Commentary

Israel Playing Defense in Gaza Aftermath

Middle East In Focus

Middle East Policy Council

After five weeks of constant shelling and more than 2,000 people dead in the Gaza Strip, there is evidence that both the Palestinians and the Israelis have emerged exhausted from the conflict.  Even though clearly it is the Palestinians that have carried the overwhelming brunt of the violence, the withdrawal of Israeli troops from Gaza and the ceasefire agreement seem to have been as eagerly anticipated in Israel as anywhere else. Aware that their country’s image has deteriorated greatly due to the Gaza incursion, many Israelis now are calling for a diplomatic approach to resolving the stand-off.

This sense of a tactical victory by the IDF force which has turned into a strategic defeat is not limited to the Israeli media. For example, a Saudi Gazette editorial considers Israel to be the real losers in the aftermath of the conflict: “The Israeli army's incursion was something of a disaster. Sixty-six soldiers died and scores were injured as Palestinian fighters put up a ferocious resistance. The withdrawal of Israeli troops, though billed as tactical, was in reality a retreat. Despite their vastly superior weaponry, the intelligence provided by the ever-present drones and sophisticated electronic eavesdropping and the targeted assassination of Palestinian commanders and their family members, they failed to disrupt the fight-back....the biggest lesson is that the Palestinians cannot be crushed, be it in Gaza or the West Bank. Only genuine negotiations for a Palestinian state will bring peace. But are the Israelis yet prepared to learn it?”

Israeli commentators, including a recent Jerusalem Post editorial, acknowledge the fact that rather than coming out diminished from the fighting, Hamas could in fact become more empowered: “The fact is that the apparent quiet in the West Bank could prove illusory. A spark could lead easily to mass unrest. Israel has been lucky, for instance, during the demolition last week of the house of one of those involved in the murder of the teens, that there were not mass protests in Hebron. The government should consider seizing this opportunity to formulate its plans for the West Bank, including relations with the PA....It is important that a message be sent that Hamas is not a role model for Palestinians. While its organizational capabilities in the West Bank have been crippled, its popularity remains unmeasured by votes since PA elections have been postponed time and again.”

Judging from statements reported by the Palestinian news site Maan News and coming from Khaled Meshaal, the Hamas leader, such assessments might not be far removed from reality: “Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal on Thursday said that the Israeli assault on Gaza had failed to undermine Palestinian national unity and that the bloody offensive of the past seven weeks had "proven that the resistance cannot be blockaded."...Meshaal also demanded that Egypt open the Rafah crossing, and called upon Israel to end its occupation of Palestinian lands and allow the Palestinian people to determine their path....The Hamas leader insisted the weapons of the resistance groups were "sacred" and that Palestinians would not accede to any demand to disarm.”

For Yedioth Ahronoth’s Nahum Barnea though, there is only one clear winner, and that is the PA President Mahmoud Abbas: “The fear is that instead of paving the way for removing the threat from Gaza, we are rather paving the way for the next round, either in Lebanon or in Gaza. But this is what our government has bestowed upon us, and we will have to live with it....Abbas is the real winner of this war. Hamas given may have been given glory on the Palestinian street, but he and his Palestinian Authority have been given control over the process of rebuilding Gaza, a process that will involve channeling billions, as well as not inconsiderable corruption.”

The uncertainty in Israel following the military intervention in Gaza is made even more palpable by comments made by observers such as Yuval Diskin who are now calling for a diplomatic solution to the conflict: “The time has come to dust off the Arab peace initiative, update it and make it into a surprising massive regional process, which gradually resolves - while providing significant security guarantees for Israel - the conflict with the Palestinians....In the face of an agreement supported by the world in general and the Arab world in particular, including Hamas' patrons, would make Hamas into a terrorist organization rebelling against a legally recognized government that has signed a peace agreement with Israel. Under such conditions, it would be far easier to isolate and weaken Hamas....only a far-reaching diplomatic initiative will allow Israel to transform the conflict with Hamas from a tactical draw between a strong state and a terrorist organization into a strategic knockout.”

Jacky Hougy’s article published on the Israeli business daily Globes, is another sign of the softening stance that some Israelis are taking, as he calls for the Israeli government to offer Hamas carrots as well as sticks: “Striving towards a permanent solution for Gaza requires Israel to think about the big picture. That means setting itself a detailed and comprehensive vision that will include profound thinking about civilian rather than military issues....Israel has never formulated a comprehensive, long-term, practical approach regarding a real solution for the Gaza Strip. For every problem that arises, it has a military solution....The end of the campaign leaves Jerusalem with new cards. If it knows how to play them right it may profit Israel's citizens.”

It is evident though that if the two sides are to move forward, some positive progress must take place rather soon, and a Peninsula editorial calls for increased good will to accompany the peace talks: “Diplomats on the negotiation table will have to be wise and patient because history has shown that peace treaties between Israel and Palestine have always been fragile with peace talks, most of time, falling apart and both sides holding each other responsible for failures....In a positive development after the truce, Egypt eased restrictions at the Rafah border crossing with Gaza, allowing World Food Program supplies containing a shipment of 25,000 food parcels into the coastal territory for the first time since 2007. If both sides are able to respect the truce for longer, more such humanitarian efforts will take place.”

But there is a lot of skepticism surrounding the calls for a diplomatic solution. Among those expressing caution for putting too much faith in the rhetoric is the Oman Tribune: “But whether the rhetoric and the generosity that will be shown at the meeting will result in cheques, for the amounts promised, being sent to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas remains to be seen. This skepticism is due to the fact that after the Hamas-Israel war in 2009, hardly a fraction of the aid promised to the Palestinians was delivered. So, this time too, it is possible that there will be a lot of unkept promises. This means the future may be full of hardships for 1.8 million Gazans as they try to rebuild their shattered lives and economy.”

In fact, unsatisfied that Israel will follow through on its promises, some are calling for continued pressure. For example, Arab News’ Nadeem Qureshi proposes a worldwide boycott of Israel aimed at convincing Israel to change its policy toward the Palestinians: “There has to be a two-stage process: Israel must be forced to stop killing civilians; and secondly, there has to be a recognition that the ‘two-state solution’ is not viable and should be put to rest forever....But how to make Israel behave? The only way to do this to damage it economically. And this means sanctions....What is needed specifically, at the first stage, is a boycott: All nations have to deny their airspace and sea lanes to airlines and shipping companies which have flights or services to Israel. These companies have to choose between doing business with Israel or the rest of the world. This may not seem like much but its consequences will be devastating.”

Finally, Ma’an News’ Ramzy Baroud calls for a concerted action to challenge what he considers is Israel’s ‘criminality’: “Gaza has indeed changed everything. Israel's criminality and fascism should no longer be open for vibrant media debates, but it must be acknowledged as an uncontested fact. Our language, as in our perception, must also change to accommodate this uncontested reality. To end the Israeli genocide and occupation, the wheel of continuous action must turn and keep on turning. Those who support Israel must be exposed, and those who facilitate the Israeli occupation and sustain its war machine are partakers in the war crimes committed daily in Gaza and the rest of Palestine. They must be boycotted. The Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement must grow and serve as the main platform for international solidarity.”