Cease-fire – both sides declare victory, both peoples lost. No victory in this war.
It is hard to imagine how Hamas could declare victory and mean it. It is hard to imagine that anyone in the Gaza Strip could share that opinion. But that is the way it is. Hamas entered this war at its weakest position in the past seven years and emerged, at least for the moment, stronger than ever. Hamas’s strength is not measured by how many rockets or tunnels it has left, or how many of its commanders or soldiers have survived.
Hamas’s strength is measured by the support that it receives from Palestinians throughout the West Bank and Gaza, and from the Arab world.
Palestinians of all political factions felt that this war was not being waged against Hamas, but against all Palestinians – against Palestine. Before the war, Hamas submitted to the demands of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas regarding the national reconciliation government. It agreed to a government with no Hamas representatives in it. It agreed that Abbas would continue the security coordination with Israel. Hamas agreed that Abbas could continue negotiating with Israel. Hamas wanted its 40,000 salaries paid, it wanted the Rafah crossing to be opened and in exchange were willing to have several thousand PA troops man the Rafah border crossing.
At the end of the war it is difficult to actually identify achievements Hamas could not have realized without the war. One thing is clear, though: the issue of the blockade on Gaza is now in the international arena, and seems to have gone beyond the point of being acceptable any longer.
Hamas will accept all kinds of controls and monitoring of goods entering Gaza; it will have no choice. The people of Gaza must be able to rebuild their lives and their homes.
There is an urgent need for water and electricity and construction materials. The war has made at least 350,000 people homeless in Gaza. It is essential that cement and steel and other building materials enter Gaza. But this must be done in a way that will prevent Hamas from ever being able to reconstruct bunkers and tunnels, or rearming itself with more rockets and explosives.
For the time being most Palestinians credit Hamas with the achievement of bringing an end to the Israeli policy of isolating Gaza. The changes that Palestinians really want will only come out of negotiations in the future and in those negotiations it is essential that those in the Palestinian leadership and in the Arab world who are sincerely interested in peace with Israel gain the credit of bringing home the achievements, and not those who use violence against Israel.
For that to happen it is essential that the Palestinians begin to understand that the wrath of Israel that was brought down on them stems from the “resistance” mentality and policies of hatred and fanaticism. It is equally important now that the leaders of Israel understand that with the time for rebuilding comes the time for genuine peacemaking and partnership building.
The convergence of security and stability interests among Egypt, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain, the PLO and Israel requires Israel to come to terms with the necessity of ending its control over the Palestinian people. The opportunities that now exist for Israel with the convergence of the interests in the immediate region will enable Israel to demand and create the mechanisms that will provide for genuine security in the face of rising Islamic extremism in the region.
This war should prove beyond a doubt that military power has its limits. Hamas and Islamic Jihad and the other combatants in Gaza proved to be a considerable challenge to the strongest military force in the Middle East. The limits of force have never been so evidently clear to Israel as in the past 50 days. Israel has the ability to reconquer Gaza. Israel demonstrated its ability to demolish entire neighborhoods. Israel has the ability to round up and kill the entire political and military leadership of Hamas. But there are some actions in war that we as Jews are not capable of taking and that should not be part of our arsenal. And there are military actions that create human suffering beyond what should ever be considered possible for Israel to implement.
Now is the time for change. Rebuilding will require enormous resources – financial and material. Rebuilding will also require goodwill. Rebuilding should also include political will – the will to extend a hand to the neighbors we want to have – safe, secure, living with hope, and peaceful. The threats issued by Israel’s leaders during the days of battles should now be replaced by sincere willingness to build a new future. Animosity and hatred must give way to the true desire to live in peace.
Israel must have mechanisms to guarantee its security and to ensure that Gaza will not rearm itself for the next war. Walls and fences that have isolated and imprisoned people have not protected Israel from the tunnels and the rockets. Those on the other side who designed, planned and built their weapons of war were well aware that they could not defeat Israel. But they were equally aware of the great amount of pain and anguish they could inflict on us. Some of the roots of their evil intent stem from uncompromising hatred and religious fanaticism. But most of it comes from the intolerable situation that they are living in. This must change.
If we want the people of Gaza to expel from their lives the horrible leaders they chose and to lay blame at them for their direct responsibility for the destruction of Gaza there are two things that must now happen. Their lives must be filled with real hope for a better future – one of freedom and liberation; and leaders of moderation must be credited with bringing that change.
The people of Israel and especially those living next to Gaza must also now be given the chance to rebuild and to live with hope that this will be the last round of war from Gaza against them. No one could tolerate living with what they went through. In this next chapter, the real heroes will not be the soldiers who went to war and demonstrated their courage and risked their lives, but those who now have the courage, on both sides, to reach out beyond the geography of fear and hatred to those on the other side of the border in a new partnership of determination to build, not to destroy. Reaching out is something that every single one of us can do, even from our desks, through our computers and smart phones. The time for hate has gone. Now is the time to rebuild.
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.