What a difference a few days make. At the onset of last week, we were still embroiled in Operation Protective Edge as it approached day 50 and counting. This week? It’s ancient history.
It’s “back to normal” with a vengeance, as if everyone has erased the memory of what a Code Red siren sounds like. Even in the South, which bore the brunt of Hamas rocket salvos, residents returned to their homes.
And against all odds, on Monday we witnessed the opening of the school year on schedule, with children from Gaza border communities bearing smiles and backpacks instead of cowering in bomb shelters.
This sense of relief and renewal could not have taken place without the cease-fire that went into effect last week, the result of Hamas being pummeled into submission by the IDF. Whatever spin some would put on it, the Gaza terror organization’s appeal for an end to the fighting was the equivalent of a surrender. The “victory” celebrations in Gaza notwithstanding, it’s been well-documented how badly Hamas was damaged during the conflict and how weakened it is now.
Aside from Qatar and Turkey, it seems Hamas has suffered politically as well, with Israel being part of a as-yet secret and invisible regional alliance consisting of Egypt, Jordan, the Palestinian Authority and Saudi Arabia united against the common threat of radical Islam.
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu even cryptically alluded to such a grouping during one of his wartime evening press conferences with talk of a “new horizon” being possible in the war’s aftermath. Reports this week that Israel Security Agency (Shin Bet) chief Yoram Cohen met with PA President Mahmoud Abbas during the war to brief him on Hamas plans to stage coup in the West Bank and that Egypt is getting ready to invite Israel and the PA to Cairo for talks underscore how the ground seems to be shifting in the region.
These cracks in the status quo seem to open up a number of options for Netanyahu’s government to pursue that could be manifested through some bold and innovative moves – some that may even be taking place behind the scenes. In an attempt to end Israel’s diplomatic isolation in the region, Netanyahu could have called for convening a regional conference with US and European sponsorship to build on the momentum forged by the summer’s events. He might even have been so bold as to travel to Cairo, or Amman, or Ramallah and thank the leaders there for their cooperation. Or he could have unveiled a new plan to engage the PA in renewing the US-brokered talks that broke down earlier this year.
Yes, Bibi could have made any of those gestures aimed at exploiting the “new horizon” and reaching out to the potential partners in the region to decrease the chances that Hamas rises again But what does he do instead? The government announces that 4,000 dunams (400 hectares) of undeveloped land in Gush Etzion are being reclassified as state land in order to build a new West Bank city.
What??? Is that the strategy the prime minister came up with? Is that the “payback” he’s offering to Israel’s neighbors and the international community that gave us an unprecedented amount of time to achieve our aims in Gaza? Apparently it is, if you’re prime minister and you look around your coalition and see that you don’t have the numbers to hold it together.
When Netanyahu agreed to a ceasefire without a security cabinet vote because with ministers like Naftali Bennett and Avigdor Liberman, it would not have passed, he knew he’d have to appease them later. Rather than pursuing his “new horizon,” Netanyahu’s primary aspiration in the wake of Operation Protective Edge is apparently to stay in office.
As Herb Keinon wrote in The Jerusalem Post on Wednesday, there is method to Netanyahu’s apparent madness that prompted him to make building in Gush Etzion his first major postwar move. In order to face the pressing issues of the future of the West Bank and Gaza, Bibi must first put his house in order – both within the Likud and within the coalition – and prove that he’s as tough as “crush Hamas” ministers Bennett and Liberman.
In other words, it’s politics.
On its own, the land announcement is not that controversial. The 4,000 dunams are located just outside the Alon Shvut settlement in an area of Gush Etzion that a political consensus in Israel believes will be included within its final borders in any final-status solution.
But given the sensitivities surrounding the post-Protective Edge landscape, and the possibilities that have opened up because it, the timing of the announcement is especially vexing – not only to parties in the region and in Europe who held their tongues during the Gaza operation and enabled Israel to take care of the business at hand and received this as a payback, but to the citizens of Israel.
The move is basically saying that we shouldn’t expect from our government any vision, any new ideas or any hope that we won’t be returning to the same situation in the South and in Gaza before too long. Instead of taking the reins and exploring the newly created regional possibilities, we’re going to build a new city in the West Bank.
God love us settlers (I live in Ma’aleh Adumim) – and I hope that one day we’ll be consolidated into internationally recognized blocs that will live peacefully aside a moderate Palestinian state. But is strengthening our hold on Judea and Samaria in the most vital interest of the country right now? After 50 days of war, the people of Israel deserve a more thoughtful response than that. Instead of kowtowing to the old and worn out way of thinking that has led us to a cycle of war disguised as “operations,” the task at hand should be to work toward minimizing the likelihood of the next war, and take advantage of the geopolitical tremors taking place around us.
It’s time to put internal politics aside and set sights on that “new horizon.”