On Tuesday Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon stated directly that the government of Israel had decided in setting its goals for the Gaza war to leave Hamas in power in Gaza, returning to the status quo that existed prior to the last round of violence. This should not be news to anyone. He further stated that other options were considered and ruled out, such as reconquering Gaza and conducting a regime change and on the other side strengthening Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to enable him to take control of Gaza. He said that these options were ruled out because of the “price tags” that they carried.
What he didn’t say, but I will, is that the Netanyahu government decided to leave Hamas in control of Gaza in the knowledge that Hamas and Fatah had agreed to establish a national reconciliation government (supported by both sides but without Hamas or Fatah representatives in the government) because then Netanyahu’s government would see itself free from any pressure, domestic or international, to negotiate an end to Israel’s control over the Palestinians and the territories of the West Bank and Gaza.
Before the reconciliation government came into being Netanyahu said that Abbas and Fatah were not partners because they only controlled half of Palestine. After the reconciliation government was created, Netanyahu said that Abbas was not a partner because he had a government supported by Hamas.
The problem of no partner is not just on the Palestinian side; Netanyahu has consistently demonstrated that he is no partner to a deal for Israeli-Palestinian peace.
Now, after the Gaza war and after Abbas has made it clear that without clear terms of reference to end Israel’s control over the Palestinian territories he will not return to negotiations, Netanyahu took the liberty of completely ignoring the two-state solution in his UN speech. He apparently believes that it is possible to bypass the Palestinian leadership and to make a coalition with other Arab states in the region that share some of Israel’s threat perceptions regarding Islamic terrorist groups like Islamic State (IS). In Netanyahu’s UN speech he said that Hamas equals IS. Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman and other members of the Netanyahu government have said that Abbas equals Hamas. So now it seems that the logical conclusion is that Abbas equals IS. If this is the perception of Netanyahu and his government regarding the Palestinian leadership he will find no partners in the Arab world.
Israel will never achieve any real and public cooperation from Arab states, even Egypt and Jordan with which Israel has peace treaties, without agreeing to end Israel’s control over the Palestinians. As much as some of those states would like to join a coalition with Israel on various issues, security and economic developments among them, this will not happen while Israel continues to expand settlements, continues to control all of Jerusalem and prohibit the formation of a Palestinian state.
Even though Abbas’s UN address included several false accusations and used words which had no place in such a speech, he still remains Israel’s best chance for breaking out of the deadlock of relations in the region. A regional coalition of security and stability based on Israel, Jordan and Egypt, with Saudi Arabia and the Emirates in the outer circle, can only exist if Abbas is included in the inner circle.
That four-party coalition for security and stability can also be the basis which provides the support for the reconstruction of Gaza through the national reconciliation government headed by Abbas and supported by Hamas and Fatah. This coalition could be seriously strengthened and have the Saudis and the Emirates brought into the inner circle if Netanyahu and his government would accept the Arab Peace Initiative as the basis for advancing Israeli-Palestinian peace. The creation of the regional coalition for security and stability would assist Israel and the Palestinians in resolving some of the more contentious and difficult issues – mainly concerning security arrangements and dealing with Jerusalem. The international community would also find it easier to assist with the process both politically and financially if the regional coalition for security and stability were to be established.
The proposal for the creation of a possible Palestinian- Jordanian confederation could also be developed within the framework of the regional coalition for security and stability. That confederation would provide better security for all of the members of the coalition than the creation of a totally independent Palestinian state. The economy and security of a Palestinian-Jordanian confederation would be more secure than those two states separately, particularly when backed within the coalition.
There are many additional ideas and proposals that could be raised and developed within the framework of the regional coalition for security and stability. The only way that this basic idea will be launched, however, is if the Israeli government takes the political initiative to launch it. Netanyahu has spoken about new opportunities that have developed in the region.
He has not specified any details of what those opportunities are. He did not provide any hope, vision, or concrete plans of any kind in his UN speech. True, the UN is probably not the right venue for that – but he is coming home from the US, and the Knesset is the right place for the prime minister to present some kind of political initiative – a plan, something that has the chance to change Israel’s geo-strategic reality.
In the absence of a new Israeli political initiative, the reality created after the Gaza war is one that will place Israel at greater risk and expose it to more attacks against its basic legitimacy. Israel has left Hamas in power. Hamas has more support among Palestinians now than it did prior to the war. The chances of new outbreaks of violence – as we see in Jerusalem already and in the West Bank, will continue with increasing intensity. Continued settlement activity, such as in Silwan in Jerusalem and in Gush Etzion, without any positive political movement in the region will increase the aggressiveness of the boycott and sanctions campaigns against Israel. These are not empty warnings – it is happening and will continue to happen.
It is possible to make an immediate about-face by launching a new and bold political initiative that will embrace the regional partners and have them embrace Israel as well. The price tag remains ending Israel’s control over the Palestinian people and allowing them statehood. This price is probably too high for Netanyahu to pay which means that in its absence Netanyahu, who led Israel into a war to preserve the status quo in Gaza, will try to do the same vis-à-vis the West Bank. The problem is that there really is no such thing as “status quo” in the Middle East of 2014. If it doesn’t get better, it will get worse.
The author is the co-chairman of IPCRI, the Israel Palestine Creative Regional Initiatives, a columnist for The Jerusalem Post and the initiator and negotiator of the secret back channel for the release of Gilad Schalit. His new book Freeing Gilad: the Secret Back Channel has been published by Kinneret Zmora Bitan in Hebrew and The Negotiator: Freeing Gilad Schalit from Hamas by The Toby Press.