In the Wake of the Flotilla Tragedy, Work for Peace

By Dalila Mahdawi

Lifting the blockade on Gaza’s 1.8 million residents is a much-required step.

The tragic bloodshed aboard the MV Mavi Marmara aid ship has, justifiably, provoked criticism about Israel’s use of force against civilian populations. It has also, if somewhat tardily, refocused the international community’s attention on the need for an immediate end to the siege on Gaza.

Louise Arbor, President of the International Crisis Group, a non-governmental organisation dedicated to preventing and resolving deadly conflict, was quoted in The Independent as saying: “It is easy to condemn Israel’s attack on a flotilla of aid bound for Gaza as unnecessary, ill-conceived and disproportionate.
What is harder to do – but what must now be done – is understand how this incident is an indictment of a much broader policy toward Gaza for which the wider international community bears responsibility.” Arbor’s argument, however, doesn’t go far enough in recognising that the latest bloodshed is also an indictment of the international community’s failure to prioritise and pursue a just peace process.

Lifting the blockade on Gaza’s 1.8 million residents is a much-required step, as is a full and independent investigation into what occurred on the flotilla, but both are only part and parcel of the more urgent need to end a 62-year-old conflict.

What is required now, just when it seems least likely, is the immediate resumption of peace talks between the Israelis and Palestinians.

Rather than serve as another opportunity to exchange fiery political rhetoric and further entrench divisions between two already polarised communities, let the deaths of those aboard the Mavi Marmara provide the impetus needed to persuade both Palestinians and Israelis to return to the negotiating table once and for all.

Unfortunately, however, reactions to the flotilla killings from international power brokers like the United States, Canada and Great Britain suggest little change to the status quo. Watered-down comments, such as Ottawa and Washington’s expressions of “deep regret,” are counterproductive and suggest an unwillingness to make any definitive statement on moving the peace process forward. Even the United Nations has only condemned in nebulous terms the “acts” aboard the flotilla and urged an investigation “conforming to international standards.”

Few countries have mentioned the need for constructive dialogue and as emotions run high, it is possible indirect peace talks launched just a few weeks ago will stall. But as French President Nicolas Sarkozy noted a few days ago: “Lasting peace and security in the region can be achieved only through peaceful dialogue and not through use of force.”

Western and Arab nations have remained largely silent throughout decades of appalling violence and suffering, but they must now find their voices. They are not only complicit in the flotilla tragedy, but also in the failure to achieve peace. The road towards a lasting and just peace, as countless failed negotiations testify, is one fraught with obstacles. But the difficulties can and must be overcome.

Violence and finger-pointing is unsustainable – only a decisive agreement will protect the rights of the Palestinians and provide assurances to the Israelis.
The two sides must accept the inevitability of peace and coexistence, and the international community must help them achieve that.

The United States, Israel’s closest friend, has the biggest role to play in coaxing along negotiations. When US President Barack Obama addressed the Muslim world in Cairo last year and pledged to seek a new era in relations, he was lauded by the Palestinians as setting the tone for a more balanced American policy in the Middle East. Now is the time for him to seize the opportunity and live up to his words.

If anything is to be gained from the flotilla deaths and injuries, it is that they will symbolise a critical moment in reigniting peace-building efforts. If the opportunity for a peace settlement is squandered, it is inevitable that such bloody confrontations will only continue.

Let us hope that international outrage at such senseless and avoidable violence will push the world into demanding an end to the bloodshed and hatred that led to it in the first place, working alongside both Palestinians and Israelis for a sustainable, constructive solution.

Dalila Mahdawi is a Beirut-based Arab-British journalist focusing on human rights issues.

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