To restore peace in Gaza, Israel and international community must step up

To restore peace in Gaza, Israel and international community must step up
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Being prime minister of Israel always has been a tough job, requiring risky decisions daily that affect the security of the Israeli people and the survival of the Jewish state. David Ben Gurion took a leap of faith when he declared independence in 1948. Levi Eshkol bet everything on one card with a preemptive strike during the Six-Day War in 1967. Air force pilots engaged in a daring mission 37 years ago when Menachem Begin ordered the raid on Iraq’s nuclear reactor.

Nonetheless, when they believed there was hope for peace, these leaders showed courage by extending their hands toward enemies. Such was the case with the Camp David Accords and subsequent treaty with Egypt (Menachem Begin), the Oslo Accords with the Palestinians and the agreement with Jordan (Yitzhak Rabin), and the withdrawal from Gaza and northern Samaria (Ariel Sharon). Benjamin Netanyahu undertook what Secretary of State Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonBiden to debate for first time as front-runner Top Trump ally says potential Amash presidential bid could be problematic in Michigan Chaotic Trump transition leaks: Debates must tackle how Democrats will govern differently MORE called an “unprecedented” move to freeze settlement construction.

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Fast forward to today’s unique challenge of Gaza. Life for Israeli civilians in border communities has become intolerable — fires, underground tunnels and terrorist infiltration attempts. Hamas’s eco-terror has scorched over 7,400 acres of land, obliterating its wildlife. Firebombs and rockets fall on kindergartens, and many Israelis are well acquainted with bomb shelters. The success of a ceasefire in the works comes down to Hamas’s desire to maintain it.

 

Thirteen years ago, Israel disengaged from Gaza, uprooting homes and cemeteries so it would not rule over 1.8 million Palestinians. Some even hoped that the Strip would become the Singapore of the Middle East. But today Gaza is governed by terrorists: a branch of the Muslim Brotherhood, Hamas brutally grabbed power from the Palestine Liberation Organization that leads the internationally recognized Palestinian Authority (PA).

Tactically, Hamas shows flexibility when it sees an opportunity to improve its standing. But it remains uncompromising ideologically and its strategic goal is immutable: the annihilation of the Jewish state. Hamas’s unwillingness to accept the Quartet’s conditions (recognizing Israel, renouncing terror from Gaza and the West Bank, and honoring past agreements), coupled with its cruel refusal to repatriate two intellectually disabled Israeli civilians and the bodies of fallen soldiers, is evidence of the group’s unchanging nature.

Israel undoubtedly could retake Gaza militarily but has other considerations. It wants to avoid collateral damage to civilians. And it is not Israel’s job to determine for the Palestinians who will lead them. Israel would be unable to provide health, education and welfare services to a hostile population.

Additional malign forces are at play. The Iranians wish to drag Israel into a Gaza operation that would force Israel to divert its attention from Iran’s entrenchment in Syria. This would fortify the Islamic Republic’s land bridge to the Mediterranean and provide a launchpad for attacks against Israel. Iran’s leaders know that a Gaza-Israel war would damage the Jewish state’s international standing, thereby weakening the impact of its efforts to combat Teheran’s quest for regional hegemony, and its fight to preserve the failed JCPOA. That’s why it’s pumping money into Gaza, pushing Hamas and Islamic Jihad into action.

Israel is concerned by Gaza’s humanitarian situation and facilitates the transfer of thousands of trucks of goods a week. While financial aid has flowed to the Strip, unemployment remains high, and power and water shortages are part of daily life. Where does the money go? Hamas invests it into strengthening itself and weapons factories.

The PA has delayed its payments of salaries to Gazan workers and prevented the transfer of payment for utilities necessary to the Strip. This is Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’s policy of punishing Hamas for refusing to accept a reconciliation agreement that would have required turnover of arms, border control and other instruments of power. So bitter is the internal Palestinian dispute that the PA refuses to support Israeli and American efforts to address Gaza’s humanitarian problem.

There are potential solutions to this situation.

Israel continues to explore arrangements that would restore peace along the border and improve the lives of Gazans. The cabinet meets regularly, and has suggested the construction of an artificial island off Gaza’s coast, a designated port in Cyprus, and support for generous aid packages that the United States and other international players are promoting. The Israeli government would do well to make its policy in this regard loud and clear.

Moreover, we need stepped-up involvement by the international community, led by the moderate Arab states; Egypt could take the reins. This would involve the carrot-and-stick approach — using sticks against Hamas and offering carrots to the Gazan population.

Finally, countries interested in improving the situation must condition their donations to Gaza with its demilitarization. Hamas cannot continue to be rewarded with generous funds. Money and commodities must reach civilians, not those involved in the industry of death.

Only when these three goals are met can we relieve the suffering of both Israeli and Palestinian civilians and put off — if not prevent — the painful campaign that Hamas and its Iranian backers seek.

Lior Weintraub is vice president of The Israel Project and the former chief of staff at the Israeli Embassy in Washington. He is a lecturer on diplomacy and communication at the Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya in Israel.