Adam Hinds: Progress needed to make cease-fire stick
Tackling Gaza violence requires a new approach. Despite appalling devastation imposed upon civilians during the past month the cycle of violence has begun again. It is time to remove the demand for Israel to destroy rockets and tunnels every few years and the demand for Hamas' violent resistance. I participated in the last ceasefire negotiations in November 2012 and lessons from that effort highlight ways to get this one right.
Israel has a fundamental interest in securing its citizens, undermining Hamas and promoting stability. Yet escalations empower Hamas, incentivize violent resistance, and destabilize Gaza and the West Bank. More strikes and casualties in Israel mean Hamas appears stronger to occupation-wary citizens and competing militant groups. More Palestinian civilian casualties mean increased calls for violence by Hamas. The ineffectiveness of President Mahmoud Abbas during Gaza violence intensified the largest demonstration in the West Bank since the second intifada on July 24. It's a lose-lose-lose for Israel.
At the same time, Hamas' back is against the wall. The group's alliance with Syria and Iran is a mess. Its Muslim Brotherhood ally in Egypt was replaced with an adversary. And it is out of money because Egypt closed the tunnels that brought goods and tax revenues. While Hamas' popularity amongst Palestinians typically soars during conflict, it will not be in a position to rebuild Gaza and will need President Abbas and the new "consensus" government formed in June.
Both dynamics should encourage a new approach to Gaza. The difficulty has been establishing a unified Palestinian polity capable of preserving calm in Gaza through meaningful access to Gazan governing structures and security control on the ground. However two recent agreements related to Gaza provide ingredients for just that.
The first was the last ceasefire brokered on November 21, 2012, which was never fully implemented. All factions in Gaza agreed to stop hostilities against Israel and Israel would end attacks against Gaza, including targeted assassinations. Israel also committed to "opening the crossings and facilitating the movements of people and transfer of goods, and refraining from restricting residents' free movements and targeting residents in border areas." Essentially it ended the closure of Gaza.
A critical component was establishing an acceptable structure to monitor border crossings. This could have included an international presence (now articulated by some Israeli leaders) and the presence of security forces from the West Bank loyal to President Abbas. Our negotiations to reach that framework quickly slowed in the lead-up to Israeli elections in January 2013 and while 2013 was relatively calm it was undone during 2014 as both sides prepared for the next battle.
The second is the Palestinian reconciliation agreement reached in April. It gave Hamas' political adversaries traction in Gaza for the first time since 2007, no Hamas members were included, and it pledged to meet three long-standing conditions for Western aid: nonviolence, recognition of Israel, and adherence to past agreements. Reconciliation allowed for a unified Palestinian voice, which is critical for a comprehensive peace process. Israel immediately opposed the deal. While politically impossible for any Israeli leader to embrace the agreement, it is time to at least allow a consensus government led by President Abbas to bring real change and benefits to Gazans.
That includes finding a way to pay the salaries to 43,000 civil servants who worked for the de facto government in Gaza and continue to administer Gaza under the new government. It means easing border closures that restrict freedom of trade, visits to the outside world, and the utilization of natural resources (including fishing beyond two nautical miles, an offshore gas field, and farms near the border).
Investment to rebuild the shattered infrastructure and economy, where unemployment reaches 40-50 percent, is also vital. So is finally establishing an international presence at border crossings with the trusted presidential guard of President Abbas. Combined these begin to address Israeli concerns regarding a durable cessation of attacks from Gaza and control of what enters and exits Gaza. They also provide hope to Gazans and undermine the appeal of extremists.
To be sure, it is important to avoid incentivizing the use of violence to achieve results. That is why the new consensus government must lead reconstruction to empower President Abbas and demonstrate to Gazans their isolation was due to Hamas. And while Iran will continue to look for proxies in Gaza to preserve their own deterrence with Israel, this only reinforces the need for moderate Palestinians to gain a foothold in Gaza.
The six living former heads of Israeli intelligence have come forward to say there can be no military solution to the conflict with Palestinians. The problem will be in crafting a political agreement that is actually implemented in Gaza and lays the groundwork for a comprehensive agreement that ultimately ends the occupation and the conflict.
Adam Hinds spent nearly a decade in the Middle East working for the United Nations in Iraq, Jerusalem and Syria. He is currently the program coordinator for Pittsfield Community Connection, a program addressing youth and gang violence. He is also a Truman Security Fellow.
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