Sirens are shrieking across virtually all of Israel, bombs are devastating Gaza. This cycle of violence was both inevitable and futile.
Inevitable given the sequence of events between Hamas and Israel, as well as the existing mindsets regarding conflict resolution. Futile because at the end of this operation, nothing much will have changed – Hamas will come out politically strengthened in Palestine and in the Arab world and may hold its fire for several months.
Binyamin Netanyahu will be strengthened politically in Israel and agree to a cease-fire arrangement with Hamas.
Yet nothing will have been solved; violence never does. Many people are hurting physically and emotionally, both economies will suffer badly and nothing will have been done to resolve the root causes of this conflict. On the contrary, mutual hatred will have been inflamed, ultra-nationalism bolstered, extremists strengthened, moderates weakened, and peace and a two-state solution pushed farther away.
Khaled Mashaal and Naftali Bennett will have a field day.
Hamas had it coming, but not the Gazan people. The fundamentalist terrorist organization that is targeting Israeli civilians is a catastrophe for the Palestinian people and may set its dream of statehood back for years.
All it has to offer the Palestinians is a dogma of hatred, an autocratic dictatorship, economic devastation and broken bridges to the world. In today’s world, it is in the camp of evil – the terrorists – and threatens to hijack the Palestinian cause into this dubious association.
When one looks at the sequence of events, Hamas started this, and the onus and blame is on it. It exploited the failure of the peace talks to engage Mahmoud Abbas in the economic burden-sharing over Gaza. In return, instead of curbing violence, it is either fully responsible for the brutal murder of the three Israeli teenagers on June 12, or simply applaud it. Then came the rocket fire on the south of Israel. Instead of investing resources in the well-being of Gazans, no longer under occupation, Hamas invests whatever it can get its hands on in purchasing modern missiles from its Iranian friends. According to the sequence, Israel reacted in self-defense of its citizens, with the might of the IDF.
Yet the onus is also on us. We act on the mindset that the solution to our security predicament in the region is military force, and are only ready to consider a political process when forced to by the United States and provided it leads nowhere. We are in need of a fundamentally different approach, given the capacity of a primitive terror organization, supported by the Gazan population, to send almost 5 million Israelis into shelters and to do it again a year from now. We need to understand that the solution to our security needs is not a military one.
We must aim at a new equation of stability. It must be based on the strengthening of the moderate and pragmatic political elements in the Arab world, and the change of people’s motivation to fight us because they have something to lose.
A situation in which we are not ready to make a deal with the Fatah-led Palestinian Authority on a two-state solution will weaken Abbas and strengthen Hamas. The lack of a viable peace process creates the opposite process of violence. We must choose between paying the price of peace and the perpetual price of war, which is infinitely higher.
A new mindset has to first recognize the need to create a partnership with Abbas. This requires a realistic and courageous approach toward a two-state solution. Peace takes more courage than war, as conflict is based on domestic consensus.
To achieve and sustain a peaceful solution, the economic well-being of our Palestinian neighbors is key. With 60 percent unemployment in Gaza and 20 percent in the West Bank and without the free movement of people, there is no hope, only despair.
Hamas thrives on this despair; Abbas, on the other hand, needs to be able to convince his people that his approach against violence, and for negotiations, can bring results. If Israel does not vindicate the moderates, it will vindicate those Arabs who believe that we only understand the language of force, intifada and terror.
Therefore, we are in urgent need of a new policy doctrine, based on a real and serious negotiation for a two-state solution in the foreseeable future, regional cooperation of the pragmatists against terror, economic cooperation for the economic growth of Palestine (including Gaza), a total boycott of Hamas (as long as it doesn’t accept the Quartet’s conditions), and close coordination with the United States administration.
This demands a profound change in policy approach and of national priorities.
The day after this round, Israel should coordinate a new policy initiative with Washington, this time by involving the Palestinian leadership.
The aim of the policy doctrine is to create a coalition of pragmatists that oppose terror and advocate a two-state solution. On this basis, as after several previous armed conflicts, an international peace conference should be convened toward the end of 2014 to deal with three parameters of conflict resolution:
1. The political resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, based on the Obama vision of March 2011, the Arab Peace Initiative of 2002 and Israel’s security demands presented at the Kerry talks.
2. The security dimension to create a regional anti-terror coalition of Israel, Palestine, Egypt and Jordan in favor of a demilitarization of Gaza (from missiles).
3. The economic dimension – involving the international donor community for the economic development of Gaza (through the Palestinian Authority, not Hamas).
The leaders of the region could be invited to Washington by President Barack Obama: Prime Minister Netanyahu, President Abbas, President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, King Abdullah of Jordan and Prince Turki Al Faisal of Saudi Arabia. The American letter of invitation should specify the aims of the conference and the basis for negotiations.
Leading up to the conference, there must be a full cease-fire. The unity government in Palestine has to be dissolved. In parallel, a settlement freeze must take place, apart from the Jerusalem area.
“The Washington Peace Conference” would replace the 1991 Madrid Peace Conference as a basis for regional peace and security. Follow-up negotiations should take place in:
• Jerusalem and Ramallah – on a two-state solution (based on the invitation letter to the Washington conference);
• Cairo – on regional anti-terror cooperation; and
• Brussels – on economic assistance for the Gazans.
This assistance would go to the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah for it to initiate job-intensive economic projects in Gaza.
Such a process would lead to a gradual stabilization in the region at a time when this is most needed. The current state structure is threatened by terrorists and fanatic fundamentalists, mainly in Syria and Iraq. On the other hand, there are the pragmatists aiming to maintain stability and develop their economies. Israel must and can create an informal coalition, a partnership of interests with Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia, provided that Palestine is part of it. The common interests with Cairo, Amman and Riyadh will only be expressed politically if we are perceived as conducting an active peace policy aspiring to put an end of the occupation of the Palestinians, while guaranteeing security.
Only with such a new structure of common interests, bringing into account the Arab Peace Initiative and our security interests, can we actually work for a sustainable solution to our security predicament. Otherwise we will witness many more rounds of battle in the south and the north, and even in the West Bank, eroding, with time, our all-important deterrence.
This demands, the day after, a fundamental transformation in the approach by the government and in public opinion. We need to understand the limitations of power and the opportunities of political wisdom.
Our military power is put to use best as a deterrent, while constantly, with American aid, improving our technological edge.
The main condition of change is to place our national security interests above the predominant petty political considerations. Today the decisions of the cabinet are mostly influenced by political compromises made by the prime minister between Bennett, Lieberman, Yair Lapid and Tzipi Livni, generally giving in to the Right. A new policy must divorce the hallucinations of the hard-core Right – there is no chance whatsoever to create any partnership in the region as long as the settlement expansion continues. It’s either settlements or security.
Furthermore, the policy change on the Palestinian issue must bring into consideration the fact that we are not only dealing with two political factions, but with 4 million people, who deserve, no less than us, independence and freedom. Occupation will never lead to security.
Beyond that, we must think regionally, not just out of temporary tactical common interests against terror and Iran, but in favor of a more fundamental structure of common interests, linking a solution to the Palestinian problem to regional security cooperation and to regional economic development.
The United States is key to assist in this new policy architecture. Obama will not force us to do the right thing, but if we initiate it, he and his administration will work with us. Our place among the nations and our economic ties to the EU are to a large degree dependent on such policy initiatives.
Above all, we are in need of a profound attitudinal change. The premise that most Arabs are terrorists and that we will secure our existence by force is false and self-defeating. We have many potential partners in the region as long as we deal with them as equals, beginning with the Palestinians.
An Israel that dominates the lives of 4 million Palestinians will live by its sword forever. The syndrome of superiority and growing racism toward the Palestinians not only makes regional and international coalition-building impossible, but corrodes the moral fabric and identity of our society. There is no Iron Dome against this threat, but it is in our hands to be wiser and moral. We are strong enough to make this change. The question is: Are we self-confident enough? A new and long-term peace and security policy demands it.
When the sirens began in Tel Aviv, I called a friend of mine to ask how her two little children were doing. She responded that when she rushed to fetch them from their room to the bomb shelter, she found the two of them standing at attention. They believed it was one of the memorial days... We are confusing and traumatizing our children between past and present tragedies. The time has come, the day after, to provide them with a better and possible future.
The writer is honorary president of the Peres Center for Peace and founder of the YaLa Young Leaders peace movement, and served as Israel’s chief negotiator for the Oslo Accords.
Barbara Hurwitz edited this column.
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