At the end of an awful summer, after 50 days of war between Israel and Hamas, the need for a viable Israeli-Palestinian partnership could not be clearer.
Israel must and will always fight tenaciously, courageously, wisely and with the unified backing of most of its populace against the violent challenges of states and semi-states, like Hamas’s Gaza, that seek our destruction. But our nation would much rather not have to live by the sword if attaining a more peaceful reality were possible, and it’s hard to envisage the country continuing to flourish practically and psychologically if a relentlessly violent future is all we have to look forward to here.
Likewise, those Palestinians who care more about better lives for their children than worse lives for ours have a stake in crafting a new, sustainably tranquil reality.
More specifically, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, summing up the achievements and lessons of Operation Protective Edge at a press conference last Wednesday and in TV interviews over the weekend, spoke with remarkable candor about the limits of force — the inability to utterly defeat a terrorist organization such as Hamas, rooted among a fairly supportive civilian populace, without sustaining immense losses and subsequently taking responsibility for a conquered, hostile population. Far better, if at all possible, to create a climate in which a moderate Palestinian leadership could assert and maintain control.
More specifically, too, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas learned from Israel in the course of the conflict that Hamas, even as it talked “unity” with him this spring, had been plotting to engineer his downfall. He also saw, and commendably spoke out against, Hamas’s ruthless and despicable sacrificing of Gazans’ lives in the cause of its ideological war against Israel.
So, (much of) Israel internalized that it could not “smash” Hamas without terrible losses and consequences, and Abbas internalized (even if his people did not) that Hamas is the enemy of the Palestinians and an ongoing threat to his rule. Plainly, Netanyahu and Abbas should have plenty of constructive talking to do. In short, the interests of both their peoples require that they try again to partner in a genuine, joint endeavor to forge a better future.
Conditions are anything but favorable. We’ve all been down the diplomatic road so unproductively and so often. The only credible mediator, the United States, is deeply discredited. Its good intentions may not be doubted; its capacity to understand what is required, to communicate effectively, to use the requisite leverage to attain progress — these and other brokering basics are unclear.
What’s more, Netanyahu’s Israeli public — watching Islamist radicals making gains in many parts of the region, and most notably just across the border in Syria right now, and having realized to its cost that Hamas was far more dangerous an enemy than previously thought — is in no mood for high-risk territorial compromise. As for Abbas’s Palestinian public, well, it isn’t Abbas’s at all: During the war, one Palestinian poll found 89% of Palestinians backing rocket fire at Israel; another survey, published Tuesday, found overwhelming support among the Palestinians for the Hamas model of armed resistance to Israel.
And the two leaders themselves are making things worse.
It’s simply self-defeating for Israel to be redesignating more West Bank land for settlement building immediately after a war in which Abbas has shown himself one of the good guys on any relative scale. The international community will always protest settlement construction, but the move automatically discredits those dwindling numbers of Palestinians who believe in a land-for-peace, two-state equation. That concern should have outweighed the potent counter-argument that the land involved is in the Etzion Bloc, territory Israel insists in retaining in any peace deal, and significantly near to where Israeli teenagers Naftali Fraenkel, 16, Gil-ad Shaar, 16, and Eyal Yifrach, 19, were kidnapped and killed on June 12.
And it’s counterproductive for Abbas to be again trying to strong-arm Israel into agreeing to full Palestinian sovereignty on a fixed timetable, backed by the threat of anti-Israel lawfare and diplomacy. Abbas’s forces were violently removed from Gaza in hours by Hamas in June 2007; Hamas was plotting against him right now in the West Bank. He cannot easily dismiss Netanyahu’s declared fears of an Islamist takeover were Israel to relinquish overall security in the West Bank. Indeed, instead of preparing to demand that the last vestiges of an Israeli presence be gone within three years, as his new diplomatic initiative reportedly envisages, Abbas should be working with Netanyahu for an ongoing security partnership that would ensure both Israel’s well-being and his own capacity to survive in the face of Islamist challenges.
For the thousandth time, there are no quick fixes to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. A changed reality requires changing what gets taught in Palestinian schools, broadcast in Palestinian media and preached in Palestinian mosques, to gradually encourage the growth of a Palestinian populace aware that the Jewish nation has sovereign legitimacy in this part of the world. It requires effective international engagement, including to replace or reform UNRWA, an organization which perpetuates and deepens, rather than helping to alleviate, the Palestinian refugee problem.
Israelis — who have faced down conventional war and suicide-bomb assaults by those seeking to annihilate this country, who have seen the bloody consequences of internationally urged unilateral withdrawal, and who now grapple with rocket attacks, terror tunnels and international demonization — will not be easily persuaded to take new territorial risks for peace, but they have ultimately proved willing to make far-reaching compromises. They’d much rather have their sons live for their country than die for it.
Israel, it should be recalled, was revived on the basis of a two-state solution. It’s the subversion of that goal, in which a new Palestine is established on a basis that constitutes an existential threat to Israel, that we insist on preventing.
Netanyahu has been repeating with insistent vagueness in recent days that he glimpses new diplomatic “opportunities” for Israel. Abbas is telling anyone and everyone that he wants to return to the diplomatic process. It’s a long and likely treacherous road ahead, but we’re overdue for the first step. As this summer’s 50-day Israel-Hamas conflict bloodily underlined, there’s really no alternative.