Though there is not yet a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas (at the time of this posting Israel has accepted a ceasefire to begin at midnight tonight, but Hamas has not affirmed it), conversation is beginning about this war’s causes and roots, about the nature of Hamas and its conflict with Israel, about what the Palestinian Authority’s role in Gaza ought to be going forward, and what possibilities remain for moderation, co-existence and peace.
This conflict is complex and long-standing, but there is no confusion in Israel about Hamas’ anti-Semitic and fundamentalist rejection of the Jewish state, nor about Hamas’ extremist ideology and intent to kill Jews, to place Palestinian civilians in harm’s way and then to use their deaths and injuries as fodder in its media war against Israel.
What is ultimately at stake for Israel and the Palestinians is which side will succeed in shaping the agenda between them. Will Israel and those Palestinians with an interest in co-existence and moderation be successful in empowering more moderate forces in the region to support an agreement on a two-state solution, or will Hamas’ fundamentalist and violent extremism dominate and thereby assure continuing war, death and suffering on both sides?
Hamas’ identity and goals are straightforward and simple; to shift the Palestinians away from secular moderation to fundamentalist ideological extremism. The Israeli government came to the conclusion that the destruction of Hamas is only possible (and not necessarily assured) if Israel were to reoccupy Gaza and be willing to sacrifice a thousand or more Israeli soldiers and even greater numbers of Palestinian civilians. The Israeli cabinet voted unanimously not to do so and to withdraw its ground troops from Gaza before the last ceasefire.
The other alternative is to encourage moderate political forces within Israel and the Palestinian community to set the agenda that will lead to a negotiated two-state settlement.
Avner Inbar of Molad, a Jerusalem progressive think tank, explains in the article below how Israel played the war according to the interests of Hamas and not according to the interests of Arab moderates. He discusses why he believes that Prime Minister Netanyahu took the actions he did following the kidnapping of the three Israeli teens, why he misled their families and the Israeli public about when he and the Israeli government knew they had been murdered and the actual identity of their murderers, and how the conflict escalated when it might not have had to have happened in the first place.
Israel and moderate Palestinians need to reboot after a ceasefire is attained, and get back to the negotiating table with the support of the United States, the Arab League and the Quartet.
I have included below not only Inbar’s article from The Nation but a piece written by former US Ambassador to Egypt and Israel, Daniel Kurtzer, from The Washington Post.
“How Israel’s Shriveling Peace Camp Failed the Public - We must overcome our chronic failure to offer a clear and unified narrative on Israel’s strategic crisis.” By Avner Inbar, Nation Magazine, August 7, 2014
“Peace in the Mideast will come only with international help” – by Daniel Kurtzer, The Washington Post, August 8, 2014