On the back of my Penguin Classics’ Fathers and Sons Turgenev’s hero is described as “one of the most remarkable figures in Russian Literature”. It continues “Turgenv’s creation of the first literary nihilist … succeeded in enraging both fathers and sons in the Russia of his time”. I can see why – for the first hundred pages Bazarov is someone both you and Pavel Petrovich will want to throttle out the back of the coaching-inn. He’s a know-it-all and his disregard for history goes against my nature. Yet from Sherlock Homes to Dead Poet Society the moral nihilist, oppose to the existential one, is a character we’ve fallen in love with.
One can’t take Bazarov and apply him to real conflict but one might take a morally nihilistic stance and work backwards. Regarding Israel and the State of Palestine you’d be forced to do this before applying international law, as negotiators certainly did last Monday.
In the political atmosphere of the Sarajevo Film Festival, and just after the deaths in Gaza had passed 2000, Ken Loach called on the international community to make a ‘pariah state’ out of Israel. Perhaps reasonable – Netanyahu is a war criminal – the firing of dud missiles on targets before actual missiles shows that Israel know it’s hitting civilians: ironically its efforts to curb civilian casualties affirms that it was breaking international law. (Hamas has been accused of using human shields but this does not exonerate Israel; nor does their reasonable assurance that they are hitting military installations half the time, without being fully sure that they’re not hitting bystanders they’re acting illegally.) What’s more the constant peppering of the Gaza Strip was excessive even for the US State Department.
But if Loach doesn’t want Netanyahu to become Milosevic backing him into a political corner as his approval ratings slide and slide isn’t helpful. Dr Arhon Bergman, King’s College London, notes “The reason for this fall in his popularity is the frustration of many Israelis, particularly among those living in villages close to Gaza, that the great Israeli army – one of the best armies in the world – can’t stop a small group like Hamas from firing into Israel for more than 50 days now”. Truly, after the death of a four-year-old boy prompted Netanyahu to upgrade his personal mission to ‘restoring quiet’, it is easy to see how a complete pummeling of every inch of the Gaza Strip was possible.
Demonising Hamas causes similar problems. Though it’s a fashionable gambit near the centre of US politics, “when you think of Hamas, think Hezbollah, think Boko Haram, think Al-Qaeda, think ISIS, think Iran”, these are the words of AJC leader David Harris. It’s a fair question to address; they’ve all made it onto terror list but an absurd notion around the negotiating table. Mr Harris may speak using generalisation but the failure to understand the difference of Islamic groups is thinking that belongs to the 1980s. And as long as Gazans see themselves the world’s enemy, Hamas can be more and more authoritarian, the foregoing of trials for suspect spies was just the beginning of this. This also would be to ignore recent state building within Gaza – the effectiveness of the police force, hospitals and infrastructure in the recent past – completely isolating Hamas, especially as the alliance with Fatah still holds, would be to jeopardise all this.
Should the West then merely appease, do anything to avoid more conflict? If a General Election is held before the Hamas-Fatah deadline in October then voicing strong support for any government created seems obvious. As this year’s ceasefire is so similar to the 2012 agreement, tensions will be high in the West Bank and the boarders of the Gaza Strip. Not that Hamas is capable of another skirmish, in fact it would do well to not engage Israel for some time: but should the State of Palestine remain under its control Hamas would risk losing its credibility by not responding any provocation. With a coalition government Hamas’ leadership would at least have a way out in the event of new fighting and not have its arm twisted by its mantra of armed resistance.
Though with the situation at such a stalemate can we, as members of the international community, not flex our muscles?
Paul Rogers, of the University of Bradford, believes that the Boycott movement is a serious worry to Israel, along with concern for their standing in the international community; and Israel has also realised that Hamas’ guerrilla capabilities have improved no end. But if the international community can influence Israel then they’ll have to decide what they want for the region. The US State Department has reiterated its support for a two state solution, as has Mahmoud Abbas. This is also the opinion of the political class in most EU countries. There are some intellectuals, like Antony Lerman writing in the NY TImes, that want the possibility of an Israeli-Palestine State to be discussed but otherwise the West is pretty homogenous.
Conversely, upgrading the State of Palestine from an observer role at the UN, would throw Israel into an unpredictable rage: but if their leadership is now legitimate, Gazans cannot be denied the same suffrage as Israel – one of the worst things about the prolonged conflict is that generations upon generations are growing up without a voice in the world. The 2014 conflict ended quicker than many expected and now the US could easily push Israel for more.
Two polarised and defined states would be helpful at this point; and the US and EU ought to push for discussions over West Bank once a new government is secure for Palestinians. Possibly areas of the West Bank could be given to Israel in exchange for recognition for Palestine, though this is something Hamas would probably find repellent – a terrorist organisation that is patching up its relationship with Iran and still idealises Hezbollah.
How much one ignores things like the latter – human rights abuses, uneasy alliances and acts of terrorism – is a question that will need an answer soon. Of course the US is not part of the ICC so no Israeli’s will be brought there in the next decade, nor can one see Hamas representatives walking the streets of New York mind you. Professor Rogers was adamant that ‘sensible voices within Israel’ are what’s changing Netanyahu’s strategy: retired IDF generals believing the country has little alternative but a real long-term peace deal. Perhaps it is the US’s own scruples getting in the way, something policy-makers will seldom approach before they’re pushed into it.
So a detached approach is something needed more so in the West than in Israel and Palestine? It’s hard to say, when one removes pieces of history they risk becoming so reductionist they sound like Mr Harris. However with a much higher percentage of Arabs and Muslims in Europe than in the USA’s, protesting this issue, the EU has turned its criticism on all parties, Hamas, the PA and Israel. We now look to the US to make up its mind.