The war has returned and everyone is focusing on the military aspects – how to crush Hamas, how to kill its leaders, how to bring Hamas to its knees. All of the military plans are possible. It is possible to reconquer Gaza. It is possible to kill most or all of the Hamas political and military leaders. It is even possible to conduct a regime change in Gaza.
Israel has the military might to do this. There will be a price – one that is impossible to assess before it is done – but if Israel is willing to pay the price, it can be done. But if anyone believes that by doing this the problem of Gaza will be resolved, my recommendation is to look at Iraq.
The US defeated Saddam Hussein, conquered Iraq, released 250,000 Iraqi soldiers from the army, created a new army, armed it, conducted democratic elections, created a new Iraq. Despite the US victory, Iraq has not known even one day of peace and the neighborhood of Iraq is far more dangerous today than it was before cutting off the head of the Iraqi snake.
Of course Gaza is different in many ways, but one lesson that should be learned from Iraq and is 100 percent relevant for Gaza is that you cannot resolve a political problem solely with military means. The political problem of Gaza, which is the political problem of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, will remain the aspiration of the Palestinian people to be free from Israeli control. There must be a political solution.
So here’s a new idea – somewhat recycled from a time long passed but nevertheless new in today’s context: Let Gaza become the first stage of an independent sovereign Palestinian state. If it is successful, meaning peaceful, meaning focused on development, meaning educating for peace, Israel would agree that the West Bank follow suit and join the Palestinian state with full independence.
If it fails, pressure would be removed from Israel regarding the West Bank and we will need to search for alternative solutions.
It should be clear that I don’t think that this is the best way to proceed.
The best way is for Israel to declare its willingness to accept the Arab Peace Initiative as the basis for Israeli-Palestinian negotiations and then with the engagement of Israel’s other Arab neighbors – Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and the Emirates – develop a regional security and stability pact. This would require Israel to now accept that its control over the Palestinians will come to an end and that Palestine will achieve its independence and freedom from Israel.
The implementation would obviously be gradual, over time and based on performance benchmarks including security, economic and political parameters.
However, the same basic formula could be developed vis-à-vis Gaza.
First there would be an Israeli declaration that Gaza would be free, the blockade will end, Gaza will be able to have a seaport, an airport and would be recognized by Israel and the world as the first stage of Palestinian independence. Israel and the Palestinian leadership (not Hamas) would negotiate a framework and time and performance schedule for implementation. An international donor’s conference would be held where pledges would be made for Gaza’s reconstruction, which would also be implemented over time based on performance of the security, economic and political parameters. A regional security and stability pact would be signed enabling Palestinian Authority troops to be sent to Gaza along with, if desired, supplementary Arab and European forces. The security and stability pact would ensure that no militarization of Gaza will take place.
Another essential aspect of the proposal would be to turn around, as quickly as possible, the relations between Gaza and Israel with Israel offering assistance at every level and facilitating international efforts to rebuild Gaza. This would include relinking the economy of Gaza with the West Bank and with Israel –meaning exports and imports – to and from Israel, and through Israel to the West Bank, and the rest of the world.
Israel would also offer to accept Palestinian labor in Israel, although with all of the rebuilding efforts that will take place in Gaza, there will be full employment available for everyone who wants to work in Gaza.
The whole plan is based on creating the incentives – which are political and economic in essence. The challenge is that the success of Gaza will determine the future of the West Bank as well. If real progress is made in Gaza with responsible Palestinian governance providing leadership for Palestinians in Gaza, Israel would enter into negotiations with the Palestinian leadership on the gradual transformation of the West Bank in the second part of the Palestinian state.
The key to this process is the setting of performance parameters and with the assistance of a trustworthy international implementation assistance mechanism moving forward as progress is documented and verified. The incentive program adding more elements of sovereignty, independence and economic development in Gaza as progress is made must be linked to advancing progress on moving the process to the West Bank. That is the essential link that will prevent the security risks in the West Bank as a result of thinking that Gaza first might be Gaza only.
It should be quite clear by now that the Palestinian people, in Gaza and in the West Bank, will not give up their aspirations to be a free people in their land. It should be clear that no people would be willing to live under siege without freedom of movement and access. It should also be clear that the time has come for Israel to launch some kind of political initiative aimed at resolving the conflict. Failure to take the initiative on a political plan toward peace is a betrayal of the Zionist dream.
The author is the 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.