In my many lectures all around Israel on the chances of peace,
one question from the audience is always asked: What about Gaza? It is obvious
that Hamas will not agree to make peace with Israel even if Palestinian
Authority President Mahmoud Abbas does. In a recent conversation between Abbas
and Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal, Abbas once again assured Mashaal that if he
reaches an agreement with Israel, he will bring it to a referendum of all of the
Palestinians living in the West Bank and Gaza.
Mashaal, according to
reports in the Palestinian media was satisfied. He did not say that Hamas would
not allow the referendum to take place in Gaza, although I believe that there
will be a large number of Hamas leaders who will oppose not only the peace deal,
but even conducting the referendum in Gaza.
A few months ago I asked
Abbas to listen to the answer I give my audiences about Gaza and to tell me if
this reflected what he believed as well. I said that if there is a peace deal
with Israel, Gaza will be part of the Palestinian state. There is no territorial
dispute between Israel and Gaza and there are no longer any Israelis in Gaza.
The two territories will eventually be linked, most likely by a tunnel 40
kilometers long (I propose that it be a rail link by tunnel that carries
passengers, vehicles and cargo). The part of the agreement dealing with Gaza,
though, will only be implemented when the regime that controls Gaza accepts all
of the terms of the agreement – mainly peace with Israel. I believe, knowing the
people of Gaza quite well, that they will then force the agreement on whoever is
ruling them in a massive uprising that Hamas will not be able to withstand. And
if they don’t, well then, the status quo of Gaza being isolated from the rest of
the world would remain with the world’s backing behind it.
But now I ask
the people of Gaza: Do we have to wait that long for you to change your destiny?
The recent winter storm demonstrated quite clearly the Arabic proverb: a close
neighbor is better than a distant brother. Today Hamas has no real friends in
the world. They lost Egypt with the coup against the Muslim
Sinai is sealed off them with all of its tunnels. The $140
million a month that the Hamas regime profited from the tunnel industry is gone.
The regime is broke. They lost Iran and Syria when President Bashar Assad began
slaughtering his own people and the Sunni Palestinian refugees in camps all
around Damascus. Now Jordan has notified that Hamas leaders are not welcome in
the Kingdom. Mashaal is living on borrowed time in Qatar. Senior Hamas leader
Mousa Abu Marzook is living in Cairo under complete surveillance and strict
limitations by the Egyptian intelligence.
The only (partially) open door
to Gaza today is via Israel. Ironically, Israel may actually be the only friend
that Gaza has.
The following is part of a letter I wrote to a Hamas
leader with whom I am in regular contact: There have been times in history when
natural disasters have opened the doors between former enemies to turn the page
and begin a new relationship. It happened twice between Greece and Turkey when
each side faced their own series of earthquakes. And it could happen now between
Israel and Gaza.
During the last days of the storm, Israel sent troops to
Kerem Shalom to open the passage when it was closed to deliver emergency aid to
Gaza – food, fuel, water pumps and more. Israel was facing serious problems of
its own with electricity outages across the country and other urgent needs
caused by the storm and yet, it answered the call for humanitarian aid for the
people of Gaza.
The Arab saying that a close neighbor is better than a
distant brother certainly applies here. Israel could be Gaza’s best friend.
Today Israel is perhaps Gaza’s only friend and this friendship is one that could
be long lasting because if political conditions were otherwise, there is no
conflict between Israel and Gaza. If the government of Gaza that you are a part
of would make the wise decision to recognize this reality, and with that
recognize Israel and end its dedication to destroy Israel, Gaza could become a
paradise almost overnight. The potential for Gaza’s prosperity and success is
enormous, but this will only happen with cooperation between Gaza and
Yes there are political conflicts, and yes Gaza is part of the
Palestinian people and part of Palestine. It is possible to resolve all disputes
under the formula of two states for two peoples and not use violence against
The people of Gaza deserve to live a normal life. They
deserve to have a future. They deserve to have homes with electricity and places
of work and good schools and hope.
I suggest that you use the good will
demonstrated by Israel now to take the first steps towards recognition and
exploring a new beginning between the two sides.
Why don’t you have a
discussion about this with your prime minister and with Khaled
Today could be the first step on the road towards a brighter
The author is the cochairman of IPCRI, the Israel Palestine
Center for Research and Information, 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.
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