JTW Interview with Prof. Jeremy Salt from Bilkent University
Prof. Salt has explained his opinion of the war between Israel and Palestine, potential political repercussions of the recent ceasefire, and the requirements for a permanent solution to the issue.
What is the real fact of this war? What are the main reasons for the conflict between Israel and Gaza?
The main reasons for the conflict obviously go back to 1948, if we go back that far and ask ourselves 'who are the people are in Gaza'. They basically are people who were pushed there in 1948 by the Israelis and all the land around Gaza belonged to them, all the settlements around Gaza were built on ethnically cleansed Palestinian villages and Palestinian land, every single one of them, so all those rockets they [the Palesinians] are firing are aimed at those settlement that were built on their land. I think its very important for people to understand that.
So what's being happening in Gaza basically has being going on since the beginning, since 1948, whether Gaza was in the hands of the Israelis or the hands of the Palestinians, it is this kind of the attack in response that has been going on since 1948.
Now what happened recently was done by the Israelis in early November, when they crossed over the fence they shot dead a Palestinian and the Palestinians responded. So that's been that kind of process of tit-for-tat attacks across the border which came to a head when the Israelis decided to launch a full scale attack and assassinate this very senior figure in the Hamas movement, Ahmed Jabari, and he, interestingly enough was the person who looked after Gilad Schalit when he was being held hostage in Gaza and had been involved in the negotiations which lead to Gilad's release and not only that, was the person who had lead the closed door negotiations that brought about a cease-fire in Gaza and it was at that point that Israel decided to attack. So why did it do it?
Well, the stated purpose of Israel's was that 'we have to restore our deterrent effect.' 'We cannot allow our people in the south to be subject to these attacks,' even though the record shows that Israel began this cycle, and so therefore 'we have to teach the Palesinians a lesson,' so then they embarked on this week long attack which involved just about 1000 bombing raids and the huge material destruction that followed. The other reason is that Netanyahu wanted to look tough in the election campaign, this is probably the first reason. Now this is not unusual in Israeli politics. We've had many examples of this happening before when Israeli leaders in a campaign have done exactly the same kind of thing. If you go back to the election campaign of 1996 when Netanyahu was competing with Shimon Peres, Peres was then in government and Peres ordered an attack on southern Lebanon. In the course of that attack a U.N. compound was bombed and over 100 people were killed, and once again it was the same kind of thing, that Peres wanted to look strong in the election campaign and Netanyahu wanted to look strong.
Now it seems to me that he miscalculated. Either he didn't understand that the Palesinians were capable of firing back these fairly long range weapons, not only were they capable of fighting back with them, but they were also capable of maintaining these attacks, day after day after day, so whatever the Israelis did in that week, they actually wouldn’t stop them. In the process they'd actually mobilized 75000 soldiers, and so everyone expected a ground attack. But the fact is that Netanyahu expected to be able to handle this from the air and wouldn’t have to send soldiers in because quite obviously, if there was a ground war, Israeli soldiers would die and that would be extremely bad in an election campaign so that was the last thing he wanted.
The fact is that the Palestinians managed to maintain their firing of these missiles so in the end it was really Netanyahu who was looking for a way out and of course the Palestinians and the Americans and the Egyptians cooperated and got him off the hook. So that’s more or less how it happened.
What about the cease-fire, will it be beneficial and can it be maintained for a long time?
No. I mean its already been broken. The Israelis have already broken it since it was reached, and its interesting that there were no conditions applied to that cease-fire. Now usually, when there is a cease-fire between the Israelis and the Palestinians, the Israelis, being the stronger party, impose all kinds of conditions. They didn't impose any kind of conditions at all on the cease-fire. Not in terms of duration or anything else. But the fact is that since it was signed just over a week ago, or since it was agreed upon, Israel has already killed two Palestinians by shelling into the Gaza strip and the Palestinians haven’t responded.
So when you ask me, what happens now, well this is basically a repetition of what's being going on for decades. An attack on Gaza, a response by the Palestinians, a bigger attack by Israel which ends in tremendous destruction and loss of life and then a cease-fire and then the whole cycle starts all over again and its been going on like that for decades, so no, it wont last. It might last for a week, it might last for a month, it might last for six weeks, it might last for two months, but eventually its going to end because there's no kind of long term plan, there's nothing in place for the Palestinians and Israel to reach a political agreement which could end this situation, there's nothing there.
What should be done for a long lasting solution? What will be the role of Turkey, Egypt or Qatar for a peaceful resolution?
Qatar is not an important factor really. It's interesting that the Amir of Qatar went to Gaza to give away money but Qatar has never played a leading role in the Palestinian conflict. The leading role in supporting the Palestinians now, in giving them material aid, certainly the Palestinians of Gaza, has been played by Syria and Iran.
Now Turkeys come into the picture more in recent years with very strong statements made by your prime minister, particularly after Mavi Marmara but he'd made many more statements before that and we'll all remember the heated exchange he had with Shimon Peres at the Davos summit a few years ago. So there's been many heated words exchanged, coming from Turkey, directed towards Israel and rather heated words in return, but Turkey hasn't actually done very much in the material sense of supporting the Palestinians, so when you ask 'what could they do,' I suppose what they could do is to consolidate at the political and at the diplomatic level and come in behind the Palestinians very very strongly.
I think that's probably the maximum that Turkey would be expected to do and that sort of can do to mobilise for the Palestinians. Turkey has a lot of weight on the international scene but it will mean basically standing up to other governments. The Americans are totally tied in to Israel so if Turkey wanted to stand up for the Palestinians in a strong fashion, sooner or later its going to come into conflict. If it really wanted to stand up for the Palestinians, if it wanted to work for a negotiated settlement, I mean there's nothing there at the moment, but if that's the objective, the only way that could be done is by putting tremendous pressure on Israel and inevitably, that's going to lead to a disagreement with the Americans.
What Morsi has done, even recently, has shocked even the Egyptians. This power that he took is essentially dictatorial and what we're now seeing in Tahrir square is a replay of what was happening at the beginning of last year and so the question that is now being asked is 'has the real Egyptian revolution begun?' Because the outcome of the elections certainly didn't give the people in Tahrir square what they wanted. The elections put the Muslim Brotherhood in power and gave great strength to the Saalifists. Now what Morsi has done is really quite bizarre actually. Why would he do this, its a very extreme thing to do, particularly in a revolutionary period when people are very sensitive to their rights. It seems to me that the Egyptian people, I can't say all, but a large number, are not going to accept this in the sense of them backing off. But there is no indication that Morsi's going to back off. So we have a bit of set-piece.
By Reyhan Güner
"Turkey Has Not Actually Done Very Much in the Material Sense of Supporting the Palestinians"
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