Now That The Guns Have Been Silenced: Having Pipedreams Time And Again
03 September 2014
By Alon Ben-Meir
The new ceasefire between Israel and Hamas has
immediately raised the same old question: will it
last, or is it merely just another pause, providing
the prelude for the next round of fighting à la
previous ceasefires? My reading of the situation that
brought both sides to agree to suspend violence on an
open-ended basis suggests otherwise. I believe the
current ceasefire is different as it was achieved
under completely different circumstances and may well
To begin with, there are no winners or losers. Hamas
scored a significant political victory as it
maintained its ability to fire rockets at Israel up to
the last minute before the ceasefire was put into
effect, but also suffered massive losses in men and
Israel decisively won the military campaign by
inflicting huge pain and destruction incomparable to
the previous two violent encounters with Hamas, but
lost politically by creating the perception that Hamas
achieved its objectives even though it fell far short
of its original demand to lift the blockade
That said, what has made the ceasefire possible is
that both sides have concluded that the continuation
of violence will not improve their positions and may
well make it considerably worse. The impact of the
Israeli and Palestinians' public outcry and the
insurmountable pressure on their respective
governments was critical to bring an end to the
seemingly unending war.
Prime Minister Netanyahu did not want to keep
bombarding Gaza, incur huge collateral damage, and
subject Israel to mounting international condemnation
as the inadvertent civilian death toll was escalating.
The invasion and reoccupation of Gaza could have ended
Hamas' provocations, its ability to fire thousands
more rockets, and terrorizing of the Israelis, but the
cost would have been enormous in blood and treasure.
Netanyahu was correct in rejecting calls from several
misguided extremist right-wing members of his cabinet,
Bennett and Lieberman in particular, to invade Gaza,
who failed to grasp the enormous dire ramifications of
such reckless adventure.
They foolishly ignored the fact that Israel cannot
maintain the occupation indefinitely; instead, it
would only help galvanize the rise of a new generation
of Palestinian extremists and set the stage for more
blood and tears.
Conversely, other than depleting Hamas' stock of
rockets by two-thirds, tens of thousands of houses
were destroyed and entire neighborhoods lay in ruins
while over 250 fighters and over 1,400 civilians were
I maintain, however, that this latest round of
hostilities has ironically produced a positive effect
in that both sides have come to the realization that
neither can defeat the other both politically and
militarily with impunity, and that other options must
now be explored to end the vicious cycle of violence.
The fact that the Palestinian Authority (PA) under the
leadership of Mahmoud Abbas has assumed an important
role in facilitating the ceasefire and planning to
place its security forces to guard the crossing to
Gaza from Israel and Egypt, as required by the terms
of the ceasefire, bodes well for the future.
The PA has infused new life into the unity government
and strengthened the moderate Palestinian voices,
which has significant implications for future
Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations.
Another important development is the renewed
realization that Egypt's role now and in the future is
indispensible. Notwithstanding the enmity between
Hamas and Egypt under President Sisi, Hamas' leaders
understand anew that their political relevance in the
Israeli-Palestinian context and their prospect for a
better future depends, to a large extent, on Israel's
and Egypt's willingness to cooperate.
I am convinced that the war and its suspension is a
wakeup call resonating differently than in previous
times. To be sure, I believe that in the wake of the
Gaza war and the basis on which the ceasefire was
established, a new momentum for peace negotiations
might have been created.
Netanyahu and the Israeli public, in particular,
recognize that regardless of how formidable the
Israeli army may be, the use of force has its limits.
They are now more likely to be disposed to negotiate
in earnest than at any other time since Netanyahu came
For that to happen and produce real progress, the two
outside players to the conflict, the US and the Arab
states, must now use their leverage on Israel and the
Palestinians respectively to move the peace process
Without too much fanfare, the Obama administration
ought to quietly exert pressure on the Netanyahu
government to begin serious bilateral negotiations
with the Palestinians.
Equally, Abbas, in my view, has emerged from the
latest Hamas-Israel conflagration as the ultimate
winner. He demonstrated his unwavering commitment to
peace and remained above the fray throughout the
Abbas' enhanced political stature and strength,
buttressed by domestic and international support,
provides him further leverage in determining the
Palestinians' future political agenda, the centrality
of which is the establishment of a Palestinian state
by political means.
Abbas might heed the US' advice, with the support of
Saudi Arabia and Egypt, to postpone his decision to
turn to the UN seeking international support for the
establishment of a Palestinian state.
He is in a better position to do so as he can now
negotiate with Israel from a position of strength in
the context of the Arab Peace Initiative (API) by
insisting on commencing the negotiations over borders.
Given the turmoil throughout the Middle East, which is
affecting every Arab state in the region, there is no
better time to reintroduce the API.
The greatest threat to the Arab states today is not
Israel but Islamic extremism, i.e. ISIS, Jabhat al-Nusra,
Al-Qaeda, and Shiite Iran, which Israel also fears
What is needed today is a grand gesture by Egypt, who
has assumed anew its leadership role in the Arab
world, developed close relations with Israel and
successfully mediated the ceasefire.
As there is tremendous support for the API in Israel,
Egypt and Saudi Arabia should formally put the
Initiative back on the table and invite Israel to
embrace it and begin comprehensive negotiations to end
the Arab-Israeli conflict, making the Gaza war the
catalyst for peace.
I am happy to be accused of having pipedreams time and
again. But it is unforgivable to let over 2,100
Palestinians (including nearly 500 children) and 69
Israelis die in vain, only to prepare for the digging
of new graves for those who are yet to be senselessly