The recen escalation of violence between Israel and Hamas, which has gone on for two weeks now and claimed thousands of lives, especially in the Gaza Strip, has elicited concerns from all parts of the world including from a famous Nigerian Catholic Bishop, Hassan Kukah.
The catholic clergy in an interview with PREMIUM TIMES talks about the ongoing war and proposes a solution.
PT: What do you make of this unfortunate development between Israel and Hamas?
Bishop Kukah: It is really tragic, especially given that a lot could have been achieved. It’s been over 60 years of duplicity by the superpowers who created this problem in the first place and have turned the hopes of an entire people into a life of human pain and misery.
PT: You talked of duplicity by superpowers. What do you mean?
Bishop Kukah: Go back to history. What was the Balfour Declaration all about? Wasn’t the UK requested to oversee things? How did America get on the saddle? Was there no mandate for the creation of a homeland for Palestinians? The Palestinian question would grow into a sore but untreated and uncredited by all the powerful nations. The five Permanent Members have made the Palestinians a football to be kicked around with no serious goal in sight.
The Palestinians have no land, no oil that anyone wants. Their Arab uncles continued to dance around the issues with no real commitment to peace and justice for their next of kin. Years of war have seen them littered beyond borders from Jordan to Egypt. This has gone on for so many years with fathers having only broken dreams and nightmares as heirlooms for their children and grandchildren. It breaks the human heart.
PT: Civilians are being massacred, maimed and displaced. What do you think is the way out of this logjam?
Bishop Kukah: Looking for a way out is a cheap option. These issues have had a long shelf life. The humanitarian crisis is seemingly impossible to contemplate, but history has taught us that the human spirit has a level of unfathomable elasticity. Every day, you hear stories of how people are coping, learning to share, children literally entering the skin of adults, and being forced to grow up.
Either way, people will survive. The United Nations and other humanitarian organizations are doing very well. Every day, I pray that God will hold the hand of (Benjamin) Netanyahu in suspense till some level of civility is restored. They should clinically go after Hamas and they know what to do, but in God’s name, save lives.
PT: Netanyahu has vowed to go after Hamas. A ground operation is being planned for Gaza but many are worried that this might deepen the humanitarian crisis and endanger the lives of about 200 hostages being held by Hamas. What’s your view on this?
Bishop Kukah: Netanyahu’s is a far-right ideologue. All will rally around him. Going after Hamas is necessary, and all must be done to tame them. Netanyahu will deal with them by all means necessary. Taming the excesses of Hamas must go parri passu with a Palestinian state. So, in the short term, do everything possible to end the human tragedy. Pull out the two-state proposal, and review what Clinton, Bush and Obama did because the withdrawal of a war-weary America has created a vacuum that extremists like Hamas will continue to explore.
PT: America has always had boots on the ground in Israel. We, however, recall that in 2021 it withdrew approximately 120 military and civilian personnel from that country. Are you saying the US needs to ramp up troops in Israel? How will that help the resolution of this crisis?
Bishop Kukah: Resolving this crisis requires a comprehensive and elaborate, all-encompassing strategy that appreciates the current geopolitical maps of the loci of power. The Middle East has changed drastically. You need more bread and carrots not boots on the ground.
America has about 85 military bases around the world and as I said, it is suffering from power withdrawal symptoms. Outsiders like China, Russia, and Turkey are muscling in for a piece of the cake of influence. In all of this, the Palestinians are choking and all roads are leading to rapprochement with Israel. This is the anxiety Hamas exploited and disrupted. The Arab world has failed the Palestinians and their concerted and more honest response, more than the Americans, can bring some confidence.
PT: The US President and UK Prime Minister have visited and made promises of support to Israel. There are those arguing that they did not do enough during their trips and that they are not doing enough towards a holistic resolution of the age-long crisis. Do you agree?
Bishop Kukah: They returned to the scene of the crime they created at the beginning of their imperialistic escapades. As we all know, these men are more on the side of Israel. However, with their own domestic crises, not to talk of Ukraine, they can only focus on tokenism.
Perhaps, in collaboration with the UN, a Special Envoy with a sense of credibility and even-handedness can be appointed to keep things on track and ensure that Israel does not go into overdrive in its pursuit of Hamas while ensuring and overseeing a programme of gathering the pieces and planning for a long winter of discontentment and hope.
PT: What role can Nigeria play in the resolution of this crisis? What diplomatic stand should it take?
Bishop Kukah: Typical of our hypocrisy, this problem is already being cast in a very narrow prism of ignorance and the conflict is seen in religious tones by people who have done nothing to aid Palestine. Under President Babangida, Nigeria opened diplomatic relations with Israel. Now, just to distract attention, I see some clerics mischievously saying Mr Wike is bringing the Israelis to oversee security in Abuja.
Locally, the experts know what to do. We have no dog in this fight at the high level but we can send aid immediately. Our diplomatic stance cannot be for or against. Israel is a state and it has the right and must defend itself and its people. No question about it. Nigeria cannot act alone but perhaps in concert with Ecowas and AU to step up an aid response.
PT: I want you to elaborate more on the religious colouration the crisis is being given by some Nigerians especially given the possibility of it further polarising Nigeria.
Bishop Kukah: It is sad that religion has been so instrumentalised, and it is merely a weapon for self-interests. See how insecure people seem to be at the thought of loss of political power. The philosophy is that we need to use religion to stay in power. Never mind that the fruits of the religion are at bay. How can any sane or serious believer panic over who is in power?
Those who shout about the injustice being done to Muslims in Palestine ask yourself, how many of them have branched to Palestine to see their condition on your way to the Middle East? I have been to Gaza and visited the Palestinian Authority Headquarters. I have been to the Israeli Knesset or Parliament. I have been taken around Jerusalem by Muslim and Jewish tour guides and heard and seen both sides. I have been to Jordan. I have seen these things firsthand due to my concerns. So, I have an idea of what I am saying. It is so sad that merchants have turned religion into a weapon of war in the pursuit of selfish interests. The issue of Palestine is about injustice to a people not about religion.
PT: Earlier, you spoke of a two-state solution. For the benefit of our readers, tell us what that will entail and how it can be achieved
Bishop Kukah: This question is for many Ph. D theses. Briefly, it was in 1993 that the two-state solution was proposed to give everyone their land. The famous Oslo Agreements were hammered out under the Clinton administration. At that time, one of my favourite people, Simon Peres, was Foreign Minister. Yasser Arafat had opened the door by accepting the famous resolutions 242 and 338.
He followed by writing formally to Rabin, the Israeli PM To say they accepted Israel’s right to exist….a major point of departure from the extremists and hardlines who did not believe Israel had a right to exist. Succeeding American presidents and often Labour PMs were amenable to the process. Things changed, Arafat died, as Fukuyama would say, history ended in 1989 and the struggle for a new world order turned the Palestinian question from a paragraph to a punctuation mark. It needs to be dusted up, but I don’t see Netanyahu contemplating that.
This is where the idea of an Envoy or a Team of International Mediators should step in even if initiated by the UN Security Council. After all, they hold the key to keeping the world just and safe. Regarding the international Mediating Team I proposed above, I am nominating former US President Barack Obama, King Abdullah of Jordan, former UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown, former Ireland President Mary Robinson and former Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo as members.
PT: Why do you believe Barack Obama, King Abdallah, Gordon Brown, Mary Robinson and Olusegun Obasanjo can achieve result as mediators? What are the qualities that place them in pole positions as ideal mediators in this crisis?
Bishop Kukah: My nomination of Obama is borne out of his influence as a former President especially as between him and Clinton, they can influence President Biden. He also did a lot to end American presence in the region. I feel Gordon Brown is the best choice from the UK because Blair has baggage over Iraq. UK remains central to resolving the issues. Mrs. Robinson was President of Ireland at the height of the IRA troubles in Northern Ireland and her Irish background gives her an instinct for the underdog. She is, with Mandela and Tutu a founding Member of the Enders Forum which is on standby for any mission by the UN. Obj is the best from Africa because of his stature, international reach. The Arabs will trust him
PT: Do you have additional comments you like to make on this matter?
Bishop Kukah: My pleasure. All of this is a reason for us to take our country more seriously. Nigerians have never imagined what it means to be homeless and with no country. Can you place the daunting problems of the world beside us and imagine that our attention is being consumed by pieces of paper, imagined, real or fake? The Nigerian elite need a hard kick in the backside, really.
EDIITORS NOTE: This post has been updated to include an additional question by the interviewer on the suitability of the proposed mediators and the response by Bishop Kukah.
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