|Will Hamas seize the opportunity?|
There is no doubt that the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict represents one of the most significant factors negatively affecting the image and security of the United States and its allies. Among the challenges facing the Obama administration is improving this image, along with US relations with the Muslim world.
US President Barack Obama, in his inauguration speech on 20 January, acknowledged this tension and articulated a way to heal it: "To the Muslim world, we seek a new way forward, based on mutual interest and mutual respect. To those leaders around the globe who seek to sow conflict, or blame their society's ills on the West, know that your people will judge you on what you can build, not what you destroy."
On that same day, thousands of Hamas supporters marched through the streets in Gaza chanting and celebrating what they considered a victory against Israel. The jubilations echoed through scenes of devastation following the Israeli military campaign in Gaza, described by the United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon as "horrifying, shocking and heart-breaking".
Many may blame Israel for the recent violent conflict, and there is no doubt in my mind that Israel used excessive force to respond to missile attacks that hit three of its cities. Some reports say that in 22 days, up to 1,400 Palestinians died, and thousands of homes, shops and factories were destroyed. Tens of thousands more homes and approximately 22 mosques were damaged. Material damages are estimated to be in the billions of dollars. In return, Hamas killed 10 Israeli soldiers and 3 civilians.
But Israel and Hamas are both partners in that crisis. In the Arab world, our eyes often see only half of the truth, the half that relates to Israeli policies. The other half is usually hidden by our passion for supporting Palestinians, or our respect for those resisting the Israeli occupation, especially if they raise a religious slogan.
We will never be able to solve our problems if we refuse to see the complete picture.
The Gaza Strip, which the World Health Organisation considers the sixth most densely populated area in the world, is in dire need of new residential units and facilities.
Gaza's daily supplies of food and fuel need to be dramatically increased. There are only seven crossings into Gaza, six of which are from Israel. These crossings remain closed primarily due to ongoing violence in the area. The seventh crossing, from Egypt into Rafah, has been a place of tension and security breaches, resulting in recurring closures.
Instead of always criticising Israel, we should find non-traditional methods to face these unconventional problems. Imagine, for example, what would result if Hamas raised slogans like "building instead of destruction" and "hope over desperation".
The struggle to build instead of destroy, and foster hope over despair, will result in greater infrastructure and economic growth in Gaza. It will also save lives, build mutual trust and improve the image of pro-Palestinian movements.
Some people may argue that despite this approach, Israel would still continue its aggression and occupation. But it would become difficult for the Israeli government to take such action against a peaceful struggle, initiated by Hamas and Palestinians. What could justify such behaviour?
Moreover, would the world keep supporting policies of violence against a peaceful struggle? Would Israel's government be able to face the anger of worldwide public opinion, and criticism from the peace movement in its own country?
The West, especially the United States, and Arab countries such as Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Jordan, should support Palestinian efforts in this direction. The international community should open and monitor crossings, create a dialogue with Hamas leaders, send aid and relief to Palestinians, and provide hope that tomorrow will be better than yesterday.
Israel should also support this new direction, not only to keep its citizens safer but also to achieve a lasting peace. Change will come in time. But this change would be spurred by a peaceful environment.
This goodwill may transform into a new smart and noble resistance. Mistakes in policies can be rectified, but honest intentions on behalf of all leaders to follow the right path are important. Admitting to political mistakes would help set things on the right track for the future.
It seems that the new US administration is open to engaging in dialogue with almost everyone, including "old foes". Will Hamas seize the opportunity?
This article was written for the Common Ground News Service (CGNews) at www.commongroundnews.org.