There has been so much analysis written about this summer’s war in Gaza — why it got started, how it was conducted, under which conditions it could and should be brought to a conclusion, and who were the winners and losers. So much complexity, so many moving parts, and what is there left to say?
At times like these, I generally try to return to the basics. Following the collapse last April of the John Kerry-led peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians, and now in the wake of Operation Protective Edge, the question no doubt will be asked — what is left of the vision of two states for two peoples? I don’t know if we are further away from reaching it, or, potentially, closer. I do know that there is no sensible alternative, and the parties, with U.S. and international support, have to keep trying again and again.
I also know that Hamas absolutely is the biggest enemy of the two-state solution, and the most serious obstacle not only to security for residents of southern Israel, but also to a better future for the Palestinian people. To be pro-Palestinian is to be anti-Hamas, pure and simple.
Hamas can declare victory all it wants. But the reality is that a number of senior Hamas leaders were killed in the war along with hundreds of its operatives, a good part of its rocket arsenal was depleted, and dozens of tunnels under Israeli territory dug strictly for the purpose of committing terrorism were destroyed. Of course, Hamas will maneuver to use the period ahead to rearm for the next confrontation. It launches rockets not for the purpose of lifting the blockade of the Gaza Strip but to kill as many Israelis as possible, while using Gaza civilians as human shields to garner international sympathy.
The international community legitimately expressed deep concern for the suffering of Palestinian civilians this summer. In the wake of the war, that concern now should be translated into efforts to continue weakening Hamas’ capacity and influence, working toward demilitarization, and strengthening those Palestinian leaders like Mahmoud Abbas committed to non-violence — credit the Palestinian Authority for an effective job of keeping the lid on in the West Bank — and to a negotiated peace with Israel. Gaza’s rebuilding should be carried out with these objectives clearly in mind.
Abbas now appears poised to “internationalize” the Palestinian-Israeli situation by going to the United Nations and the International Criminal Court. Just as the Unilateral Declaration of Independence (UDI) at the UN several years ago did not generate progress toward a conflict-ending agreement, this initiative will fail to do so as well. Palestinians should have their state; Israel, to remain Jewish and democratic, needs this. But it can only be achieved through a direct negotiation with Israel. Palestinian statehood ultimately must run through Jerusalem, not New York or Geneva.
Regional dynamics have made Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states, with the notable exception of Qatar, supporters of a more constructive approach. They understand the real threat to stability comes from a hegemonic Iran and the rise of radical Sunni terror groups like Hamas and ISIS. With creative U.S. diplomacy, they can be enlisted as important partners for security cooperation and peacemaking. Prime Minister Netanyahu sees this opportunity. At a recent press conference he declared that a “reorganization” of Middle East forces offers a “possible diplomatic horizon for Israel that holds within it new possibilities for our state.”
Israel can and must make an essential contribution here as well. This means not just reacting negatively to Abbas’ international gambit, but taking its own initiative to help bolster and accelerate economic development in the West Bank and handing over expanded control to the Palestinian Authority, consistent with its fundamental security requirements. This will underscore to Gaza-based Palestinians the advantage of rejecting Hamas’ path of death and destruction.
Then there is the question of Israeli settlements, the issue that probably more than any other, rightly or wrongly, has cast doubt, even among Israel’s core supporters, about Israel’s bona fides in pursuing a two-state outcome in negotiations. According to last year’s Pew Research Center survey, only 38 percent of American Jews expressed the belief that Israel was making a sincere effort in the peace process, while 48 percent believe this is not the case. This is a sobering statistic, and the fact that even fewer believe in the sincerity of Palestinian intentions provides little solace. As hard as it might be to imagine, especially given the makeup of Israel’s governing coalition, consider the positive impact a policy of restraining settlement activity would have in the current environment. To be clear, such a policy should not be initiated simply to address the growing skepticism among American Jews. It is necessary to preserve the two-state option, a Zionist imperative.
This is an agenda that won’t be particularly pleasing to the hard left or right. But it is one around which the pragmatic center can coalesce, both in Israel and here in the American Jewish community.
Martin Raffel recently retired as senior vice president of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs and now consults for the organization. He is now serving as an adviser to the Israel Policy Forum.