While another 72-hour humanitarian ceasefire might go into effect on Monday morning, it is unclear where indirect talks in Cairo with Hamas are headed. Meanwhile, the residents of southern Israel suffer a consistent “drizzle” of rocket fire; in Gaza, under Hamas’s reign of terror, the death toll continues to rise.
Regardless of the outcome of the current round of talks, it is time for the government to adopt a broader vision, to cease reliance on short-term tactical moves and set out a long-term strategic vision.
After three major rounds of hostilities since Hamas took over the Gaza Strip, it is clear that whatever the level of deterrence achieved this time around, and whichever of Hamas’s demands are met, at some point, sooner or later, it will launch a new cycle of violence.
Hamas has not and will not change its own long-term strategic vision, that of “resistance” to the State of Israel – the viper will not give up its venom – and it can be expected to do its utmost to exploit to military ends any international aid channeled into Gaza.
Furthermore, as Justice Minister Tzipi Livni – who is chief negotiator with the Palestinian Authority – has noted, Hamas would like to receive legitimacy and strategic assets, such as a port and airport, without recognizing Israel, renouncing violence or accepting treaties signed between Israel and the PLO.
Hamas has been significantly weakened by the military campaign, its arms supply routes are blocked and it is isolated from its traditional backers. President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi’s Egypt sees itself in a life-anddeath struggle with the Muslim Brotherhood and is openly hostile to its Gaza affiliate. Saudi Arabia, Jordan, some of the Gulf States and the PA have a shared interest in containing Islamist extremism, as do Europe and the US.
Israel should go beyond seeking a weakened Hamas that will be deterred for an unpredictable period of time. It must take advantage of the favorable regional constellation to set out its own wider goals.
Livni has articulated such goals in a multi-stage plan that would include, following the cessation of hostilities, immediate and massive humanitarian assistance for the reconstruction of Gaza; steps that would seek to address both Israeli security needs as well as Palestinian economic interests; recognition of the PA as the sovereign ruler of Gaza while insisting that all Palestinian factions yield to its rule; establishing a PA-run mechanism that would ensure continued international assistance earmarked for civilian needs; opening of Gaza crossings with the proper safeguards and inspection apparatus to ensure that no materials that could be used for producing armaments are permitted into the territory; and the resumption of diplomatic negotiations with PA President Mahmoud Abbas. However, it is not clear to what extent her position represents that of the government.
Israel, with the cooperation of regional and international forces, should do everything possible to weaken Hamas’s hold on power – both through economic leverage and, if necessary, through further force.
It would be naive to suggest that ameliorating Gaza’s hardship will do anything to weaken Hamas’s ideological resolve, but to create prosperity may help to weaken the appeal of Hamas and the other Islamic movements.
Israel must also come up with a plan for the day after, a plan that brings economic prosperity to the poverty-stricken people of Gaza, a plan that drives them away from Hamas’s sway and provides them with a desperately needed alternative, something to lose, and something they can live for, not die for.
Following up on proposals such as those put forward by Livni will likely require courageous steps, including progress on negotiations over a two-state solution.
Without a doubt, doing so may be fraught with risk, but failure to come up with a long-term vision may be even more so.