We need a re-think of Gaza

After several sporadic ceasefires stopped the bloodshed for a while, the war between Israel and Hamas in Gaza is underway with renewed force once again.

The situation is untenable for all involved – from the residents of southern and central Israel to the people of Gaza – and it is unacceptable for international leaders to do nothing if the parties themselves prove incapable of stopping the carnage.

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It’s time for a radical re-think to end this cycle of violence before hundreds more innocent people die in a conflict that both sides recognize has no military solution. A never-ending chain of missiles and airstrikes produces only death and devastation and fails to offer a sustainable resolution to the conflict.

Of course, Israel has the right to respond to threats to its civilians from rockets, terror and tunnels with force proportionate to the threats it faces. Equally clearly, Hamas, its ideology and its use of terror to achieve its aims, are disgusting and reprehensible.

However, after six weeks of violence, with 2,000 dead, 10,000 injured, 100,000 homeless and incalculable devastation in Gaza, it should be clear to Israel simply returning fire without a broader political strategy is a formula for deepening not ending the conflict.

As much Egypt deserves praise for trying to broker a ceasefire, its efforts thus far have not been successful. The breakdown of talks in Cairo means all involved – Israel, Palestinians, neighboring states and the US – must look anew for other avenues forward.

Political leadership at this challenging moment requires more than responding to rockets with force – it requires proposing viable political solutions that can be accepted by Palestinian moderates, neighboring countries and the international community.

It is time for the government of Israel to put forward a bold, comprehensive proposal for resolving the conflict and to propose a ceasefire while this is negotiated. In addition to seeking the agreement of Palestinian leaders, Israel should invest substantial effort in building support from Arab neighbors and the international community. 

A workable Israeli proposal would offer an outline of the parameters on which an independent Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza will be established – including borders based on pre-1967 lines with swaps, a Palestinian capital in East Jerusalem, mutual recognition and guarantees for the security of both states – and a commitment to a diplomatic process to achieve it within a set period of time.

It would also include recognition of the present Palestinian Authority under the leadership of President Mahmoud Abbas – as established following the reconciliation agreement among the various Palestinian parties in April – as the legitimate government of the entirety of Palestinian territory;

A third component of this plan would be international oversight, in cooperation with Israel and the Palestinian Authority, of security at the borders of Gaza, providing inspected but otherwise free movement of non-military goods and people in and out of Gaza – including by air and sea;

Finally, we need an international mechanism and fund for the rehabilitation of Gaza in exchange for a commitment to disarm all forces other than Palestinian Authority security forces.

There is no guarantee that taking the diplomatic initiative will stop the rockets. However, it would increase international diplomatic support for Israel and its right to self-defense and increase the onus on Hamas in front of its people and the world for rejecting an internationally-backed solution to the problems facing the Palestinian people and the Gaza Strip in particular.

Such a proposal demands bold leadership but the alternative is more rockets, which cannot be acceptable to anyone.

Ben-Ami is founder and president of J Street.

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