Israeli Justice Minister Tzipi Livni recently stated, "The Palestinian public will need to choose between those who can give them a better life, and those who cannot."  This statement, while true, ignores Israel’s role in shaping the Palestinians' fate.

With an indefinite ceasefire holding between Israel and Hamas, the focus must now shift to next steps.  Long-needed Palestinian elections, to be administered by the new reconciliation government, seem far from realization.  But actions taken now by Israel and others could dramatically affect future Palestinian electoral results, if and when such elections occur.


This latest round of violence in Gaza followed a pattern laid down long ago.  Fire is traded on both sides; indirect negotiations work toward a long-term cease-fire; Israel and Hamas both claim victory and enjoy the relative quiet while they prepare for the next predictable clash.  There is nothing new, except for further technological advancements on both sides--Hamas rockets that continue to extend their reach into Israel and increased effectiveness of Israel's Iron Dome missile defense system.

While the rockets flew, the world saw once again that there is no military solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. When will the Israeli government learn that lesson?

Israel has the right to defend itself, and we should support its actions to keep its people safe.  But it needs also to consider the big picture.  Each airstrike triggers calls for revenge and breeds the next generation of jihadis willing to give their lives for Hamas.  Each explosion drowns out the Palestinian hope for a free, independent state--yet another assist for Hamas, a group that thrives on despair.

Ultimately, Operation Protective Edge played to Hamas' strength, which was significantly diminished beforehand.  This is not surprising, as even Israel knows that such events create an atmosphere where an organization that brings its people nothing but misery is hailed as the standard-bearer of the resistance while moderates seem impotent by comparison.  The terror group reaped similar rewards after Operation Pillar of Defense and the Gilad Shalit prisoner exchange--yet Israel's own patterns of behavior remain unchanged.

Adding to Hamas’ public relations success are reports that Israel has agreed to some loosening of its economic stranglehold over the Gaza Strip, including the opening of more border crossings and an expansion of the fishing limit.  While an easing of the blockade is certainly welcomed, concern must be expressed for the message the timing of such acts will send.

Israel constantly, and rightfully, states that Hamas is a terrorist organization with which it cannot do business.  Yet look how it treats Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who supports a two-state solutionrecognizes Israel's right to exist, and is committed to nonviolence. For all of his efforts and the West Bank security forces' cooperation with Israel, all Abbas has to show for it are more settlements.  Whereas, in Hamas’ case, being dedicated to Israel's destruction will garner more gains from its declared adversary.

This is a terrible message to all Palestinians--that there is more to be gained from rocket barrages than peace talks. Anyone committed to Israel's long-term security as a Jewish, democratic homeland should advocate the exact opposite.

The clear fact is that Palestinian hopelessness ultimately aids Hamas. Israeli leaders should bear this in mind every time they launch an airstrike on Gaza or issue a new housing tender in the West Bank.  Hopelessness fuels terrorism and helps Hamas find new recruits.

Now that Gaza and Israel are returning to calm, Israel should use this opportunity to be proactive rather than reactive in an effort to break the cyclical violence and create a diplomatic off-ramp.  

Now is the time to urgently address the underlying issues of the conflict.  This ceasefire represents an opportunity to shift the odds back in favor of a two-state solution.  Israel must remember Abbas is not Hamas.  Israel can and should take action now to bolster the Palestinian president, so that as the smoke fades in Gaza the choice for a peaceful, prosperous Palestinian future is clear.

The next Palestinian elections may currently be beyond the horizon, but no one should be fooled into thinking that they aren't being shaped before our eyes.  And whenever that electoral race is in its homestretch, let us hope that Israelis who wish for peace did all they could to put the wind at the back of their Palestinian partners.

Berkman is a Government Affairs associate and policy analyst at J Street.