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What's Happening in Gaza? An Attempt to Look at the Conflict From a Novice's Perspective

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In the last two weeks the world has seen a rapid unfolding of events within the Middle East. France and Britain have officially recognized the Syrian opposition, Egypt has proven its ability to act as a global mediator in events outside its borders and once again conflict has erupted in Gaza between the Palestinians and Israelis. Coming at such a troubled time for the Middle East, the renewed fighting between the two sides is highly significant.

So what is happening?

At the point of going to press, calls for a ceasefire between Palestine and Israel had been made after both Hamas and Israeli leaders issued statements and put forward conditions for the negotiation process that is currently being led by the neighboring state of Egypt. As of 21 November a ceasefire has been brokered yet the likelihood of a successful ceasefire holding at this point in time is tenuous. Indeed, despite international calls from the United States, the European Union and Russia for both parties to begin diplomatic negotiation there is still fear within Gaza of a ground attack implemented by Israeli soldiers and missiles are still being sent erratically.

Why this latest eruption?

The relationship between the Palestine government and Israel has come under increasing tension since 2006 and the Palestinian election that led to the rise of Hamas. Recognised by the European Union and the United States as a leading terrorist group that is accused of recklessly endangering the lives of civilians to achieve policy goals, the election led to the Israeli government blockading the border between Gaza and Israel. Although the Israelis defended this decision with claims of self-defense and the protection of it's citizens, Hamas and the Palestinians residing within the Gaza strip have accused the Israeli government of breaking international law and illegitimately causing the suffering of Palestinian people.

Although unofficially recognised as a state, the Palestinians were due to meet with the United Nations General Assembly this month to discuss upgrading their current observer status to non - member status. The political impact of this being that, whilst still not recognised as a formal member of the United Nations, the Palestinian government would have greater international standing and legitimacy. Had talks gone through and Palestine's status been upgraded, Palestine would have been in a position to call Israel's actions since 2006 a breach of international law.

In light of rising frustrations within the Gaza, the missile attacks on Israel is seen by some as a way to garner international support and raise awareness to the perceived plight of citizens of Gaza suffering as a result of Israeli blockades.

How legitimate are the actions of both Israel and those in the Gaza?

Neither Hamas nor Israel are completely immune to international criticism. Whilst the argument has been made that Hamas have provoked this recent eruption of conflict, Israel's claims of self-defense have also come under scrutiny. Although, Hamas seek to gain state recognition against Israel it is the very fact that the Gaza is not yet recognized that has led to calls of Israeli attack to be challenged; as Gaza is not considered an official state, some argue it is still under Israeli occupation and as a result Israeli actions cannot be seen as self-defense.

What is clear is that as the conflict continues and the casualties rise, the less certain the outcome will be. Indeed, what was originally a conflict over territory, both Israel and Palestine claim ownership of land surrounding the Gaza strip and Jerusalem, has escalated in current years. This escalation will only get worse once Palestine secure non-member status within the UN and can threaten to the Israeli government to the International Court of Law.

With most international actors calling for a two state resolution and a dividing of territory, this conflict is one of many that have occurred over a forty-year period. Internationally, then, the recent conflict has caused a headache for key players such as the United States and the European Union. Indeed, Barack Obama has backed Israel's decision to bombard the Gaza strip in order to neutralize violent factions of Hamas yet in doing so runs the risk of pushing the Palestinians into the arms of Iran. This is looking more and more likely with reports of Iranian missiles being used against Israel in the recent attack.

For the European Union, both Israel and a state of Palestine are of strategic importance. As one of the largest donors to the Gaza, the Union has recognized the importance of economic and social troubles that have led to rising desperation within the Gaza. On the other hand, Israel has become one of the largest trading partners for the Union within the Middle East. As a result both the United States and the EU appear to be torn between conflicting interests.

Within the region, Israel must be careful not to alienate Egypt. Indeed, with support from both Turkey and Iran, the Palestinian quest for recognition as an official state, territorial gains and an upgraded UN status appears to be gaining prominence. With Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan so unstable - Israel is currently in a delicate situation. Certainly, bellicose language from the prime minister has alluded to possible conflict with Iran in the near future. To be successful the state would be wise to limit anti-Israeli sentiment.

What the future holds for relations between Israel, a state of Palestine and the Gaza strip is far from easy to predict. Factors such as whether the UN consider Palestine's request for an upgrade, whether Iran will seek to involve itself in regional conflicts more and finally whether Israel and Palestine will ever agree on border divisions will all affect how the two sides will develop. What is certain at this point in time, however, is that the Middle East is once again at crisis point and that the international system must keep an eye on unfolding events.