It is time to open the diplomatic toolbox to find a different way to deal with the Gaza Strip.Gaza is an enemy territory run by a terrorist organization that refuses to recognize Israel’s right to exist and is constantly re-arming itself for the next round of violence. There are 1.8 million people living there who are cut off from the world and completely dependent on Israel for food, water, electricity, medicine and more, and yet Israel’s influence in shaping the future of Gaza is next to zero. Even allowing billions of dollars of international aid to enter Gaza will not prevent the next round of fighting, which will almost certainly bring about further destruction that will then require an additional round of international aid, along with all of the international condemnations of Israel’s military actions.
See the latest opinion pieces on our pageThis cycle of absurdity has led some Israeli policy makers to consider the possibility of entering into a long-term cease-fire with Hamas as the only possible course of action to break the cycle. More probably, a long-term cease-fire with Hamas without a political process aimed at ending the Israeli-Palestinian conflict will only delay the next round of violence, while Hamas increases in power and legitimacy in Palestine and around the world. Others propose the reoccupation of Gaza, damning Israel to once again send tens of thousands of our young people to patrol and police a resistant and violent population. The cycle must be broken and a new modus operandi needs to be employed. The goal for Israel and its allies, including the Palestinian Authority, must be the decommissioning of weapons in Gaza and the return of Gaza to a unified Palestinian polity under the rule of those interested in making peace with Israel, not destroying it. This reality must be seen through the prism of the common regional threats in Islamic State, Muslim Brotherhood, al-Qaida and other jihadi groups in the region. The empowerment of Iran through the recent international agreement also re-opens the door to renewed cooperation between Tehran and Gaza – another threat to Israel and its neighbors.Gaza must be placed on the table of the region as a problem that Israel and its moderate neighbors have a common interest in confronting. The pre-condition for raising Gaza to the regional agenda is a renewal of a genuine and credible engagement between Israel and the PLO led by Mahmoud Abbas. Additionally, Israel needs to finally recognize the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative as a basis for moving forward in dialogue and peace seeking with Israel’s neighbors.Israel’s announcement of its acceptance of the Arab Peace Initiative as a basis for moving forward should be coupled with Israel’s proposal that the issue of Gaza be taken up by the leaders of the Arab League (Saudi Arabia, UAE, Oman, Kuwait, Bahrain, Egypt, Jordan and Palestine – possibly including Morocco and Tunisia as well).The stated goal of this proposal must be explicit and announced by Israel: the return of Gaza to the authority of the PLO (Palestine), the decommissioning of Gaza’s weapons and the inclusion of Gaza into the future recognition by Israel of the State of Palestine, predicated on a negotiated peace treaty between Israel and Palestine.Article 3a of the Arab Peace Initiative states: “ensuring the security for all the states in the region” – this is fully applicable both to the State of Israel and the state of Palestine and should be emphasized by Israel when it announces its agreement to base negotiations and relations on the Arab Peace Initiative. In all previous permanent-status negotiations between Israel and the PLO, the Palestinians admitted willingness for their state to be “non-militarized.” Palestinians have said that having a Palestinian army would be a self-defeating proposition because it would not able to protect itself from any advancing army – Israeli, Jordanian or any other, and therefore it would be a great waste of the limited resources that Palestine would have to invest in the welfare of its people. This is exactly the opposite of what Hamas has done with its massive investments in rockets and tunnels, which have been not only at the expense of their people but have led directly to the destruction of Gaza. The only real protection that the future state of Palestine will be able to provide to its people is through its entry into a security pact, first with the State of Israel, and secondly through a regional framework for security, stability and economic development including Israel, Palestine, Jordan, Egypt and the Gulf States.The first step toward the recognition by Israel of the state of Palestine is through ensuring the decommissioning of Gaza’s weapons and the redeployment of PA security forces in Gaza, either with the integration of Hamas security personnel (who accept the new formula) or the total decommissioning of those personnel who refuse to be part of the Palestinian security apparatus.The only possible way of contemplating this kind of plan becoming a reality is through the application of the Arab Peace Initiative by Israel and the joint Israeli-Palestinian call to the Arab League to organize a Palestinian-led multi-national (primarily Arab based) force to Gaza. The plan must include advancing agreements for the full end of the siege on Gaza including the establishment of a seaport for Gaza (with agreed security protocols for inspection) and eventually the reopening of the Gaza International Airport. The plan must include the full reintegration of the Gaza economy with the West Bank and the opening of Gaza to the rest of the world – in both directions. There is a lot of room for Egyptian participation and support for this initiative because of the common border with Israel and Gaza and the security threats faced by Egypt in Sinai.This proposal may sound far-fetched to many but the only alternative to it that I have heard from serious people is the option of the long-term truce with Hamas, and I can’t think of anything less in the interest of Israel and the Palestinians who support a two-state solution than that, or Israel’s reconquering and reoccupation of Gaza, and I can’t think of anything more foolish than that.There is a lot of room for genuine cooperation between a State of Israel seriously willing to make peace based on two states and the Palestinian leadership willing to make peace with Israel, especially regarding the quagmire of how to deal with Gaza. With all of the difficulties involved, an Israeli-Palestinian-Arab joint move on Gaza would be an excellent strategy for confronting broader regional threats that are common to all of those states involved.The author is co-chairman of IPCRI, the Israel Palestine Creative Regional Initiatives, a columnist for The Jerusalem Post and the initiator and negotiator of the secret back channel for the release of Gilad Schalit. His book Freeing Gilad: the Secret Back Channel has been published by Kinneret Zmora Bitan in Hebrew and in English as The Negotiator: Freeing Gilad Schalit from Hamas by The Toby Press.