The Versailles Treaty directly led to World War II. It came, infamously, to be known by the German side as the “Diktat”. It is an insidious notion in politics: the dictation of terms by one side to another. The anger that followed, within the German Zeitgeist, led to the rise of German hyper nationalism which, in turn, gave birth to Hitler and Nazism. Several days ago, similar dynamics, albeit implicitly, played out in the Palestinian/Israeli sphere.
Seemingly, every fifty months an ugly dynamic repeats: a more muscular Palestinian resistance emerges, Israel responds with an assault on the senses that leaves in its wake many Palestinian dead and injured. As the political theatre unfolds, inevitably, a ceasefire is offered and the sides relent. Several days ago Hamas did not relent and the theories and accusations, as to why, are many. What follows is an attempt at translating that complex realpolitik: perhaps, through the eyes of the past, we can understand the present and possess a vision for the future.
In one of the few triumphs of a truncated Mohammed Morsi era, in 2012, an efficient ceasefire was achieved by a man who couldn’t muster a similar accomplishment domestically. Associated Press headlines screamed that Egypt had secured its place as “a major player” in the Israeli/Palestinian dichotomy. Several days ago, Egyptian negotiators attempted to duplicate the same success, this time, for newly elected President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi, but were rebuffed by a Hamas now possessing more military firepower and support of a Gaza populace angered by heavy civilian casualties.
Israel, Egypt and the US didn’t mince words in blaming escalating civilian casualties on Hamas’s refusal of a unilateral cease-fire which many news outlets reported involved zero negotiation with Hamas itself. The Egyptian foreign ministry stated that the refusal cost tens of Palestinian lives- as though Israel shells were absolved from blame. US Secretary of State John Kerry, in telling ABC NEWS “Hamas needs to recognise its own responsibility”, squarely put the blame on Hamas’s shoulders. But is Hamas to blame?
Refusal of a peace treaty or a cease fire can result in continuation of hostilities. In the case of Versailles acceptance it can also be a harbinger of long term problems. The 14 points of the Versailles treaty were, in fact, thought of as so poisonous that Count Brockdorff-Rantzau, leader of the German delegation, said in 1919: “Those who sign this treaty, will sign the death sentence of many millions of German men, women and children.”
Arguably, a more balanced Versailles treaty would have resulted in German domestic theatre that could have rebuffed Nazi advances. It was a scorned German pride that facilitated a rapid swing to the extreme right. Just as pacification by the allies, of a growing Nazi surge, lead to World War II, in the short term, the Diktat of Versailles led, in the long term, to bloody conflict. Fast forward 75 years later to a seemingly weakened Hamas, after major hits to main ally the Muslim Brotherhood, and you find a similar Diktat by the Israeli, American, Egyptian triumvirate.
Ostensibly, the ceasefire, which promised no long term solutions, no face saving dynamics or political gains for Hamas, was never a ceasefire, per se. Instead, it was an unconditional surrender which would further harm its posture domestically and internationally. Some have argued that what the triumvirate sought was refusal, by Hamas, to facilitate an Israeli ground assault rather than acceptance which would grant a civilian Palestinian populace under the gun a reprieve. Hamas publicly stated the Egyptian cease fire to “be all but dead” and dismissed it as a “surrender”.
In proving the MENA dictum that all roads, in the Middle East, lead to Jerusalem, Hamas insists that the cease fire include the ability to both visit Jerusalem and pray at the Al Aqsa mosque. Furthermore, Hamas insists on a 10 year cease fire, including the closing of Palestinian airspace to Israeli aircraft, and immediate withdrawal of all Israeli forces to the border. Most importantly, an end to the siege, which includes opening of all crossings. Finally, though there are other demands, Israel is to remain clear of Palestinian internal matters like the unity government. If the Palestinian/Israeli dance were one inhabited by partners in sanity and political realities, one would argue, a compromise between both cease fire visions would be within reach. But fluidity, reality, and sanity are strange bedfellows to Palestinian/Israeli bilateral relations. As a result causality figures, as of the writing this article, stand above 500 killed and over 3,125 injured on the Palestinian side and over 20 killed and 200 injured on the Israeli side.
Israel is an occupying force, Hamas is not a group of angels, and in the middle Palestinian civilians have nowhere to turn in one of the most demographically dense areas of earth: Gaza. Though the Egyptian ceasefire was deemed humiliating by Hamas the Hamas alternative is, likely, an unrealistic door on which to knock. If the combatants don’t, quickly, figure out a solution the Israeli invasion may expand further and with it, by the way side, hopes of sparing civilians untold misery.
No matter the outcome one thing is not in doubt: the arena of foreign relations is not governed by Diktat.
Amr Khalifa is a freelance journalist recently published in Ahram Online , Mada Masr and Muftah