Two months of bloody war have ended in a fragile remission, and it is hard to say what it was all for. It took 50 days of fighting that killed 73 Israelis and over 2,000 Palestinians –including hundreds of children — just to go back to the starting point with no real change in Gaza. And so, even as life begins to return to normal, we have no illusions that this quiet will hold for long. The next war is just a question of (short) time.
The Israeli and Palestinian people deserve a way out of this never-ending tragedy. They deserve a future where the skies are empty of rockets, where children can play without memorizing the quickest route to a bomb shelter, where they can grow up with freedom and dignity, free of fear.
But the Israeli government’s current strategy will not get us there. Our reactive wars in Gaza only make Hamas stronger, harden the Palestinian public against peace with Israel, and weaken our security. When will we learn?
The notion that we can completely defeat terrorism militarily without any political agreement, without changing the reality for the people living there, is a fool’s errand. We can and we should offer them hope: carrots, not just sticks. The Palestinian people will abandon Hamas when someone else offers them a true path to statehood.
If we are to break out of this dangerous cycle, we must attack this conflict at its roots. The time has come to put aside the excuses and enter into serious negotiations with the Palestinian Authority — not Hamas — to reach a durable peace through a two-state solution. Only then will we achieve the long-term security that we so desperately need.
Fortunately, we still have a true partner in Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who has staked his legacy on nonviolence and cooperation with Israel. He has recognized Israel’s right to exist in peace and security and spoken out unequivocally against terrorism. In return, our government has snubbed him, built more settlements and empowered his enemies. It is past time that we treat him like the partner he is, by providing him an option for a real achievement for his people.
There is now a rare opening in the Middle East for Israel to align with the moderate forces against the rising tide of extremism. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has an unprecedented opportunity to break down the walls that have divided us from our neighbors and build new alliances with the Arab world through a regional agreement.
Sadly, I am not optimistic that the prime minister will seize this moment. This month’s land grab of almost 1,000 acres in the West Bank is one of many settlement announcements with which his government has sought to bury prospects for a diplomatic breakthrough. He spurned Secretary of State John Kerry’s admirable efforts to promote a deal that was in Israel’s best interests, and he has continued to alienate our most critical ally at every turn.
Prime Minister Netanyahu has demonstrated that although he has the political power in the Knesset and the support from the Israeli people to move forward to an agreement, he does not have the will to do so.
Israelis are paying a heavy price for his intransigence. If they do not push their government to bring the peace they deserve, or elect a new one that will, then the next war is inevitable.
American Jews and other American friends of Israel also face a clear choice: You can watch silently as Israel makes the same mistakes all over again, or you can help us to change course. Don’t be afraid to speak up. Supporting peace is supporting Israel.
History has offered us a bold chance to reshape the Middle East and build the peaceful future that we deserve, if we are wise enough to seize it. It’s time for a change.
MK Horowitz is a member of the Knesset Defense and Foreign Affairs Committee and chairs the caucus for Regional Cooperation