Israeli armored personnel carrier (APC) near the border with the Gaza Strip..
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Last Sunday the sirens sounded again in Sderot. Fortunately no one was physically hurt. We were as fortunate as we were thousands of times before, when rockets from Hamas and other militia groups in the Gaza Strip missed their targets.
The missile shot at Sderot this week is a painful reminder of opportunities missed by Prime Minister Netanyahu and of how dangerous and volatile Israel-Gaza relations are.
Two years ago, on August 26, Operation Protective Edge finally came to an end. For more than seven weeks during which the threat of rockets also reached Tel Aviv. The IDF’s soldiers fought bravely inside the Gaza Strip while the Iron Dome missile defense system ensured the safety of Israelis in the homeland against dozens and hundreds of daily attacks.
The army and Israel’s citizenry bravely and resiliently held strong during the last war. There is no strategic sense in having them shoulder the burden of the next one and the one after that. In any case, a war that paralyzes the economy and sows fear among the citizens for two months is traumatic.
What worsens the trauma is that despite the high toll in human life and infrastructure, the war ended indecisively.
As always, there were plenty of ideas on the table. An Israeli initiative was envisioned by the Center-Left for disarming the Gaza Strip and replacing Hamas at its borders with security forces of the Palestinian Authority, as a result of a regional summit that would also rekindle peace talks with the Palestinian leadership based on the 1967 borders. The far Right, on the other hand, envisioned the reoccupation of Gaza.
However, all the “regional opportunities” that Prime Minister Netanyahu mentioned at the end of the war have remained unrealized.
Two years after the war it is safe to say that Netanyahu had neither a strategy for waging war nor one for leading to peace.
Gaza today is rapidly descending into a severe economic and environmental crisis.
Hamas is arguably experiencing its worst financial situation since it took over in 2007, and Qatar’s recent transfer of over $31 million for Gaza’s public sector employees did not even meet the need in that area. Gaza also faces a severe water problem. Only last month congressmen from both houses sent a letter to Defense Minister Liberman and Minister of National Infrastructure, Energy, and Water Steinitz urging a sustainable solution for the supply of electricity to the water purification facility, the absence of which would have severe health and environmental consequences on both sides.
While scoring some points as far as popularity in the West Bank is concerned, Hamas has very little credit among the people it governs in Gaza. The scars of the last war are still heavily felt, relations with Egypt are at a historical low, and the reconciliation process with rival Fatah is in abeyance.
Furthermore, Hamas’s greatest achievement – the release of 1,047 Palestinian prisoners in exchange for the release of IDF corporal Gilad Schalit – was overshadowed by the rearrests of many of the Palestinians shortly before the last Gaza war began.
Ahead of the municipal elections that are planned for October in both the West Bank and Gaza, Hamas might want to steer the blame toward Israel rather than face domestic criticism and electrical losses.
While the aftermath to the latest missile fired at Sderot appears to have been contained, all these conditions can easily escalate into another war with Gaza. Hamas is rearming, rebuilding its trenches and digging tunnels under Israeli towns, villages and kibbutzim.
Netanyahu and Liberman once made empty promises, such as that they would bring down Hamas and assassinate its prime minister, Ismail Haniyeh, if he does not release the Israelis he is holding (Avera Mengistu and Hisham al-Sayed and the bodies of two soldiers, Hadar Goldin and Shaul Oron). Now they are silent.
Hamas should be totally isolated – internationally and mostly particularly on the regional level. It should also be brought down to the low estimation among the Palestinian public that it held prior to the last Gaza war, with favorability a mere 25%.
At the same time, Palestinians need a better alternative than Hamas and violence.
As is well known by now, there are no shortcuts and the path to historic compromises with the moderate Arab and Muslim world can be achieved only by making tangible progress with the Palestinian leadership in Ramallah in the framework of a two-state solution.
Netanyahu and Liberman, however, are only concerned with solutions that maintain the status quo. Two years after the war, Israel is slowly losing the defensive edge that the army gained and which the government had squandered in vain. The two men holding the three most senior offices of defense, foreign and prime minister desperately try to manage reality.
To prevent the next war, Israel needs a leadership that will work to change that reality, secure Israel and guarantee its existence as a Jewish and democratic state.Amir Peretz is a member of Knesset for the Zionist Union, and a former defense minister, deputy prime minister and chairman of the Labor Party. During Operation Protective Edge he served as minister for environmental protection.He lives in his hometown, Sderot.