Things shall never be the same in Gaza.
The numbers are shocking: a death toll of almost 2,000 Palestinians and 67 Israelis, over 10,000 wounded Palestinians and 674 Israelis, the destruction of over 14,000 Palestinian homes and the displacement of over half a million Palestinians, with almost 3,000 rockets shot at Israel, over a month in which businesses suffered huge loses, families’ endurance stretched to the limit, and costs of more than NIS 8.5 billion ($2.5b.).
Equally depressing are the prospects of this all being just another one in the series of bloody clashes, in between the previous and the next Israel-Hamas war. A new order is needed in Gaza, which would at the very minimum put an end to violence and provide security to both sides.
So far, the outcome that was favored by both Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon was to weaken Hamas, and return to previous agreements. The cease-fire achieved in November 2012 was meant to restore the desired quiet to Israeli cities and certain prospects for economic improvement for the people of Gaza. Netanyahu didn’t seek that arrangement because Hamas’ rule is good in itself, but because of realpolitik: if it is obliterated, then the alternative might be even worse. Already existing al-Qaida cells in the Sinai Peninsula, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria/Levant, or Gaza’s own Islamic Jihad would all readily take Hamas’ place in Gaza.
After Hamas used the previous cease-fire for rearmament against Israel instead of reconstruction for its own people, after it has repeatedly violated humanitarian and short-term cease-fire agreements during the current war, and considering its rejectionist and absolutist nature – there are very few in the Israeli cabinet that would support simply rebuilding the old order with Hamas.
Additionally, according to a Channel 10 poll from last week, only 28 percent of Israelis would like to see the war end at this stage.
Furthermore, the old cease-fire arrangement with Israel isn’t favored by Gazans either. A recent IDC poll demonstrated a huge majority of 72% for a lasting peace deal with Israel, a deal in which Hamas surely has no interest.
In any case, Netanyahu’s argument for keeping Hamas in Gaza doesn’t make much sense. If Hamas is a rapist walking freely in my neighborhood, should I negotiate a status-quo agreement with it only because it’s keeping some serial killer off the streets? Israelis and Palestinians deserve freedom, which cannot be provided under Hamas’ rule. Netanyahu’s own election promise in 2009 to topple Hamas reflected that simple truth.
The question then is how to replace Hamas with any less fundamentalist order? A third option, raised early on in the war by Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman, is for Israel to reoccupy the Gaza Strip. Whatever points Liberman gets for creativity, he loses for realism. While I don’t want to have either a rapist nor a serial killer walking freely in my neighborhood, it’s not my intention to take over it entirely myself, either. There are almost two million people living in Gaza. Before Liberman rushes to assume responsibility over the entire neighborhood, perhaps he should recall that his government failed to help its own people with the price of cottage cheese during mass demonstrations for social justice in the past.
Liberman’s more recent call for a UN mandate in Gaza is just as unserious. A UN that fails at peacekeeping in Mexico’s drug war, Syria, South Sudan or in Donbass, Ukraine, is not going to clean up Israeli- Palestinian mess either.
A fourth option is to encourage a more moderate Palestinian self-governance. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has gained international credit, also among the Israeli security establishment, for maintaining order and opposing violence in the West Bank. Even a hardliner like MK Miri Regev had said during the military campaign that Israel “should work to strengthen Abu Mazen” (Abbas). That sort of praise, however, might be the reason that Abbas is not very popular among Palestinians.
Legitimacy among his own people is essential for Abbas to take over Gaza – with or without the consent of Hamas, with or without the discrete help of the Israeli army. The only way for Abbas’ path to regain popularity is by demonstrating how it may lead to a genuine two-state solution.
The West Bank settlements enterprise and Netanyahu’s refusal to negotiate on the basis of any clear internationally accepted parameters keeps a Palestinian state a mere pipedream. And if Palestinians are only left to dream, why dream of Palestine alongside Israel under Abbas, instead of dreaming of Palestine instead of Israel under Hamas? Extending the rule of the PA from the West Bank into Gaza would not be free of risks, but would be safer than keeping Hamas there, or replacing it by either a more radical Muslim rule or Israeli occupation.
For that option to be viable, it would have to include a line of concessions from the Israeli government, too.
Moderate regional and international actors would have to (re)engage as well, and present a line of incentives of and deterrents to keep a comprehensive but also fragile and imperfect agreement with Abbas, far more endurable than any temporary ceasefire with Hamas.
The writer is the former the executive director of OneVoice Israel, a movement to empower moderates seeking a two-state solution.