame, which also means it will have to take bold steps in accepting the Arab League’s peace-plan as a basis for peace in the region.

A combination of a framework for peace-talks, and a UN mandate in Palestine, backed by an international peace-keeping force, would offer a comprehensive framework for a comprehensive solution: the Israeli occupation would end, a viable Palestine could be created, and reconciliation between Israel and its neighbors advanced. The time is ripe. With the specter of fundamentalism looming, many interests converge around such a plan – moderate Arab regimes, Europe, the US and the international community at large, all have a stake here. Israelis and Palestinians surely have everything to gain, and less and less to loose.  

(An Italian version of this piece appeared in Corriere della Sera, May 28, 2007.)