Over the past few days Israelis, Palestinians, and the world have witnessed the unfolding of a serious and dangerous military escalation between Israel and Hamas. This crisis is a symptom of failed policies, irresponsible actions, and a lack of strategic thinking. Further escalating the violence in Gaza may deal a fatal blow to the credibility and viability of the peace process, and would erode support for the peace process among both Israelis and Palestinians. Many would argue that this is precisely what Hamas wants; we would argue that this is yet another important reason to avoid such an escalation.
Hamas knows that while its rockets can sow fear and suffering in Sderot and now Ashkelon, they cannot destroy Israel and will not break the economic blockade. Israel s military leaders know that while the IDF can achieve short-term tactical gains in Gaza, it cannot destroy popular support for Hamas or stop future rockets from falling.
Americans for Peace Now (APN) and its Israeli sister organization, Peace Now, have repeatedly expressed solidarity with the residents of Israeli communities near Gaza, residents who have suffered a campaign of Qassam rockets attacks since the Israeli disengagement from Gaza in 2005. The government of Israel has the right – indeed, the obligation – to bring these attacks to a halt, and to try to free its captured soldier, Gilad Shalit.
APN has also consistently held that Israel should avoid actions that constitute collective punishment or cause disproportionate suffering or casualties among civilians. Such actions are fundamentally wrong and ultimately counterproductive.
Lessons of the 2006 Lebanon War should not be lost here. Any realistic, sustainable resolution to this crisis will require Israel and Hamas to engage, directly or indirectly, to achieve a ceasefire or hudna. The only questions then are: how many more Israelis and Palestinians will die or be wounded in the interim; how much less international sympathy Israel will have when the ceasefire is being negotiated; how much bigger will the disaster on the ground be, both in Israel and Gaza, once a ceasefire is achieved; and how much damage will have been done to the credibility and viability of the peace process and the Israeli and Palestinian peace camps?
Such an approach has been embraced to various degrees by key Israeli security figures, including former national security advisor to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon Giora Eiland, former Mossad chief Ephraim Halevy, and former defence minister Shaul Mofaz. In the context of the current crisis, this approach has been strongly advocated by former Shin Bet head Ami Ayalon, a Minister-without-portfolio in the Olmert government.
It is especially imperative for the Bush Administration, as the main shepherd of the Annapolis peace process, to support – or at least not block – efforts to reach a ceasefire, stabilize Gaza, and re-build Palestinian national unity. It is time to at last recognize the failure of the dogmatic policy of boycotting Hamas and blockading Gaza, and replace it with a pragmatic policy incorporating support for strategic, self-interested engagement between Israel and Hamas, either through direct contacts or via third parties, including President Abbas.
The United States, and all those who support Israel and Israeli-Palestinian peace, must recognize that the current situation in Gaza, including the recent escalation, is a threat to the newly-launched peace process. In the present context, both Israeli leaders and Palestinian Authority President Abbas have little credibility with their publics as they pursue peace talks, and the peace talks themselves are widely viewed with scepticism or disdain.
As we have said often in the past, a hudna, or ceasefire cannot be an end in itself. A ceasefire or hudna is desirable as a means to halt violence and chaos in the immediate term, creating the space to facilitate improvements in the humanitarian situation, stabilize the political situation, and get the process back on track to achieve a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In this way, it can allow the sides to avoid the re-emergence of violence in the longer term. Absent improvements in the humanitarian situation in Gaza and the re-emergence of a serious, productive political process, any ceasefire or hudna risks becoming merely an intermission to allow those attacking Israel to re-arm, re-trench, and enhance their military capability.
This article is distributed by the Common Ground News Service (CGNews) and can be accessed at www.commongroundnews.org. Source: Americans for Peace Now, 2008, www.peacenow.org