History repeats itself.
This trite refrain rings true for followers of the Gaza-Israel conflict, which has seen three full-scale Israeli operations against Hamas since 2007.
The first two operations followed a basic structure defined by Hamas rocket fire, Israeli airstrikes, a ground invasion and an internationally brokered ceasefire. Each took a serious human toll on the densely populated Gaza Strip and brought a few years of relative tranquility to Israel’s civilian population.
The latest operation, Protective Edge, seems poised to abide by this same format. As the IDF fights Hamas and other terrorist organizations in the streets and tunnels of Gaza, the world rightfully continues to push for an immediate end to hostilities, just as in years past.
Today, Israel, America and the Arab World stand at the crossroads of two beaten paths: another ceasefire with Hamas or an occupation of the Gaza Strip. But neither of these options alone can stem the tide of violence between Gaza and Israel.
Instead of solely brokering a ceasefire, they must seize on this veiled opportunity to attempt progress where Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations failed: through sustainable, long-term strategic arrangements. Such limited arrangements, albeit improbable, are the only hope of exiting the cyclical violence that takes such a toll on both sides of the border.
In Israel, a Knesset member and former IDF Chief of Staff, Shaul Mofaz, has proposed a long-term strategy for ending the cyclical violence between Gaza and Israel.
The Mofaz plan, endorsed by outgoing Israeli President Shimon Peres, calls for international aid in demilitarizing the Gaza Strip and $50 billion to the Palestinian Authority over five years for infrastructure, welfare, education and other rebuilding efforts.
In turn, Israel would slowly relinquish its blockade and stranglehold of Gaza’s borders, which have halted Gaza’s economic growth contingent on Israeli security guarantees by the international community.
Despite its creativity, there are clear obstacles that will likely kill such a plan.
Firstly, it requires acceptance from Hamas, an organization whose charter calls for the destruction of Israel and whose raison d’etre is armed resistance. Especially after Hamas rejected a ceasefire agreement with Israel, acceptance of demilitarization seems like a pipe dream at best.
Secondly, demilitarizing Gaza would require unhampered inspections and an enforcement mechanism that Israel could trust. International inspectors, perhaps UNMOVIC, would need protected access to much of Gaza to ensure that terror groups do not stockpile rockets. Hamas may not provide that access or protection.
Thirdly, guaranteeing Israeli security might require a peacekeeping force, but could not be staffed by the commonly provided and underprepared UN troops from Rwanda, Nepal and Bangladesh. Reluctant peacekeepers from advanced militaries would be needed on the ground, as well as rigorous oversight of each dollar spent to ensure that funds are not diverted to terrorism.
Finally, the Mofaz plan would necessitate tacit recognition of Israel by Hamas and sufficient Israeli confidence that Hamas would lay down its arms. In the Levant, trust is a scarce commodity purchased with the sword, not the pen. Would Israel be willing to reward Hamas and risk signaling to others that terror buys international aid?
So, the peace-for-prosperity deal seems dead on arrival. But its improbability should not condemn it as a tool for international policymakers. Limited plans like Mofaz’s demilitarization might provide the U.S. a window of opportunity to pursue peace where comprehensive plans continue to fail.
Hamas will probably reject the deal and its calls for demilitarization. But with unemployment over 30 percent, doing so will come at a heavy price of political capital. Should Hamas forfeit the $50 billion, Gazans may turn further toward moderate Abbas and Fatah, laying the seeds for future peaceful engagement.
If Israel, the U.S. and its Arab partners choose the familiar path of ceasefire alone and forgo long-term strategy, Hamas will inevitably rearm. As economic and political tensions in Gaza rise, Hamas will again target Israeli civilians with its growing cache of Grad, Fajr-5 and other rockets. Israel will retaliate, and the lethal cycle will perpetuate.
If Israel instead occupies all of Gaza in an attempt to rout Hamas, the human and political toll will be tremendous. Along with IDF and Palestinian deaths, a weakened Hamas may embolden more radical groups in Gaza, like Islamic Jihad, to assume power, and incite Lebanon’s Hezbollah to get involved.
Neither of these solutions are optimal or sustainable, but neither is the status quo. During his trip to Israel and the West Bank, Secretary of State John Kerry has called for an immediate ceasefire, but also a “sustainable process going forward.”
Let us hope that Kerry’s trite refrain is reflected in long-term policy proposals and not just rhetoric.
Contact A.Z. Gordon at [email protected].