Encountering Peace: Strategic errors and challenges

Will our own leaders demonstrate the same dangerous extremist tendencies of our neighbors in Gaza?

Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal arrives in Gaza 370 (R) (photo credit: Mohammed Salem / Reuters)
Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal arrives in Gaza 370 (R)
(photo credit: Mohammed Salem / Reuters)
I still believe, quite strongly, that the decision to assassinate Ahmed Jabari and wage war in Gaza was a strategic error. Without the war in Gaza Israel could have achieved a long-term cease-fire arrangement that would have been better than what we now have. Instead of strengthening the pragmatic trends in Hamas, we gave the most radical elements in Hamas a platform and removed any chance of the pragmatists coming to the fore. That explains the shift in Khaled Mashaal’s position from a few weeks ago when on CNN he talked about non-violent resistance and a Palestinian state in the 1967 borders.
Ahmed Jabari, as I have said in the past, was not a man of peace, but he was emerging as one of the primary pragmatists in Hamas. Starting with the Schalit negotiations, Egyptian intelligence began investing a huge amount of time, effort and resources to influencing Jabari to adopt a more pragmatic attitude toward life and leadership. According to Egyptian intelligence officers and backed by my own assessment, the Egyptian plan was working. Now, the pragmatic camp in Hamas has been killed along with Jabari and the Gaza war. Now Israel faces a whole new set of strategic challenges that place Israel in direct danger and, God forbid, expose Israeli citizens to new risks of increased Palestinian violence.
The Gaza war strengthened the most radical forces within Palestinian society, not only in Gaza, but also in the West Bank. The pressure on Palestinian Authority chairman Mahmoud Abbas to reconcile with Hamas has now increased. Hamas-Fatah reconciliation at this time is the opening of the door to Hamas takeover of the PLO and the West Bank.
Reconciliation would be the death blow to the moderate camp in Fatah and in the West Bank. Without a significant diplomatic achievement that builds on the UN bid by Abbas, the demise of the moderate leadership in Fatah will occur rapidly. The rise of the power of the extremists endangers Israeli-Palestinian security cooperation which has brought an end to terrorism and will also lead to an early end to the cease-fire in Gaza.
These are the strategic challenges facing Israel and the moderate Palestinian leadership. This is what needs to be done by both sides now:
Israel to Gaza: Hamas says no recognition of Israel, no peace with Israel, fine. Palestine is from the river to the sea, from the north to the south. That’s what you want, Khaled Mashaal? Palestine is now a recognized state. Gaza is a liberated part of Palestine – from the north (of Gaza) to the south, from the sea to the border of Israel. The UN declaration and the changes brought on by the Egyptian revolution have now liberated Gaza from Israel.
The Rafah border with Egypt is open. There is no occupation any more. The siege is off. Gaza is free.
Mashal, go negotiate with the Egyptians, not with Israel. Rafah should be an international border between the Palestinian state in Gaza and Egypt.
But Mashal and Hamas don’t want this because they know that Egypt has decided to end the smuggling of weapons through Sinai. Hamas wants a border where they can continue to smuggle weapons, not building materials and food. Egypt has begun to take responsibility for its own security and interests by ending the smuggling of weapons in Sinai. Now Egypt has promised the United States that, with US assistance, it will end the smuggling.
Israel should announce that Gaza has two years from today to take care of its own electricity, water, food and economic needs. In two years from today, the Israeli-Gaza border is closed and nothing will come to Gaza from Israel. It is time for the leaders of Gaza and the people of Gaza to provide for themselves. No recognition of Israel, no peace with Israel, that is fine with Israel. Go trade through Egypt, use El Arish, Port Said, whatever, not through Israel which your leaders seek to destroy.
In two years Israel will not sell you electricity – that is enough time to set up a power plant or several power plants, solar, wind, whatever. It is not Israel’s responsibility. Water – two years is enough to build 10 desalination plants around Gaza.
Money – get it from Iran or the Saudis or whoever, spend your money on water, not weapons. Food – import it from Egypt or Africa or wherever – not from Tnuva and Strauss.
Israel has absolutely no obligation to provide anything for Gaza or its people. Israel has no territorial claims on any part of Gaza. Israel left Gaza, now it’s yours. If you use it to attack Israel, you will not have a single day of quiet.
Abbas-Gaza: Instead of reconciliation, Abbas and the PLO leadership need to ensure that the West Bank becomes the basis for a real viable Palestinian state.
First of all Ramallah should cease the payment of 70,000 Gazan salaries. Ramallah should stop paying for electricity, water, health and welfare in Gaza. Enough of providing Hamas with a regime of luxury. Hamas must now take full responsibility for governing Gaza. The reuniting of the West Bank and Gaza can only take place in the future, when there is a regime change in Gaza undertaken by the Palestinian people and when Israel concludes a full peace deal with Abbas.
Israel-Abbas: Israel must make peace with Abbas and the Palestinian state. The peace treaty must indicate that Gaza is part of the deal, but that the treaty will be implemented in Gaza only when the regime in Gaza accepts its terms. If not, Gaza will remain a separate territory, run by Hamas.
If we make real peace with Abbas and offer it to the people of Gaza, too, the people of Gaza will have to make the choice, the offer will be there for them to accept or reject. Israel has no obligation to anyone committed to its destruction.
Israel should make an offer to Abbas that he can’t refuse. It would be in Israel’s best interest to be generous and fair – it will provide Israel with the biggest gains and cut the process short – empower the moderates who are extremely weak now, and be the best answer to Khaled Mashal and the Hamas fanatics in Gaza and other places who only seek our destruction.
Israel made the mistake of once again empowering the extremists in Gaza at the expense of the moderates and the pragmatists. If we don’t advance peace with Abbas, the West Bank and Gaza will enter the reconciliation process between themselves which will lead to the empowerment of the extremists in the West Bank and a new round of violence which will lead to the full reoccupation of that territory.
That may be the plan of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and his right-wing buddies. If it is, God help us all because the price we will all pay will be very bloody.
There is an alternative and its price is known. The time to act is limited – perhaps a few months after elections, and then the stability and calm that we have known for the past few years in the West Bank will be replaced by the gradual but sure escalation to the next round of violence. Will our leaders be wise enough to avoid that or will our own leaders demonstrate the same dangerous extremist tendencies of our neighbors in Gaza?
The writer is the co-chairman of IPCRI, the Israel Palestine Center for Research and Information, a columnist for The Jerusalem Post and the initiator and negotiator of the secret back channel for the release of Gilad Schalit.