The relief felt that a ceasefire had been achieved over Gaza and that President Morsi of Egypt had been helpfully ‘pragmatic’ (i.e. assisted Western objectives) is not the end of the story about this latest Israeli aggression which has killed 160 Palestinians. There is still no longer-term settlement which guarantees human rights to the Palestinians or protects them from any future incursions when it suits domestic Israeli politics to do so.
This latest mini-war was not provoked by rocket attacks out of Gaza, but by an Israeli military incursion into Gaza on 8 November which killed a Palestinian child, followed by further Israeli military attacks, which then drew a response from the Palestinian side. Even then there were efforts to calm things down.
But the gratuitous killing of al-Jabari shows without any doubt that the Israeli leadership had deliberately decided to escalate the situation since they knew it was bound to provoke the Palestinians into a violent response. So why did Netanyahu choose this moment to strike? It is impossible to dissociate this action from internal Israeli politics.
The Israeli elections are due early next year. For months now Netanyahu has been sabre-rattling about an attack on Iran. He clearly pressed Obama hard to give his sanction to this before the US presidential election on 6 November, partly to strengthen Romney’s hand to win, but above all to portray himself again in his own pre-election situation as the assertive champion of Israeli power.
Thwarted of this option by Obama’s refusal to comply, he immediately turned straight after the US elections to confront his alternative victim, and after securing his casus belli from the Palestinian threats of retaliation following the murder of al-Jabari, he called 75,000 troop reservists and made clear he was ready to invade Gaza yet again. This was exactly the same ploy used by Olmert’s Kadima party at the end of 2008 just prior to the Israeli elections in 2009. Nor was this the first time that Israel had launched a war for domestic electoral purposes: Shimon Peres used the same device over Lebanon in 1996.
In 2008-9 it led to the 3-week military invasion of Gaza which killed 1,400 Palestinians. Why did it not happen again (so far) this time round? Most likely because Obama insisted that Israel should seek Egyptian intermediation rather than send the Middle East up in flames yet again, and (perhaps to everyone’s surprise) Morsi proved more effective than expected. But now ensuring that the limited terms of the ceasefire continue to be implemented will unquestionably be problematic.
The 1.7 million Palestinians in Gaza remain subjected to an Israeli blockade which denies them medicines and even food and water. Confiscations of Palestinian land and expulsions on any flimsy excuse continue unabated, and illegal Israeli settlements have mushroomed 10-fold over the last 20 years. When will the EU and US recognise the unabated abrogation of Palestinian human rights and put pressure on the aggressor, without which there will be no peace in the Middle East?