(статията бе публикувана в списание The Parliament на 2 март)
Nickolay E. Mladenov urges the EU not to shy away from upgrading relations with Israel
During the Gaza crisis, MEPs and national parliamentarians, visited the region. We went to Sderot; met with Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) representatives and visited injured Palestinian soldiers, who had been maimed during Hamas’ violet takeover of Gaza. We also met President Peres and Palestinian PM Fuyad.
Israel believes that is has disengaged from Gaza - settlements have been dismantled and troops withdrawn. It was hoped this would contribute to a two-state solution. But what did Israel get in return – continued rocket attacks and a militant regime, that rearmed and increasingly threatened Israeli civilians.
The Palestinians believe, rightly so, that they live under occupation. They had recognised Israel’s right to exist and committed to a two-state solution, but there has been no end to the occupation. Both these narratives are right. Withdrawal from Gaza has not strengthened the Israel’s security; the stalled political process has not yielded the benefits that the Palestinians expected.
There is also the narrative of Hamas, which neither recognises Israel’s right to exist, nor supports a two-state solution. It believes that through violence and terror it can destroy Israel. If this narrative is proven correct, the implications would be disastrous. Its success would fan the flames of terrorists. Its triumph would not deliver the free and secular Palestine that people living in Gaza and the West Bank want.
Israel’s choice to launch an operation against Hamas was an extremely difficult decision and one which her leaders hastened to take for a long time. It aimed at diminishing the capacity of Hamas to terrorise Israel. Despite efforts by the IDF to reduce civilian casualties, it came at a very high cost in terms of Palestinian lives. Nobody should think that it was taken lightly or with no consideration of the suffering it would entail. However every state has the right to respond to protect its citizens.
Nobody likes war and occupation, least of all Israelis and Palestinians who have lived with both for more than half a century. The people of Gaza have every right to live in peace just as the people of Israel have the right to live free of the terror and rockets. Yet Hamas and its sponsors need to realise that their strategy will not succeed. Despite being democratically elected Hamas will never gain recognition unless it accepts the two-state solution and renounces violence. No negotiations can take place with an organisation that targets civilians and uses them as human shields.
Now that a ceasefire is in place, effective measures need to be put in place that will not allow for the continued weapons smuggling and rearmament of Hamas. Gilat Shalit, held in captivity for almost three years, should be freed. Unless there is agreement on these issues Israel cannot feel secure. At the same time border crossings should be reopened to allow for the normal functioning of life in Gaza. Unless this happens, Palestinians cannot rebuild support for a peaceful road to a two-state solution.
The international community and Arab states have a responsibility to help rebuilding trust between both sides. While continuing support to building the institutions of a future Palestinian state, the EU would be wrong to shy away from upgrading relations with Israel. This is an instrument through which we can influence policy and contribute to repairing the mistrust pervasive in the region. Upgraded relations with strategic partners have proven how useful EU engagement in the region can be. Similarly, there is an important role to be played by the Arab states - to assist the Palestinians in rebuilding their unity and bringing around the people of Gaza to understand that a political process and not terrorism will lead to a secure Palestinian state.