Israel has alternatives to this war

This war can end and the next one can be avoided by lifting the siege, allowing for imports and exports in and out of Gaza, relieving the pressure on the civilian population, and then embarking on a genuine effort to reach a fair compromise with the Palestinians.

This operation feels different from previous escalations. A ceasefire may come soon, but we could also be heading for a long period of violence and instability. Another escalation will not be limited to Gaza: the West Bank saw its largest protest since the Second Intifada last night, with two killed by army fire.

This round of violence should also be understood in the context of regional turmoil. The Palestinians were the only ones not to revolt during the Arab Spring, due to their unique circumstances under Israeli occupation. But one could see Gaza – especially if events spill over to the West Bank – as “the Palestinians’ turn” in the revolution. The Israeli-Egyptian alliance also points to the fact that Israel is no longer a bystander but party to the fighting taking place in the region.

Israel was, however, never a passive observer. It is the regional superpower and has the support of the world’s superpower. At any given moment, the Israeli leadership can choose from various policy options. This was the case following the kidnapping and murder of three Israeli teens, the escalation that preceded the military campaign, and this is also the case now.

I would like to discuss a realistic alternative, along with its cost and risks.

Funeral for the 26 members of the Abu Jame’ family, who were killed the previous day during an Israeli attack over the Bani Suhaila neighborhood of Khan Younis, Gaza Strip, July 21, 2014. Reports indicate that 18 of the 24 killed were children of Abu Jame’  family. (Basel Yazouri/Activestills.org)
Funeral for the 26 members of the Abu Jame’ family, who were killed the previous day during an Israeli attack over the Bani Suhaila neighborhood of Khan Younis, Gaza Strip, July 21, 2014. Reports indicate that 18 of the 24 killed were children of Abu Jame’  family. (Basel Yazouri/Activestills.org)

A new policy must begin with a different strategic goal. The current Israeli goal is “peace for peace,” meaning a return to the status quo in exchange for an end to the military campaign. For Gaza, this means continued siege. As I wrote here before, Israel treats Gaza and the West Bank as a couple of open air prisons that occasionally get out of control; the goal of the military operations is to restore order. This is a policy that is supported by the Israeli opposition, which is sometimes still referred to as “the peace camp” but nevertheless supports all the wars.

An alternative strategic goal should include lifting the siege in the short term and reaching a fair and stable compromise with the Palestinian people in the medium to long term. I use the word “compromise” here because there won’t be a “solution” in Israel/Palestine that will end politics and history. Jews and Palestinians will continue to compete and cooperate on this land for the foreseeable future. But as long as maintaining the status quo remains the Israeli goal, the violent military campaigns, with all their horrors and losses on both sides, are an inevitable consequence.

There is no way around this. The “peace for peace” formula doesn’t work because the occupation is not peace. So what the Palestinians are getting is “a little less war for peace.” For this reason, the current war with Hamas is not an effort to “strengthen the moderates” and to “facilitate peace,” as some claim, but rather an alternative to peace.

The nature of this compromise should also be understood in a different way. This is much more important than the one state/two states debate. If the compromise must include the current assumptions of Israeli policy – that Israel should have veto power over Palestinian politics, over candidates and winners; that Israeli citizens should enjoy 100 percent security throughout the process and beyond; that Palestinians should accept the Zionist narrative and give up their own; that Israel will be able to dictate certain assets that it would retain for itself, from religious sites to strategic territories – if all this is to continue, then there is no solution, nor will there be one. Again, it’s worth mentioning that most of the Israeli “peace camp” never relinquished those demands, therefore its support for peaceful compromise cannot be taken very seriously.

If the strategic goal is indeed a compromise or a solution, Israelis must realize that they won’t be able to control Palestinian politics or the Palestinian economy, and that one should be prepared for the possibility of some casualties along the way. On the other hand, it’s not that we don’t have casualties now. The status quo offers endless rounds of violent escalation. Some of them will be cheaper for Israel in terms of human lives, and some more expensive. A compromise, on the other hand, will not guarantee complete security, but it does present a certain opportunity for a much better future.

Soldiers and relatives mourn at the grave of Israeli Sergeant Banaya Rubel during his funeral on July 20, 2014 in Holon, Israel. Sergeant Rubel was killed along with another Israeli army soldier on the 12th day of operation ‘Protective Edge,’ when Hamas militants infiltrated Israel from a tunnel dug from Gaza and engaged Israeli soldiers. (Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)
Soldiers and relatives mourn at the grave of Israeli Sergeant Banaya Rubel during his funeral on July 20, 2014 in Holon, Israel. Sergeant Rubel was killed along with another Israeli army soldier on the 12th day of operation ‘Protective Edge,’ when Hamas militants infiltrated Israel from a tunnel dug from Gaza and engaged Israeli soldiers. (Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

Israel can end the fighting now. For that, it can agree to lift the siege on Gaza. Egypt could, in theory, do that by opening the Rafah crossing, but ultimately it will not replace Israel. The siege is an Israeli policy, and Gaza is a Palestinian issue linked to historic Palestine.

Lifting the siege can take place in stages. Israel can open the ground crossings for people and goods immediately, since it supervises them anyway and could prevent the import of weapons. There should be no problem in allowing exports from the Strip and the movement of people in and out – two things Israel banned, save for unique cases. Naturally, Israel should also allow Gaza’s civil servants to be paid. Preventing the transfer of funds for their salaries is something that contributed to the current escalation.

Israel should also recognize the Palestinian unity government and encourage the strengthening of its authority all over the occupied Palestinian territories. This is in Israel’s interest too, and I never quite figured out why the government opposes it.

Once a ceasefire has been reached, the Palestinian Authority and Israel should quickly agree on a mechanism for allowing sea and air travel to and from Gaza. This is where Israel can demand international guarantees or the presence of some third-party monitors. It can also ask for international forces to be present along and around the border of Gaza. This could help deal with the tunnels issue that Israel is concerned about.

This is in the short term. Hamas already signaled that such measures would lead to a long-term ceasefire. More than anything, these terms would ease the suffering of the Gazan population, which should be on everyone’s mind. Naturally, such measures would not provide complete security guarantees for Israel; such guarantees do not exist. This is where we return to my previous point: If one is not ready for the risks involved in the potential collapse or violation of agreements, no agreement will be possible at all. The de facto meaning of such a position is support for the status quo.

At the same time, it is worth remembering that agreements are not always bound to collapse, and history is full of examples of diplomatic measures that succeeded. Some violations are inevitable, but the conflict can gradually take on a non-violent form.

For such a ceasefire agreement not to lead to another round of war, it must be accompanied by an immediate effort to reach a full-scale compromise; one that would end the occupation and touch all core issues, including Jerusalem and the refugees. As we learned in Oslo, interim agreements that are turned into permanent arrangements are a problem in and of themselves, and can, in fact, lead to further violence.

I will not go into the one state/two states/confederacy debate here. It should, however, be remembered that all these options include certain security risks and, more importantly, the Jewish public would need to give up considerable assets. In the two-state solution these are territorial assets. In the case of the one-state solution it means sharing state institutions and symbols, and the redistribution of land.

The alternative to those arrangements is not only the status quo, but perhaps a return to full Israeli control of the West Bank and Gaza. Even if Hamas is defeated and the previous order of things is restored, the Palestinians will return to fighting for their independence once they recover. The Palestinian Authority will not be able to do Israel’s police work for much longer – the Palestinians will topple it or they will force it to support the uprising, and then Israel will destroy it.

This is the choice we face as Israelis. The price of a compromise is undeniable, there are certainly risks involved, but it’s not an impossible challenge. Israel is wealthy and powerful, and has the support of the West; those challenging it are divided and isolated. It remains unclear how many of these circumstances will exist in the future.

Related:
Why do Palestinians continue to support Hamas despite such devastating losses?
This is a war of choice. Netanyahu’s choice
Why I object to this military campaign, even as missiles fall on my city

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