Gabrielle Rifkind: No matter what Israel and Hamas do to each other, the solution won't be rational

Statesmen and academics should be asked to nurture a vision

Share

In areas of conflict, traumatised communities over-react, their past experience defining the present. Israel has delivered a knee-jerk reaction which responds to its citizens' fears and anxieties but does not contain the escalating violence. Its actions reflect a belief that if it plays the "hard man", the other side will make the necessary concession.

The kidnapping of Israeli soldiers and the country's responses in Gaza and Lebanon are a symptom of a much deeper malaise, born of past violence. We are seeing traumatised communities responding out of fear, anger, rage and humiliation. We just need to listen to the heated tones of Israelis and Palestinians. Rational discourse and long-term decisions are hijacked by the pain of cumulative conflict.

Those whose view of human nature is based on "hard power" believe that by assertion of military muscle, the other side will make concessions. The "soft power" adherents say it is only by understanding why people are enraged, and what lies beneath the surface, that there is a chance of an end to conflict. This underlies the "human security" approach that I use in my conflict resolution work.

This particular conflict is deeply marred by misunderstanding and misreading of motivation of the other side. There is little room for the kind of nuanced communication committed to understanding the motivations and agendas of the other.

This was graphically highlighted by the election of the Hamas government. Here, there was no direct contact between Israel and the new government. There was no appetite in Israel for engagement, and as a consequence, no listening to the more subtle agendas that were being put forward, not least the calls for a long-term ceasefire, a bilaterally negotiated agreement to the end of violence. Had there been an official third-party mechanism acting as a conduit, shuttling between the two parties, more wise judgements may have been made.

The escalation of the crisis with Hizbollah's kidnapping of two more Israeli soldiers cannot be understood outside the context of what had already been happening in Gaza. The Hamas government was elected in January. Immediately, conditions were placed on the new government by the international community demanding they renounce violence, recognise Israel and keep previous peace accords agreed between the Israelis and the Palestinians. The new Hamas government was not ready to make these concessions, so international funding to the region was severely restricted.

As a result, a humanitarian crisis began to brew in Palestine, with 180,000 civil servants without pay and persistent closing of Gaza's borders to most food, medical supplies and even fuel. The new government also refused to act against the firing of rockets into Israel by Palestinian militants.

But multiple voices were coming from the Hamas leadership, including moderate elements calling for a long-term ceasefire. These words were drowned by Israel's demands that Hamas be treated as a terrorist organisation and were not to be communicated with until they agreed to Israeli demands. Then Israel launched air attacks to deter the missile fire, causing many Palestinian civilian casualties.

As Israel continued its targeted assassination of militant leaders in Gaza, an Israeli soldier was kidnapped by the militant wing of Hamas. Within two days, Israel responded by massing troops on the Gaza border, firing missiles that targeted two bridges and wiped out the electricity supply. Eight Hamas cabinet members and 20 members of the assembly were arrested by the Israelis. An inexperienced civilian government in Israel with no military credentials has overcompensated by continuing to flex its muscle in Gaza. In response to the Hizbollah kidnappings, Israel called them "an act of war" with "very painful and far-reaching" consequences. Now the Hizbollah leader is talking of "open war". The region is at risk of being ablaze.

The history of territorial disputes suggests resolutions are seldom the result of rational, bi-national negotiation. At these times of crisis, the sides are intensely engaged with passion, heat and rage, and this leads to the escalation of the crisis. There is little room for circumspect evaluation that analyses the spiralling of violence and mayhem in the region. For this reason, we need the outside intervention of a cooler, analytical eye.

In the first instance, the US needs to intervene to impose a ceasefire. Only the Americans have the influence to restrain Israel at this point. But this is only a short-term crisis intervention; structures need to be put in place for a more sustainable long-term peace process. Without that, the present situation could lead to a wider war, involving the greater Middle East and giving huge stimulus to terrorism.

The international community needs to create a mechanism which includes all those involved. Israel's proposed unilateralist moves in the West Bank would not be opposed by Hamas; in fact, it would welcome them. It would not mean an end of conflict, but would constitute conflict management, not resolution. It would not result in offering the Palestinians a state that they saw as economically and socially viable. The vision of Israel's Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is that the security barrier is Israel's putative border. He privately speaks of a withdrawal that would leave Israel with 6 to 8 per cent of the West Bank. This would not end the violence.

A framework needs to be established for a sustainable peace process. Such an initiative would need the authority to employ a group of wise elder statesman diplomats and academic specialists. They would be employed full-time on the Palestine-Israel conflict and their job would be to think long-term and nurture a vision that goes beyond immediate crisis-management.

We only need to look at world politicians currently consumed by the G8 and energy security to see we need more focused attention on the crisis. The proposed group would be shuttle-diplomats, talking in depth to all parties involved, bridging and easing communication. There may be little appetite for outside intervention among the parties, not least because of the chaos of Iraq. But not taking responsibility for applying brakes to the crisis could lead to even greater mayhem.

Gabrielle Rifkind, a practising psycotherapist, is a consultant to the Oxford Research Group and a specialist in conflict resolution. She is co-author of 'Making Terrorism History'

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Senior SEO Manager - £30,000 - Manchester City Centre

£30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This forward-thinking agency works with ...

Recruitment Genius: Trainee Field Sales - OTE £30,000

£18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company is a rapidly expanding offi...

Recruitment Genius: HVAC Project Manager

£40000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The successful candidate will b...

Recruitment Genius: Key Accounts Administrator - Fixed Term

£13500 - £14500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An exciting new opportunity has...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Keira Knightley and Benedict Cumberbatch star in the Alan Turing biopic The Imitation Game  

Manchester was ahead of the pack in honouring Alan Turing

Simon Kelner
The scene in Tesco in Edmonton, north London  

Black Friday is a reminder that shops want your money, no matter how human they appear in their Christmas adverts

Jessica Brown Jessica Brown
Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: ‘We give them hope. They come to us when no one else can help’

Christmas Appeal

Meet the charity giving homeless veterans hope – and who they turn to when no one else can help
Should doctors and patients learn to plan humane, happier endings rather than trying to prolong life?

Is it always right to try to prolong life?

Most of us would prefer to die in our own beds, with our families beside us. But, as a GP, Margaret McCartney sees too many end their days in a medicalised battle
Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night - is that what it takes for women to get to the top?

What does it take for women to get to the top?

Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night and told women they had to do more if they wanted to get on
Christmas jumper craze: Inside the UK factory behind this year's multicultural must-have

Knitting pretty: British Christmas Jumpers

Simmy Richman visits Jack Masters, the company behind this year's multicultural must-have
French chefs have launched a campaign to end violence in kitchens - should British restaurants follow suit?

French chefs campaign against bullying

A group of top chefs signed a manifesto against violence in kitchens following the sacking of a chef at a Paris restaurant for scalding his kitchen assistant with a white-hot spoon
Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour War and Peace on New Year's Day as Controller warns of cuts

Just what you need on a New Year hangover...

Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour adaptation of War and Peace on first day of 2015
Cuba set to stage its first US musical in 50 years

Cuba to stage first US musical in 50 years

Claire Allfree finds out if the new production of Rent will hit the right note in Havana
Christmas 2014: 10 best educational toys

Learn and play: 10 best educational toys

Of course you want them to have fun, but even better if they can learn at the same time
Paul Scholes column: I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season

Paul Scholes column

I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season
Lewis Moody column: Stuart Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

Lewis Moody: Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

So what must the red-rose do differently? They have to take the points on offer 
Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

It's in all our interests to look after servicemen and women who fall on hard times, say party leaders
Millionaire Sol Campbell wades into wealthy backlash against Labour's mansion tax

Sol Campbell cries foul at Labour's mansion tax

The former England defender joins Myleene Klass, Griff Rhys Jones and Melvyn Bragg in criticising proposals
Nicolas Sarkozy returns: The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?

Sarkozy returns

The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?
Is the criticism of Ed Miliband a coded form of anti-Semitism?

Is the criticism of Miliband anti-Semitic?

Attacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But is the criticism more sinister?
Ouija boards are the must-have gift this Christmas, fuelled by a schlock horror film

Ouija boards are the must-have festive gift

Simon Usborne explores the appeal - and mysteries - of a century-old parlour game