From Gaza to comprehensive peace

The Quartet can play a key role in talks on the future of Gaza in the framework of a full-scale Israeli-Palestinian peace.

The Quartet can play a key role in talks on the future of Gaza in the framework of a full-scale Israeli-Palestinian peace. (photo credit: REUTERS)
The Quartet can play a key role in talks on the future of Gaza in the framework of a full-scale Israeli-Palestinian peace.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
THE RECENT war in Gaza was the third in seven years. Hamas has not collapsed and the price it exacts from Israel gets higher from round to round.
It is an asymmetrical struggle in which the weaker party, Hamas, makes gains simply by hurting the stronger party and eroding its self-image. It’s not the fundamental balance of power that counts, but rather the relative achievements of the weaker party that determine the outcome.
In the current campaign Hamas’s achievements are unprecedented: the closure, albeit for only a few days, of Ben-Gurion International Airport; more of Israel under rocket attack for a much longer time; underground tunnel warfare introduced into the Israel-Arab conflict for the first time. And despite Israel’s best efforts to sever the connection, the Hamas-Fatah political alliance held up. Moreover, Hamas continued to enjoy broad support in the West Bank.
The connection between the Palestinians in the West Bank and those in Gaza is founded on shared history. Most of the Gaza Palestinians are refugees from the 1948 Israel-Arab war from Jaffa and Beersheba and the area in between. Some of their families fled to the West Bank. After 1948, what had been a single sociopolitical region for hundreds of years was split into different political units. But in Palestinian consciousness and from a Palestinian social point of view, it remained a single geographical space. There is no “Gazan identity” separate from that of other Palestinians. Optimally, therefore, any political solution for Gaza should include the West Bank.
The cease-fire was achieved through persistent Egyptian mediation, which so far has suffered from three cardinal limitations. For one, it focused on urgent issues the parties involved cannot solve on their own. Even if they wanted to, Egypt, Israel and the Palestinian Authority could not raise the capital for the rehabilitation of Gaza or manage a project of such huge dimensions.
Secondly, the ambitious agenda for the next round of Cairo talks scheduled to resume next month includes issues that go well beyond a cease-fire. For example, the demilitarization of Gaza from offensive weapons is clearly a permanent Israeli-Palestinian peace treaty issue.
It is inextricably bound to the basic issue of sovereignty, that is to the limited types of weapons a Palestinian state will be allowed to have, and the international mechanism for monitoring its adherence to the agreed weapons’ limitation terms.
In other words, as long as the sovereignty issue is not resolved, there can be no full and effective demilitarization of Gaza. The same goes for the sea and airports, which Hamas insists be operated without Israeli control. And the question of sovereignty is not restricted to Gaza – but applies to all the land captured in 1967, including, of course, the West Bank.
Third, while the three participants in the talks, Egypt, Israel and the Palestinians, have common borders and mutual interests, there was no international mediator helping to strike a balance or skillfully guide the Israelis and Palestinians toward a comprehensive peace deal. The international system’s representation at the Cairo cease-fire talks was at far too low a level to make a difference. The small amount of progress made suggests that things should have been done differently.
First, the international Quartet (the US, EU, Russia and UN) could and should have played a role in the mediation at the highest level, on the understanding that it would remain fully involved in Gaza’s rehabilitation.
It’s not too late. The Quartet can play a key role by building a second broader negotiating tier for talks on the future of Gaza in the framework of a full-scale Israeli-Palestinian peace.
In late August, just before the cease-fire came into effect, PA President Mahmoud Abbas and Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal announced a joint plan to get the UN to set an expiry date for the Israeli occupation, to be followed by the establishment of a Palestinian state in the 1967 borders with East Jerusalem as its capital. This shows the Hamas leader is ready to accept the principle of a Palestinian state limited to the 1967 borders and the use of international intervention, rather than violence, to achieve it.
The Quartet is well-placed to exploit the current international and regional climate to present the parties with principles for a permanent peace and a limited timeframe for talks it would undertake to mediate.
Once agreed, it could bring both tiers to the UN for Security Council approval, creating a new binding resolution for Israeli-Palestinian peacemaking. 
Menachem Klein, a political science professor at Bar-Ilan University, is a member of the 2003 Geneva Initiative. His latest book just published is ‘Lives in Common: Arabs and Jews in Jerusalem, Jaffa and Hebron’.