The destroyed home of a family in Gaza.
The destroyed home of a family in Gaza.

By: Harry C. Blaney III

The number of Palestinians killed has passed 1,400 and, according to press reports, most are women and children. Israel has also sustained approximately 56 military and three civilian casualties. There is a growing global feeling that the fault of all this violence lies with both sides. The most recent development is a pending series of Cairo talks on a cease-fire. Perhaps this might lead to some kind of longer term arrangement.

Neither Hamas nor Benjamin Netanyahu have clean hands. None of this was necessary if both sides had been serious and open to Secretary Kerry’s peace talks or to his efforts to institute a ceasefire. And – had the Israeli government not expanded its massive illegal settlements on Palestinian land and forced civilian families from what had been their homes for generations – the PLO might not have withdrawn from the peace process.

But, if Hamas had given up its calls for the destruction of Israel, if it had not used the people in Gaza as tools of war, had not stockpiled and used its rather inaccurate missiles, or had refrained from building tunnels into Israel there might also have been a different outcome. After 24 days of brutal conflict, Hamas has rejected a ceasefire without guarantees to an end of the blockade of Gaza.

This, though, was a self-destructive response to Israel’s wrongheaded decision to close off Gaza from the rest of the world. Implementing such trade and personal travel restrictions on the movement of citizens in Gaza is something that is rarely seen in a civilized world. In many ways, the only possible outcome was a bloody conflict. Israel should have known this if it was ever serious about peace and a two-state solution.

And that is exactly the point. Many observers of the peace process believe that Prime Minister Netanyahu has never really supported the “two state solution” – the only fair and realistic solution that will bring peace to the area. Recent reporting today has Netanyahu talking about Gaza’s need for “social and economic relief” from the draconian Israeli-imposed isolation.

Yet the question remains: is this simply a defensive response to the world’s denunciation of Israel’s brutal attacks on civilian sites? It has been reported, after all, that Netanyahu has called up 16,000 additional reserves to add to the fight. If there is no ceasefire, the only result will be added casualties on both sides, mostly innocent civilians in Gaza. Like Putin in his attack on Ukraine, which is supported by most Russians, Netanyahu has support in polls of the majority of Jewish citizens for his aggressive actions.

The irony of all this is that Israel is a democracy and Hamas is a militant group. Hamas is part of a larger Palestinian entity that has recognized Israel and has shown that it is willing to negotiate. Hamas, though, seems to care little for Palestinians’ welfare. Its foolish actions to attack Israel show the level of desperation among the Palestinian people who are living in an isolated and closed-off strip of land. No society should have to invite such an onslaught when there are other choices. But Israel, with its settlement policies, has made other choices for accommodation almost impossible for the Palestinians.  But, would Israel have accepted these other choices that include a true two state solution? That is what people are now asking.

This was, as we say, a war of choice – not necessity. The underground tunnels were supposedly the reason for the indiscriminate killing and also elimination of Hamas militants’ missiles. However, there were less destructive and less deadly ways of assuring the destruction of tunnels. And Israel – with its intelligence and drones – could have been much more careful with its bombing of civilians. In the end, Hamas also must stop firing rockets. There needs to be some kind of destruction or “de-militarizing” of these rockets as part of any longer-term agreement.

Sadly for Israel, what remains clear is that the stupidity and blindness of its right-wing leaders has caused the most damage. Their assaults and other shortsighted actions have inevitably placed Israel in an even more dangerous long-term security position than it was at the beginning of the conflict. If there is a path to peace despite all of these road-blocks it will be via a settlement supported by the Arab states, Turkey, the U.S., Europe, and from the PLO (including even President Mahmoud Abbas). In the end, the Israeli and Palestinian people must see that the path of peace gives more security than continued war and destruction on all sides.

The conflict is the worst of all worlds for the future and security of Israel itself. The only ironic takeaway from Israel’s excessive brutality in Gaza is the rise of global revulsion and anguish at these attacks. In the end, Israel’s invasion of Gaza will only intensify the Islamic world’s hatred of Israel, even if some autocratic Arab leaders fear Hamas more than Israel. This frustration might go beyond that region, as well: global opinion is moving against Israel in ways that will be costly when this small state seeks external help for future threats.

The crude rockets of today will be substituted by much more accurate and long-range rockets. The danger will not be in Gaza, but far beyond and in unpredictable places. The “Iron Dome” defense will stop being helpful as a complete barrier sooner or later, given the many ways that today’s weapons can be delivered.

Israel’s best protection option is a comprehensive peace agreement that is fair to both sides and is accompanied by effective and credible security guarantees. Further, there have recently been statements that acknowledge that the U.S. role remains key to any security guarantee. The support for regional security must be based on the long-term commitments of Americans and Europeans as guarantors. But, of greatest importance, it must be based on the acceptance of both sides of an agreement to establish a new path towards reconciliation and cooperation.

Kerry, on a visit to India, has been in close contact on the telephone with players in the Middle East to try to end the conflict. He said at a press conference in India: “The United States remains hopeful that [a ceasefire] is achievable and sooner is better because of the needs to get to the table and begin negotiation that can ultimately, hopefully, resolve issues.” He added, “There is no promise in that, but I think everybody would feel better if there was a bona fide effort to see that happen,” .

Finally, let no one criticize the efforts of President Obama or Secretary Kerry to stop the mindless killing that is now taking place in Gaza. Some within the United States seem to have forgotten our founding values and our humanitarian calling. Our current corrosive politics of attacking President Obama and Secretary Kerry at every turn (even as they try to make peace where war prevails) seems to have overstepped all decency and reason. In key ways, it has even hurt the possibility of peace.

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