Suppose that the assassination of the Archduke Franz Ferdinand, generally considered to have triggered World War I, turned out to have happened differently? Say it was discovered he had been shot by some unaffiliated passerby rather than by a member of Young Bosnia?
Israel is now facing a similar situation, but it isn't hypothetical. It turns out -- and we have the word of Micky Rosenfeld, spokesperson for the Israeli Police, on this -- that the kidnap murder of three Israeli teens was not, after all, carried out by Hamas.
It gets worse. It also appears that Israel's Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, knew almost from the beginning that the three youths were dead. Nevertheless, he ordered the rousting of the West Bank by the Israeli military, supposedly to rescue them. Thousands of homes were invaded, hundreds of Palestinians were arrested, and several were killed. Hamas started firing its strikingly ineffective rockets into Israel, unleashing a deadly attack on Gaza that has so far claimed nearly 900 Palestinian lives, men, women and children.
The underpinnings of the Israeli justification for its assault, in other words, are completely gone.
As I write this, a 12-hour "humanitarian truce" is in effect. More bodies are being pulled from the rubble in ruined Gaza. There is no guarantee that the truce will be extended.
Israel has an insurmountable credibility problem at this point. But so does the West, with its baying pro-Israel media and cowed or complicit politicians. Hamas, not even consulted on an earlier ceasefire proposal put together by Israel and Egypt, had submitted its own opening position for a 10-year ceasefire, but it was almost completely ignored by the media and Western governments. Here it is again:
1) Withdrawal of Israeli tanks from the Gaza border.
2) Freeing all the prisoners that were arrested after the killing of the three youths.
3) Lifting the siege and opening the border crossings to commerce and people.
4) Establishing an international seaport and airport which would be under U.N. supervision.
5) Increasing the permitted fishing zone to 10 kilometres.
6) Internationalizing the Rafah Crossing and placing it under the supervision of the U.N. and some Arab nations.
7) International forces on the borders.
8) Easing conditions for permits to pray at the Al Aqsa Mosque.
9) Prohibition on Israeli interference in the reconciliation agreement (between Hamas and the Palestinian Authority).
10) Reestablishing an industrial zone and improvements in further economic development in the Gaza Strip.
For anyone seriously desiring and end to the nightmare, rather than bombing and shelling Palestinian civilians to smithereens, this seems a reasonable starting point for genuine talks to begin. Note in particular the proposals for third-party involvement.
Most can agree that Hamas is an extremist gang of cutthroats, to put it charitably. But the "who started it" blame game isn't particularly productive, as every parent knows who has dealt with disputes among children. And the brute fact is indisputable: at this point the killing and destruction are almost all on one side. It's a grossly disproportionate response to a provocation that arose because of a counter-provocation.
That grisly chain extends far back into the history of the Middle East and will likely extend far into the future. As I said, pointing the finger of blame at any link in that chain is unhelpful and will resolve nothing. But when one of those links -- the appalling murder of three Israeli children -- proves to have been forged by fraud and error, the time has arrived for a serious and lasting round of internationally-brokered peace negotiations. Better to jaw-jaw than to war-war, as the decidedly non-bleeding-heart Winston Churchill once observed.
But is the West up to that challenge? Or will it prefer, as it has done for many years, to continue to provide cover for Israel's expansionist aims, no matter what the human cost? We shall see: but readers surveying the horror of Gaza will forgive me for not being overly optimistic.
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