The annual Haaretz Peace Conference has sparked a lot of thoughts this week, along with all of the regional and international developments concerning our future. So this week’s column will address several.
1. The electricity crisis in Gaza, accelerated by Israel’s decision to reduce the amount of electricity Israel sells to Gaza because the Palestinian Authority refuses to continue to foot the bill and basically enable Hamas, as it has for the past 10 years, to run a cost-free government, brings Gaza closer to the brink of a major humanitarian crisis.
Gaza’s two million residents are suffering because of internal Palestinian division and because Hamas is more interested in staying in power than the needs and interests of its people. Attempts in the past by dissidents in Gaza were crushed by Hamas’s brutal forces. The overwhelming majority of Gaza’s residents never identified with Hamas’s ideology and today Hamas has fewer supporters than ever.
During the decade since Hamas’s armed forces took control of Gaza, at each point that public pressure in Gaza was on the rise against the Hamas government, the situation on the ground escalated and Israel was targeted in order to unite the people against the common enemy. Israel managed each time to fall into the trap, which led to three wars. Hopefully Israel’s decision makers will be wise enough not to fall into the same trap this time around.
There are four conceivable ways to bring about regime change in Gaza. The best is for there to be a genuine peace process which will lead to the end of Israel’s occupation in the West Bank and the establishment of a Palestinian state there. In that scenario, Gaza would be (in the peace treaty) part of the Palestinian state, but only when the regime that controls Gaza agrees to the terms of the agreement – including the security aspects of the treaty. Gaza would in fact become part of the state of Palestine.
That could have the potential motivating power to bring about public revolt against the refusal of Hamas to bring peace to Gaza.
The second way is for Israel to make a decision to that in the next war Israel will reoccupy Gaza, kill and arrest all Hamas leaders and spend months, maybe years rounding up all of the weapons, destroying tunnels and bunkers, etc. It will probably take years and be very costly, both economically and in terms of human lives, including Israel soldiers and civilians.
The third way is for there to be a public Palestinian uprising against Hamas. The best way to enable that to happen is for it to be clear to the Gaza public the benefits that will come from regime change. Here Israel could be offering the “carrots” in public now, stating that Gaza’s economy would be reopened, Gazans would be allowed to travel, to work in Israel, to trade with the West Bank and beyond, etc.
Incentives need to be spelled out clearly by decision makers in Israel so that people in Gaza can visualize how much better their lives would be if Hamas no longer ruled Gaza.
The fourth way of bringing about regime change begins with Israeli acceptance of the Arab Peace Initiative as a basis for peace, with Israel then calling on the Arab League to send an Arab-led force to retake control of Gaza. The force would be composed of Palestinian Authority forces, Egyptian, Jordanian and Saudi forces, combined with smaller contingents from other Arab countries. Those forces would take control of Gaza and eventually return Gaza to the control of the Palestinian people as part of the implementation of the Arab Peace Initiative.
2. The word “peace” has come back after years of being a four-letter word. Trump has gotten Israelis and Palestinians to once again talk about peace, negotiations, confidence building measures and possible American peace plans. Very few people, on either side, believe peace is really viable, mainly because they believe that there is no partner on the other side. A small majority of Israelis and Palestinians still support the idea of the two-state solution, but most of them don’t really think that peace is possible.
Politicians in Israel still fear that talking about peace will result with losing votes, so they speak about separation, or annexation of land but not people. Most Israelis still do not think about the Palestinians as neighbors and conceptualize future relations based on cooperation across borders. Most Israelis see the Palestinians only in terms of being a “demographic threat.” Most Israelis and Palestinians see the failures of the past agreements and negotiations as proof that peace is not possible and that the other side is not interested in peace.
Israelis and Palestinians are totally convinced that while they want peace, the other side clearly does not. Both Israelis and Palestinians believe that the other side does not and will not recognize their rights for self-determination and statehood. Both sides believe that the risks outweigh the possible benefits. Israelis are afraid of giving control to the Palestinians and do not believe that Israel will be safe if there is a Palestinian state with sovereignty over its territory. The fear of peace has led to the failure to be willing to negotiate all of the issues which would enable peace to emerge.
There must be a differentiation made between reaching agreement and signing treaties and the process of implementation. There is no more room for an open-ended, gradual process without endgame decisions being made. That is totally different from determining that the implementation of the agreement would last over years and must have builtin benchmarks of performance with external monitors verifying implementation before additional risks are taken on throughout the implementation period. These benchmarks would include from the outset education for peace, removing incitement, building joint security mechanisms, etc. But none of that will be possible without agreement on borders, Jerusalem and the future of the Palestinian refugees.
3. The Arab boycott of Qatar is a fascinating development which has direct impact on Israel and the Palestinians. The Qatari issue confronts the two main strategic threats facing Israel’s Sunni neighbors and Israel as well – Islamic terrorism and Iran.
The Arab actions against Qatar send a clear message to the Muslim Brotherhood around the region, Hamas, Islamic State, Iran and its allies Syria and Hezbollah. This Arab coalition has also strengthened the hand of President Mahmoud Abbas and his Palestinian Authority. It should be a clear signal to Israel about the power of future regional alliances.
But it should also be 100% clear to Israel that the price tag on closer direct Israeli association remains advancing ending the occupation and allowing for the Palestinian state to exist.
The author is founder and co-chairman of IPCRI – Israel Palestine Creative Regional Initiatives www.ipcri.org.