CAIRO – Since the outset of Israel’s war on the Gaza Strip, calls have been renewed for an "international force" to protect the civilian population. But Palestinian resistance factions, chief among them Hamas, reject the idea outright.
"The resistance will not accept international forces (in the Gaza Strip)," Khaled Meshaal, head of Hamas’s Damascus-based political bureau said recently on Syrian state television. "We know that such forces would only serve Israel and its occupation."
On Saturday (Jan. 10), Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas called for an "international presence" to "protect Palestinian civilians" in the Gaza Strip, which has been governed by Hamas since the summer of 2007. "We want the international force to be deployed in Gaza, not on the Egyptian border," he told reporters in Cairo.
Abbas added that he had "no objection" to the deployment of an international force to the PA-controlled West Bank as well as to the Gaza Strip. According to media reports, several countries, including Turkey and a handful of EU member states, have expressed readiness to contribute troops.
On the same day, Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul-Gheit ruled out deployment of an international force along Egypt’s 14-kilometer border with the besieged territory. "International troops will not be on the Egyptian side," Aboul Gheit said at a press conference.
He did not, however, expressly dismiss the notion of an international force inside the Gaza Strip.
The idea has been floated before. Following Hamas’s seizure of the strip from the PA in June 2007 (after Hamas won the elections in 2006), Abbas made public calls for an international force to be sent to the territory. "We have insisted on the necessity of deploying an international force in the Gaza Strip to guarantee the delivery of humanitarian aid and to allow citizens to enter and leave freely," Abbas said at the time.
But with the exception of Abbas’s U.S.-backed Fatah party, the idea was quickly dismissed by Palestinian resistance factions as a non-starter. Hamas declared it "will not under any circumstances" allow international forces to enter the Gaza Strip, adding that such forces would be "greeted with artillery shells and missiles."
Cairo, too, ruled out the idea at the time. An international deployment to Gaza would, a diplomatic source said, "have a negative effect on (Palestinian) national unity, on the (Egypt-Gaza) border and on Egyptian national security."
Although Abbas’s proposal eventually fizzled out, it found endorsement by Israeli Cabinet Minister Avigdor Lieberman, head of the right-wing Yisrael Beiteinu Party. At the time, Lieberman went so far as to visit several North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) member states in an effort to garner support for NATO-led Gaza deployment.
This time around, Palestinian resistance factions in Gaza after three weeks of punishing Israeli assaults from air, land and sea are no more willing to countenance the idea.
Answering Abbas’s latest proposition on the same day, leaders of ten Damascus-based Palestinian resistance factions including Hamas, Islamic Jihad and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine’s General Command declared their "total refusal of any international forces or ‘observers’ in the Gaza Strip." In a Jan. 10 joint statement, the factions reiterated their "rejection of any security arrangements that infringe on the (Palestinian) resistance or its right to resist the (Israeli) occupation."
Moussa Abu Marzouk, vice-president of Hamas’s political bureau, called the idea of an international force to protect Palestinian civilians in Gaza "ridiculous".
"We’ve seen how international institutions have protected their schools and offices thus far," he said, in a reference to the Jan. 6 bombing of a United Nations Welfare and Relief Agency (UNRWA) school in which some 45 people mostly women and children were killed by Israeli artillery. "How can they be expected to protect the Palestinian people?"
"The (Palestinian) resistance is the sole and fundamental means of defending the Palestinian people," Abu Marzouk was quoted as saying in independent daily Al-Masri Al-Youm on Monday (Jan. 12). "The resistance will not be delivered into the hands of the UN."
According to Abdelaziz Shadi, coordinator of Cairo University’s Israeli studies program, Abbas’s call to internationalize Gaza given political realities on the ground stands little chance of success.
"As long as Hamas controls Gaza, no international force will be allowed in," Shadi told IPS. "This latest appeal by Abbas, whose popularity in the West Bank has nosedived since the beginning of the Israeli aggression in Gaza, is just empty words."
Aymen Abdelaziz Salaama, professor of international law at Cairo University, says that under Chapter 6 of the UN charter, international forces can only be sent with the express permission of the host country.
"The problem is that neither Hamas in Gaza nor the PA in the West Bank represents a sovereign Palestinian state," Salaama explained. "Therefore, if Article 7 were to be invoked which allows for the deployment of an armed ‘peacekeeping’ mission without the consent of the host Hamas and the resistance could be legally powerless to stop it."