“How to solve the unsolvable”

There are some problems which might not have a solution.

Israel is at the stage in the conflict in which, traditionally, international pressure mounts to such a pitch that Israel has to stop its operations against Hamas. This is what happened in 2009, what happened in 2012 and what looks set to happen again now. The international community recognises that Israel needs to stop rockets being fired from Gaza, allows the state a couple of weeks of mild support or mild protest and then comes down heavily after the operations bring the inevitable civilian and terrorist casualties. There is a pattern to this. And each time the exigencies of the political cycle ensure that the problem will return in exactly the same guise 18 months or so later.

But somebody must think about what the long-term solution to all this might be.  Ever since Israel withdrew from the Gaza in 2005 and the Bush administration pushed for elections which resulted in the election of Hamas (who then consolidated their win with a violent coup) the world has been faced with this seemingly insoluble problem. Yet part of its insolubility is the world’s continued pretence that this is in fact a problem capable of being solved.

Hamas and their supporters are calling for a stopping of what they call the ‘siege’ or ‘blockade’ on Gaza. Of course the restrictions on materials getting into Gaza could indeed be lifted if it were not for the certainty that Hamas would use the opportunity to bring more munitions into Gaza even than they can with the ‘blockade’ in place.  The long-term effects of a normalising of trade with Gaza would be a Gaza armed with better and more efficient weaponry than ever. Calls for a ‘lifting of the blockade’ therefore come from people who are either ignorant of Hamas’s behaviour or from people who know Hamas’s behaviour, like it and would like to assist them.

The prospect of Israel ‘re-occupying’ Gaza is off the table. There is little or no public or political desire in Israel to have to control an area seething with such extremism and antagonism. Ordinarily a long-term solution would be for Egypt to re-assert control of Gaza which they asserted fifty years ago. Except that the Egyptians know the problems that exist in Gaza as well as the Israelis do, and they no more want to govern the people of the area than the Israelis. They, too, know that the destabilisation of their entire society is not just possible but likely should they allow Gaza into their borders.

So nobody wants to ‘own’ Gaza and Hamas seems for the time-being to be utterly unwilling to sublimate their priority of attacking Israel in order to better govern and provide for (with international assistance) the people nominally in their care.

So what can be done?  If you ask the best policy-makers, the finest minds in the region from any and all sides, the same shrug or despair emerges at this point. The answer which almost everybody who has looked at the situation is agreed upon is that there is not at the moment any solution to this problem. They follow this up with the inevitable hope that at some stage in the future this fact will change. But it is important to keep in mind what this change consists of. Any long-term solution to the Gaza problem is incumbent on a stage-by-stage, gradual improvement in, and normalisation of, Gaza. It involves younger Gazans growing up without being imbued with the hate which demands they make assault on the Jewish state their political and religious priority. Anybody who looks at this must also realise that this place – if it can be reached – will not be reached for many years.  Perhaps ten years at a minimum. Almost certainly far more. And what makes the timescale worse is that there is no sign that Hamas or the Palestinian leadership in Gaza in general are doing anything remotely like starting this process.

This, then, is a problem for which there is no immediate solution.  A bleak fact, but one that the international community would do well to realise.  Because only by doing so can they – or anyone – have a realistic expectation of how, if ever, this terrible situation can be resolved.  Accepting the limitations of the world is often an unpleasant thing to do, but it is a better strategy than pretending these unpalatable facts away.