A Multilateral ceasefire in Gaza is not enough. We need to call for a unilateral cessations of hostilities

I had to spend a long time explaining in a Facebook comment yesterday how I thought a ceasefire between the Israeli government would hold and whether it should be supported by the Israeli and Palestinian socialist and workers movement and beyond them peace movements amongst those peoples.

Tel Aviv anti-war protest 26th July - Photo from Elizabeth Tsurkov Facebook

Tel Aviv anti-war protest 26th July – Photo from Elizaeth Tsurkov Facebook

There are understandable doubts and uncertainties about the trustworthiness of offers for ceasefires emanating from either Hamas or the Israeli government.

Israelis fear that Hamas still wants to eliminate Israel and that they could, at any time, attempt to do that through military action on Israeli civilians. Palestinians have huge doubts that the Israeli government, particularly this one, will call ceasefires for any other reason other than to occasionally and temporarily placate international pressure. Meanwhile they maintain a desire to intimidate Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza territories with the eventual intention of expanding Israel and driving further Palestinians from their homes.

I believe the people on both sides are right to have their suspicions but nevertheless socialists and peace activists should call for a ceasefire on both sides to be made unilaterally and indefinitely. In other words we should campaign for an unconditional unilateral cessation of all military hostilities.

Ban Ki-Moon, Kerry, Ed Miliband have all called for a ceasefire. But is unclear whether that is that a just yet another weak call on both sides to negotiate a ceasefire with the likelihood of a later continuation of military action as mutual accusations fly about who has broken the terms of that ceasefire.

Here is my response, with one or two small amendments and grammatical corrections, to someone arguing that Hamas can’t be trusted and that therefore, in principle, Israel should have the right to attack the rocket sites and tunnel installations from Gaza into Israel.

I would defend my argument as being as equally valid for the Palestinians – although the urgency for action obviously lies within Israel where the bombardment of Gaza in particular is causing such horrendous suffering of several greater orders of magnitude than that suffered by Israelis.

I guess what you are asking me is what I would do if I was in charge of Israel and the IDF.

It may sound a bit like that joke where someone asked for directions and to whom the response was given “Well, I wouldn’t start from here.”

Your questions in effect asks me how I might continue the trade-off of terror that has been going on for decades. It is similar to the arguments about multilateral versus unilateral nuclear disarmament. If they threaten to terrorise us with mass murder, we have to threaten them likewise – and if we are to have progress it can only be through trade-offs – in return for you removing the threat of killing 100,000 of ours we will remove the threat to kill 200,000 of yours. Forget popular movements amongst people for nuclear disarmament – instead anyone wanting influence has to prepare to posture as mass murderers or as advisers to mass murderers – everyone else is marginalised. No surprise then there has never been a popular campaign for multilateral disarmament – who would want to be a part of it?

Similarly campaigns and campaigners for peace and justice in Israel and Palestine have found themselves continually exhausted by being expected to accept conditional offers by some of the most duplicitous and dishonest politicians on the planet.

In so far as there have been offers in the past of peace, or for 2 states and a just settlement for the Palestinians – why haven’t they been effective? Because they have never been believable and the offers, if you look at who has made them, have never been truthful. They have gone along with on-off support for expansionist settlements and moves towards further religious/racial exclusiveness of the Israeli state. Hamas and others could argue that the PLO’s adoption of 2-states was merely a cover-screen for a real desired exploitative relationship, often brutally, over the Palestinian people. And sure enough every few months this would be seemingly verified.

We need something radically different. The biggest impact anyone with any influence in Israel could have in bringing about peace, would be to campaign as loudly as possible for a complete overturn of Israel’s policies in relation to the Palestinians. If progress is made, if ceasefires, if dismantling settlements are acted on then fine. But they will only be offered by the current leaders if they fear that they may be replaced as a result of a combination of pressure both internationally but also, and more reliably, from the people in the land they rule. And the moment those pressures will reduce then such gains may be lost.

So the continual unrelenting advocacy, of what a just settlement can consist of, is essential – whilst maintaining implacable opposition to these sectarian and racist leaders.

Imagine if there was a statement from an incoming Israeli government that they would discuss with Palestinian representatives, and even those who claim to be its government (i.e. Hamas), the unconditional relinquishing of any occupation of the territories of the West Bank and Gaza, that they would relinquish further territory that would help make a Palestinian state viable. That they would call on the US to divert its military aid to Israel instead towards the assistance in rebuilding Gaza and the creation of home and services within Palestine. That it would call on the UN to support this peace process in the Middle East which in the long run would remove the biggest threat to world peace.

Imagine if such a movement in Israel, called along with the international workers and democratic movement, for democracy in the Palestinian territories: if it called on and offered to support measures taken by the international workers movement to help those fighting to establish democratic and independent working class organisations.

Of course, such a government is not likely today or tomorrow. But the very possibility of such a government would encourage those in the Arab world who currently see no other solution other than endless conflict with Israel. The small peace demonstrations in Israel are currently the closest we have to that. Those who cannot envision sudden and dramatic change will therefore discount this argument. But there is little likelihood of peace under the existing Israeli leadership. The overthrow of the Israeli government and a movement dedicated to a completely fresh start is an essential part of convincing the Palestinian people of the sincerity of Israelis wanting peace.

Would Hamas take a unilateral ending of offensive action as an encouragement to them to continue their presently largely ineffective actions?

Possibly some in Hamas will. I have no doubts about their sinister and violent sectarian nature. If they see it as a momentary uncertainty in the continuing trade-off of death, particularly if they can present it as that to the people they influence, they might. But above anything else Hamas need Israel’s war on them war to justify their own war on Israel. A peace from Israel, a genuine peace, will chip away at their support, will allow the secular democratic forces that had started organising in Gaza in the last 2 years to further develop.

I have found myself over the last few days arguing, pretty much equally to those concerned from an Israeli and a Palestinian perspective, that the racism on both sides is fed by fear. Although the fear on the Palestinian side has been deafeningly amplified by mass slaughter. The cessation of the offensive against the Palestinians, particularly in Gaza, will take away Hamas’s biggest recruitment tool. It will also take away that of the Likud, The Jewish Home Party and the new Israeli fascists.

But there would be many more amongst the Palestinians who might think that they have friends amongst Jewish Israelis, people who are like what they know they are themselves, outside the moments of blind hatred: people who treasure the children of their families, but also treasure the children of all families.

But what is the alternative – trade how many Palestinian children’s lives for how many Israeli’s – wait a week, maybe 2 weeks before you kill them. Refuse ceasefires, demand conditions for ceasefires, call ceasefires, cancel ceasefires. Those endorsing such routes will never be trusted for it is a route to a never ending escalation. Eventually, and not too long in my view, it could lead to an all-out Arab-Israeli war, the consequences of which are horrifically unimaginable.

The methods of socialists are class politics based on the recognition that there is a universal identity and interest of  working class people. Socialists should only contemplate supporting military wars when they clearly have a clear defensive aim and are clearly defensively conducted. That is not true of Israel’s war, neither it is true of Hamas’s. Their wars cut across the possibilities of unity between Palestinian and Israeli socialists and beyond that unity of the people of those 2 nations themselves.

The growing unity of both peoples is the only way that a settlement can be negotiated that assures the Palestinians of a viable state – with the security and the international compensation that it deserves. Only an Israeli government purged of the the anti-Arab racism of its current leadership can be part of that settlement. Only such an Israeli government can separate and placate the historically-generated and understandable fear from the paranoia and hatred that have been fostered for decades.

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