How to ensure a sustainable cease-fire

The war between Israel and Hamas was asymmetric but their attitudes toward the root causes of the war are similar.

Hamas deputy political bureau chief Ismail Haniyeh (L) and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. (photo credit: REUTERS)
Hamas deputy political bureau chief Ismail Haniyeh (L) and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
At the time these lines were written an open-ended cease-fire between Israel and Hamas had entered into force and was still holding. The two sides were set to conduct indirect talks in Cairo under Egyptian mediation. The war between Israel and Hamas was asymmetric but their attitudes toward the root causes of the war are similar.
It’s easy to explain the asymmetric character of the war, which lasted longer than anyone expected. Israel was fighting an irregular army or militia – in fact terrorist organizations according to the international community – embedded in the civil population in Gaza. In such a war, Israel could not crush the enemy militarily without inflicting unacceptable casualties on innocent Palestinian civilians and suffering increasing losses among its own soldiers.
The government was warned by the military that this would happen if the ground incursion had gone deeper into the Gaza Strip.
The asymmetry is reflected in the casualty figures, with the majority of the Palestinians casualties being civilians, with a high number of children and women. On the Israeli side, 90 percent of the losses were soldiers, many of whom died due to tragic errors. Hamas is the main responsible party for the Palestinian casualties because of its reckless policy and its refusal to accept the first Egyptian proposal on 14 July for a cease-fire.
The guns have at last been silenced. Now is the time to evaluate the decision-making during the war and to reconsider Israel’s policy toward Hamas and the solution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The recent decision by the State Comptroller to launch an inquiry into the decisions on both military and political levels, including Israel’s compliance with international law, is to be welcomed. As an independent supreme audit institution, its forthcoming report will be considered credible.
Anchoring the cease-fire in a political framework would help prevent it from unraveling as fast as its predecessors. It should be stressed that one of the few remaining friends of Israel is the European Union. Its foreign affairs council met in Brussels on 21-22 July and outlined the well-known elements of a viable two-state solution. In the resolution, taken unanimously, EU demanded that the terrorist organizations in Gaza should be disarmed and condemned them for using civilians as human shields. The decision was welcomed by the Israeli ministry of foreign affairs.
Both Palestinians and Israelis need hope in a better future. This requires a restart of the peace process and for negotiations to take place in good faith, without any obstruction by either side. The best way for Israel to undermine the current support for Hamas among the Palestinians would be to engage in serious peace negotiations with the Palestinian Authority.
However, both Israel and Hamas seem entrenched in their respective positions, each side putting demands without considering the legitimate demands of the other side. Both sides need to learn the lessons from the war and reconsider their attitudes to each other.
Israel is of course concerned about its security and demands the demilitarization of Gaza. Giving in to Hamas’s demands is seen by Israel as rewarding it for rocket attacks against Israel. Hamas is interested in lifting the blockade, opening the crossings and ending the isolation of the Gaza Strip.
Agreeing to any Israeli demands for disarmament is seen by Hamas as defeat.
Hamas was elected in 2006 on promises to fight corruption and improve the economic conditions in the Gaza Strip.
Instead it focused on “resistance” and has been sacrificing the population in Gaza for a hallucinatory goal in the future. Israel has refused any contacts whatsoever with Hamas because of its terrorism and non-recognition of Israel and imposed a blockade on Gaza. This policy has obviously not worked since it resulted in three wars with increasing death tolls on the Israeli side.
Israel seems to be counting on the Palestinian Authority or the Palestinian national reconciliation government to become involved in controlling the crossings and even ruling Gaza instead of Hamas. However, it’s not likely that they will step in as a kind of a watchdog for Israel without getting anything in return.
Nor is it likely that the international community will be willing to finance the reconstruction of Gaza without guarantees that Israel won’t destruct everything again in next war which is likely to erupt after a few years if the root causes to the conflict aren’t addressed.
If the cease-fire holds, it should be an opportunity for Israel to revisit its policy and offer Hamas a comprehensive deal which it cannot reject without losing its support among the Palestinians and any sympathy it may have gained abroad. This seems also to be the recent advice by the Israeli military to the politicians.
While the war united all Israelis, it didn’t bridge the political divide in the country.
We’ll probably see a lot of political wrangling and disagreements about the conduct and outcome of the war and Israel’s future.
However, a majority of Jews in Israel and around the world continues to support a two-state solution which will preserve Israel as a Jewish and democratic state.
The author is a former official in the European Commission where he worked in DG Enlargement as policy coordinator for public administration reform in the candidate countries.