We are all angry, and want revenge for the murder of Naftali, Eyal and Gil-Ad. Hamas is a bitter, evil enemy and the sooner they disappear the better – better for Israel and better for Palestine as well. Israel can successfully bring about a regime change in Gaza. A decisive, well planned and executed military operation from the air and mostly on the ground is capable of killing most of the Hamas leadership, confiscating the weapons in the hands of Izzadin Kassam fighters, and destroying the rocket stockpiles. If the US did it in Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, Israel can do it in Gaza. It will not be a cost-free operation.
There will be a great deal of destruction, thousands of rockets will probably be fired at Israel’s civilian population and many Israelis will lose their lives – soldiers and civilians along with many innocent, non-combatant Palestinians.
A regime change in Gaza also means that the IDF will reoccupy Gaza and stay there for a long time to come, serving as the military government over 1.7 million people, most of them living in the squalor of refugee camps with over 50 percent unemployment and one of the youngest populations on the planet. Yes, it is possible – but like in Iraq after President Bush declared victory, the pain of the aftermath would be felt in the massive increase in attacks against the army that would probably send many more home in body bags than were killed in the regime-change operation.
We all have short memories. We have forgotten the terrorism in Gaza of the days when Israel was in full charge of that territory. We forget that the rockets were being fired into Israel from Gaza back in 2002, three years prior to the disengagement. We can get rid of Hamas rule by force, but the more force we use the stronger sympathy for Hamas will become, and even more extreme groups will arise in Gaza. That is probably not in Israel’s interest.
Today, Hamas is at its weakest point ever. The way to further weaken Hamas is not by force, but by using our brains instead of our brawn. The empowerment of the opposition to Hamas is the way to weaken Hamas. Hamas came into being and grew with the support of a population living in despair, in poverty, infused with a fundamentalist view that this life is not worth living for, but that by dying for the sake of God and Palestine they could guarantee a better afterlife. Infused with money from the outside, Hamas was able to provide for the social needs, education, health and spiritual welfare of the living, and also of those left behind by those who died (and killed) for Palestine.
Hamas presented itself as a servant of God; clean and pure in the face of the corruption that so many saw in Yasser Arafat’s Palestinian Authority. The promises of redemption through Hamas’ particular interpretation of Islam seemed much more promising than the failures of negotiations that Arafat and later Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas promised would end Israeli control over their lives.
Hamas rose, prospered and was even elected in a surprise victory with about one-third of the votes. But then the challenge of governing and providing real services confronted their continued self-defeating strategy of shooting rockets into Israel and abducting Israelis. Since then Gaza has been cut off from the world and the people of Gaza have suffered. The crushing blow to Hamas came when the people and the army of Egypt threw out Hamas’s older brother the Muslim Brotherhood and even declared Hamas an illegal organization. Hamas lost all of its friends and supporters and its life-line through the more than 1,000 tunnels between Gaza and Sinai.
Hamas is financially and politically bankrupt. It came into a reconciliation agreement with President Abbas capitulating to all of Abbas’s demands, including recognizing that Abbas would continue to try to negotiate peace with Israel. Hamas agreed to have a national reconciliation government (not a national unity government) without having a single representative in that government. Shortly afterwards Hamas came to understand that their people would not even receive their salaries from the national reconciliation agreement. Hamas would not take and did not take any responsibility for the kidnapping and murder of the three Israeli teens. They knew quite well that Abbas would be obligated to cancel the reconciliation agreement (which he may very well have to do in any case) and then there would be no chance of opening the Gaza-Egypt border while Hamas controls Gaza.
Hamas can be removed from power. Hamas’s support among its people can be shrunk significantly. The best way to achieve that is not with violence and force. The best way to remove Hamas from power is by doing the following: 1. Renew direct negotiations immediately between Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Abbas on reaching a two-states agreement with a new, bold Israeli peace initiative.
Israel should put on the table an offer that would be the basis for genuine peace.
2. Launch with the international community and with President Abbas an international fund of not less than $10 billion over five years for building Gaza. The fund would be administered by the international community in partnership with a body in Gaza representing the moderate business sector and the Palestinian Authority. Israel would contribute to the fund the amount that it spends of dropping bombs on Gaza on an average year in retaliation for Hamas rockets into Israel.
3. The fund would place a major emphasis on education – building new schools with modern, progressive, peaceful academic curricula that would be open for all for free and would create a demand by the people of Gaza to attend those schools against the threats of Hamas. With a clear alternative most people in Gaza would run from the Hamas schools to the international schools.
4. Initiate the building of housing on a massive scale to replace the squalor and poverty of the refugee camps.
5. Build infrastructure to provide energy, water, sewage, health services. Today Gaza residents have electric power less than eight hours per day and by 2020 there will not be even one drop of fresh, uncontaminated water in Gaza.
6. Relink the Palestinian economy with the West Bank and the world and encourage moderate businesspeople to work with Israel and the international community in expanding their markets and improving their products. This will reopen the hundreds of factories that have been closed since Hamas came to power – putting people to work and recreating hope for a better future.
7. Allow Palestinian workers from Gaza cleared by security to come and work again in Israel, replacing foreign laborers.
This will renew contact between Israelis and Palestinians from Gaza, open new avenues for positive economic cooperation, bring cash home to their families and more Israeli products that they will buy with their income from their work in Israel.
We need to help the people of Gaza to replace Hamas.
This can be done by providing the people of Gaza what Hamas has never been able to provide – hope and a better future. People rally around fundamentalism and extremism when their only hope for something better is in the afterlife. When real hope for a better life in this lifetime is genuine and apparent, moderation and pragmatism will be victorious.
The author is co-chairman of IPCRI, the Israel Palestine Creative Regional Initiatives, a columnist for The Jerusalem Post and the initiator and negotiator of the secret back channel for the release of Gilad Schalit. His new book Freeing Gilad: the Secret Back Channel has been published by Kinneret Zmora Bitan in Hebrew and The Negotiator: Freeing Gilad Schalit from Hamas from The Toby Press.