THIS IS A defining moment, not only for Palestine, Israel and the broader Middle East, but for the international order and the world.
The idea voiced in a recent Economist editorial that “a ceasefire is the enemy of peace” and would benefit Hamas is shocking and betrays an alarming lack of policy foresight and moral clarity. A comprehensive ceasefire—lasting in nature, unlike the pause for hostage releases that began today—would benefit peace. It would first benefit Palestinian civilians, who have endured unimaginable suffering in recent weeks. It would stop the spread of hostilities in the region. And it would open up a historic opportunity to treat the root cause of the conflict.
Israel has allowed into Gaza only a tiny fraction of the water, food and fuel needed by its 2.3m people, prompting warnings from humanitarian organisations and the UN of starvation, thirst and infectious disease. An estimated 14,000 Palestinians have been killed so far, most of them women and children. There are tens of thousands of injuries. But there is nowhere to treat them. Israel has devastated Gaza’s civilian infrastructure, leaving just ten of its 36 hospitals functioning.
Three out of every four Palestinians in Gaza have been forcibly displaced from their homes in the north of the territory and are crowding into UN facilities, schools and private houses in the south, where they have continued to be targeted by Israel’s bombardment and from where they are being pushed ever farther south. Whole neighbourhoods have been destroyed along with schools, universities, mosques, churches and UN facilities.
The collective punishment of Palestinians is incomparable to any conflict in recent memory. More children were killed in three weeks in Gaza than the number of children killed in global conflict zones every year since 2019. More UN workers have been killed than in any similar period in the organisation’s 78-year history. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, an NGO, the war in Gaza has been the deadliest for journalists covering conflict—in terms of the number of deaths over a given period—since it began tracking data in 1992.
The violence is not confined to Gaza. In the West Bank more than 200 Palestinians have been killed since October 7th and extremist settlers, armed and empowered by Israel’s Jewish-supremacist public-security minister, are running amok, depopulating villages and terrorising local populations.
Add to this the genocidal language from the highest leadership in Israel, where officials are openly discussing plans for the ethnic cleansing of the entire population of Gaza. Members of the Knesset have called for the use of nuclear weapons against Gaza, the defence minister dehumanised Palestinians as “human animals”, the president said there are no innocent civilians in Gaza and the prime minister invoked a biblical reference, calling for a “holy war of annihilation”. These are not only war crimes, but a blueprint for ethnic cleansing that is designed to make Gaza unliveable.
Is a ceasefire really the enemy of peace?
Over more than seven decades Israel has not been held to account for its many transgressions of international law: not for its illegal settlement-building, its indiscriminate violence, the 16-year blockade of Gaza, the targeting of journalists; not for its use of deeply repressive measures such as detention without charge or trial, or collective punishments such as home demolitions; not for its system of racial domination, or apartheid, as documented by international, Israeli and Palestinian human-rights organisations; and not for its illegal annexation of East Jerusalem—nor, indeed, its refusal to allow Palestinian refugees their right of return after 75 years.
Attempts by the State of Palestine to refer these crimes to the relevant international bodies, such as the International Criminal Court or the International Court of Justice, have been opposed by countries like America and Britain, further consolidating the sense that Israel is above international law and norms.
The Palestine Liberation Organisation long ago took the strategic decision to pursue diplomacy to reach our aims of Palestinian statehood, freedom from occupation and the right of return of Palestinian refugees. But this strategy has so far proven a dead end. Even though the world outside Israel supports a two-state outcome, pressure on Israel to get there has been almost entirely absent over the 30 years since the Oslo accords.
The Economist rejected calls for an immediate ceasefire but did point out that “Palestinians deserve a state, too.” It is not about “deserving”. This is our inalienable and an internationally sanctioned right, equal to all other peoples in the world, to live free and with self-determination on our own land.
The idea that Hamas can be eradicated by military force is also misguided. Hamas is not just its military wing; it is an ideology. You can only challenge an idea by offering a different idea.
The path to peace is clear. Recognise the State of Palestine on 1967 borders and end the occupation. That would leave two sovereign states to implement the new reality. The State of Palestine, with the help of the international community, would oversee the massive humanitarian and reconstruction efforts now necessary, provide protection and services to its citizens and convene national elections.
This path is not easy. It does not require a lengthy process with interim agreements, but it does require a paradigm shift: an inversion of the Oslo process, establishing the end goal at the outset. It necessitates courage, statesmanship and the implementation of international law and resolutions.
Soon we will be faced with a choice: we either wait for the next tragedy or we seize this moment to reach a lasting peace.
Husam Zomlot is the Palestinian ambassador to Britain.
© 2023, The Economist Newspaper Limited. All rights reserved. From The Economist, published under licence. The original content can be found on www.economist.com