George Joffe On Conflict Between Israel and Gaza

07:53 Tuesday 20th November 2012
Bigger Breakfast Show
BBC Radio Cambridgeshire

PAUL STAINTON: Renewed efforts to bring peace between Israel and Hamas in Gaza are expected today. Overnight, explosions were heard in Gaza, and sirens sounded in southern Israel. The violence has claimed now more than a hundred lives in just a week. The UN Secretary General is in Cairo to try and agree a ceasefire. Dr George Joffe is a Research Fellow at the Department for Politics and International Studies at Cambridge University, and specialises in the Middle East. He’s with us this morning. Morning George.
GEORGE JOFFE: Good morning.
PAUL STAINTON: Is there an incentive on either side to stop this violence? Israel say they’re trying to stop the rockets. And Hamas of course have got years and years of hatred welled up inside them. Can both sides come to some sort of worthwhile truce here?
GEORGE JOFFE: Well yes they could. It’s a question of desire on both sides. The fact is that Israel does not want to get involved in a ground invasion. It actually doesn’t want to be involved in activities inside Gaza if it can avoid it. And Hamas, for its part, doesn’t want to confront Israel. It knows it will lose the actual war. But in reality there are powerful factors against it too. On the one hand the Israeli Prime Minister must demonstrate to his public that he can defend them. On the other hand, Hamas has to demonstrate to its public that it’s not weak when confronted with Israeli aggression. So you can see there it’s very difficult indeed to find some common ground between them.
PAUL STAINTON: And these negotiations in Cairo, you say it’s difficult to find that common ground. What chance then for the UN Secretary General?
GEORGE JOFFE: Well it’s not the UN Secretary General alone. It’s actually Egypt behind this. And the Egyptians have a very good reason for this. They have a peace treaty with Israel. They are the patrons of Hamas. They would like to see a situation where in fact Hamas is no longer threatened by Israel, because that may force them to have to reconsider their treaty. And at the same time they don’t want to be disturbed in their relations with Israel. So they’re the people who have been pushing for the agreement. Mr Ban Ki-moon’s job really is to give it official sanction from the United Nations.
PAUL STAINTON: The problem for Benjamin Netayahu is there’s an election coming, isn’t there? He’s got to look like the man to elect, hasn’t he?
GEORGE JOFFE: Well, it’s not just that. He’s also completely unwilling to negotiate with the Palestinians over a Palestinian state. And that’s at the root of the problem. And he certainly is very intransigent. He’s also got the election coming up. He’s just formed a party with a more extreme faction inside Israeli politics. And he’s therefore confronted with public opinion which is quite unwilling to consider compromise with Hamas.
PAUL STAINTON: On the other side the problem is the rockets from Gaza just never stop, do they?
GEORGE JOFFE: Yes, but again you need to ask who’s sending them over. And the evidence is it’s more extreme factions that Hamas. And Hamas finds it very difficult to control them. So in a sense Hamas would like to see some kind of long-term truce. It’s offered that in the past on several occasions, but the Israeli government’s been unwilling to negotiate with it. It holds it responsible for the more extreme factions. And they simply are very difficult to control.
PAUL STAINTON: Where do the weapons all come from?
GEORGE JOFFE: Well that’s an interesting question. Some of them are home-made. The early rockets were home-made. But now they’re brought in. They were brought in through the tunnel system. Some may come from Iran. Many certainly came from Libya, after the civil war there last year. And the Israeli government claims they also come from Sudan, possibly using Sudan as the source for Iranian weapons. And as such, it’s been very difficult to interdict them. The Egyptian government a month ago did begin to close some of the tunnels. And that certainly reduced the flow of goods into Gaza. But that hit ordinary traffic as well. And so in a sense unless the Israeli government’s prepared to relax further its controls over imports into Gaza, the situation is going to remain extremely difficult, and public opinion in Gaza is going to push Hamas to become more and more extreme.
PAUL STAINTON: Britain helped the Libyans to get freedom of course. And we were all there, weren’t we, cheering them on. Has that exacerbated the problem, and made it easier to get weapons into Gaza?
GEORGE JOFF: Well yes of course it has. But I don’t think one can hold Britain responsible for that. It’s a consequence of the failure of any arrangement made by Britain, by France, and by the United Nations, to control the situation inside Libya, and around Libya, after the end of the civil war. That’s where the real problem has come from.