Israel has been hit with hundreds of rockets over the past couple of weeks. There is nothing new about this — Israel has been hit with thousands upon thousands of rockets for the past decade or so — except that the situation is becoming untenable. The people of southern Israel are tired of living in bomb shelters, periodically closing schools, and having to make a decision every night about whether or not it’s safe to sleep in the second story of their homes and put the bomb shelter too far away to reach should a rocket land overnight.
Before anyone says anything, I am not trying to downplay what the Palestinians in Gaza are going through. I am trying to explain how Israelis are feeling and how they are thinking. Whatever else may be said about the rocket fire, it is not ‘harmless’ at all, it is terrifying for the people who have to live through it on a daily basis. The casualty rate is low only because of the insane precautions that the population has to go through, but being under constant threat is no way for 1/5 of the country to live.
The entire Israeli public are demanding that something be done. This crosses any kind of partisan and factional lines that you could imagine. Even those who are generally in the peacenik camp have been amping-up their rhetoric. Holding an outstretched hand does not seem like a great idea when you’re being shot at. Wheat we are looking at, potentially, is a repeat of 2008/09’s Operation Cast-lead. It’s an outcome that nobody wants, but if it’s the only way to stop these attacks, it may be needed.
Well, there have been a couple of alternatives floated. Take Nervana Mahmoud, for example:
Going to war, however, is not the only option. There is potential for a political out, as some analysts advocate, including Khalid Elgindy of Brookings. A smart move would address both elements of the problem: the lack of a state that Israel can deal with and the non-state players. The solution for Gaza is two-fold, a conditional acceptance of Mahmoud Abbas’s U.N. bid in return for demanding that the Egyptians reinstate the U.N.-recognized Abbas government in Gaza and empower his security team to run the Rafah border. In addition, Israel announces its willingness to engage with the emerging Sunni alliance—Turkey, Qatar, and Egypt—to formulate a plan to dismantle Gaza militants’ military capabilities in return for lifting the siege. Such a gambit could snooker Hamas supporters into either accepting the deal, offering alternatives, or a rejection, which would make them appear to be the opponents of a political solution.
Clearly, among the different schools of foreign policy, Mahmoud falls into the ‘remedial class’. Let’s break this down item-by-item. First, Mahmoud wants Israel to offer to the Egyptians — who are led by the Muslim Brotherhood, let me remind you — that Israel will provisionally accept a UN bid that Egypt has not really expressed much investment in, in return for Egypt forcibly expelling the MUSLIM BROTHERHOOD-offshoot Hamas regime and instead installing a secular-nationalist Palestinian regime led by corrupt officials whose relationship with the Muslim Brotherhood could be best described as ‘sworn enemies who have been killing each other for years’. Do I have that right? Just checking we’re on the same page.
And then part two of this genius plan is for Israel to show that it is ‘willing to engage’ with Egypt, Turkey and Qatar. That would be the Egypt that has just decided to stop supplying Israel with natural gas, the Turkey that has just suspended all formal relations with Israel, and the Qatar that never had formal relations with Israel. Leaving Qatar to one side for a second, Mahmoud is suggesting that Israel engage with its two former allies, both of which have become increasingly belligerent towards Israel as a result of Islamist parties taking over.
I like this idea better:
Today, Hamas functions as the official political leadership of the entire Gaza Strip. The party sets both domestic policies – such as the institution of Shari’a law – and foreign policy. Just last month, Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh represented the entire Gaza population when he welcomed the emir of Qatar, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani. And the emir effectively recognized Hamas as the legitimate representative of the Palestinians living in Gaza.
Recognizing Hamas as responsible for what happens inside Gaza – which has clear geographical borders – would serve Israel’s interests. Instead of struggling to distinguish among a myriad of players – Hamas, Salafis and international jihad-affiliated terrorist groups, as well as the Gaza civilian population – Israel should view the “state of Gaza” and its Hamas government as directly responsible for any act of aggression emanating from the territory under its control. Israel’s response to such attacks would, therefore, be directed against the territory of Gaza as a whole.
It makes no sense for Israel to provide an enemy state with electricity, fuel and other goods as it currently does. This makes sense only if a fabricated distinction is made between those in Gaza who fire at Israel and the wider “innocent” population. In reality, however, the majority of Gaza’s population continues to support Hamas, which rules the entire Gaza Strip domestically and represents it internationally.
In contrast, if Hamas provides stability and prevents smaller terrorist groups operating inside Gaza from firing on Israeli civilians, Israel could reciprocate by providing fuel and electricity and keeping trade borders open.