International pressure is mounting on Hamas and Israel to accept a cease-fire. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and US Secretary of State John Kerry are in the region, aiming to put a stop to the current violence.
With a death toll of over two dozen IDF soldiers, over a hundred Hamas terrorists and hundreds of Palestinian civilians during the first two weeks of Operation Protective Edge, the international momentum for a cease-fire is clearly going to grow.
But unless a cease-fire plan presented by Ban or Kerry includes a mechanism that leads to the demilitarization of Gaza and its deadly minders Hamas, Israel will justifiably be reluctant to accept.
The IDF is in the middle of a large ground operation that has set as its goal the destruction of Hamas’s tunnels.
The terrorist organization has used these tunnels to try to attack Israeli communities located close to the Gaza Strip.
It would be ill-advised to halt the operation now, before achieving the goal set by the IDF and the security cabinet. Doing so would mean that thousands of families living in the towns, moshavim and kibbutzim adjacent to Gaza would continue to live in fear. Pulling our troops out now would mean squandering a rare opportunity. Our soldiers are already inside Gaza Strip; at the very least they should be allowed to finish the job. Only ground troops can locate and destroy these tunnels.
But while focusing on the short-term, and admittedly limited, goal of destroying the tunnels adjacent to the border, our leaders should be looking ahead to longer-term goals, the most important of which is the gradual demilitarization of the Gaza Strip.
Plans like the one touted by Kadima leader Shaul Mofaz includes elements that are worth exploring by those international interests trying to broker the ceasefire.
The plan calls for the international community to oversee the demilitarization of the Gaza Strip using the same system that is successfully ridding Syria of chemical weapons. In return, Arab countries and the international community would provide the Palestinian Authority with $50 billion to rehabilitate refugee camps and build the Gaza Strip.
Obviously, this cannot be achieved overnight.
Not unlike Israeli foreign policy that over the years has raised international awareness of the Iranian nuclear threat, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and others in the government should be spearheading a campaign to garner support for and involvement in the demilitarization of Gaza. There will be no quiet until it is demilitarized. The flare-ups of Gazan attacks every several months will continue. As soon as Hamas is forced to give up its arms, peace will reign, because Hamas aggression is the source of the conflict.
The demilitarization of Gaza is not just an Israeli interest.
Each time Israel is forced to carry out an extended military operation in response to rockets aimed at Israeli civilians, and cross-border terrorist attacks and kidnappings, thousands of Palestinian civilians inevitably suffer the consequences. Neutralizing Hamas’s military abilities would remove one of the many destructive forces operating in the region inspired by a violent and reactionary interpretation of Islam.
Egypt has an interest in a demilitarized Gaza Strip.
Hamas has been involved in deadly attacks on Egyptian forces in Sinai. And Egyptian antipathy toward Hamas is an extension of the war that President Adel Fattah al-Sisi is waging against Hamas’s ideological ally, the Muslim Brotherhood.
The gradual demilitarization of Gaza might also facilitate the increased political influence of the more moderate Fatah leadership.
Egypt is interested in placing Palestinian Authority forces in charge of the Sinai-Gaza border crossing at Rafah. This might be the first step toward the return of Fatah to political prominence in Gaza.
So while the short-term goal of Israel must be to strike a severe blow to Hamas’s military infrastructure and destroy as many tunnels as possible along the border, the end game must be the gradual demilitarization of the Gaza Strip. Until that happens, the chances of achieving a long-term peace are very slim.