The current temporary calm in the shooting of qassams ordered by Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh is a convenient opportunity to re-evaluate Israel’s tactics in dealing with this acute problem. The reality of the heavy toll that the Palestinians have paid in the past week has hit home and the conclusions and lessons learned should point in the direction of the possibility of reaching a longer-term bilateral ceasefire.
Down the slope
Without reaching this kind of bilateral ceasefire, there are real chances that we are may continue to slide rapidly down the slippery slope to total security deterioration and instead of self deceiving attempts that we are defeating the Palestinians; it would be preferable if the Minister of Defense and the generals would find a way to prevent us from going over the edge. The leaders of Hamas, including Prime Minister Haniyeh, have expressed their readiness to reach a ceasefire, but unlike the tahdiya – the calm reached 16 months ago, which was one-sided and Israel continued its military campaigns against the Palestinians, this time it must be bilateral.
From Israel’s side there must be a commitment to stop all of the artillery fire on Gaza, to end all of the so-called “targeted killings”, and to stop the massive arrest campaigns in the West Bank, because all too often these end with people being killed. The Palestinians, Abbas and Haniyeh together, must agree to stop all of the Qassams and all other attacks against Israel, including those done by all of the factions – not only Hamas and Fateh. In the past the Islamic Jihad refused to be part of the tahdiya because it was one-sided while Israel continued its military actions against the Jihad. Through a bilateral ceasefire it becomes possible to demand from the Palestinians leadership that they reach an internal understandings with all of the factions and forces and that they will fully enforce those understandings.
It would be wise to involve Egypt in weaving the understandings between the Palestinians and Israel. The Egyptians have proven their ability to mediate between the Palestinians factions. Egyptian involvement could also assist in establishing a mechanism for transferring intelligence information from Israel to the Palestinians regarding real “ticking bombs” which would enable the Palestinians the ample time and opportunity to prevent the ticking bomb from exploding against Israelis. If the Palestinians fail to prevent the “ticking bomb” from leaving the Palestinian territories, Israel will be more than justified to take immediate action, even in violation of the bilateral ceasefire understandings.
This plan may force Israel to face a dilemma of reaching understandings with Hamas prior to Hamas recognizing Israel or meeting the international demands. It is clear that there cannot be a direct agreement between Israel and Hamas, and therefore; there is a need and another good reason for Egyptian involvement. Egypt can speak directly with Hamas and the other factions. Egypt can diplomatically finesse the reaching of indirect understandings between all of the Palestinian factions and Israel for a full ceasefire.
It has been proven that Israel does not have military tools to stop the qassams. Military incursions to Gaza that will only place Israeli soldiers at high risk of casualties will not help either. Not too long ago Israel was in complete control of all of Gaza with thousands of armed settlers and soldiers and attacks and qassams continued right under the nose of the IDF.
Under the current situation, it is clear that there is no guarantee that a bilateral ceasefire would actually work, but there is far too little to lose by trying it. It would be wise to reach a bilateral ceasefire for a period of six months that could be renewed for additional periods following. Because we are dealing with an agreed process and not a unilateral one, it would be advisable to request that the United States and Egypt function as a Ceasefire Monitoring Committee to which the parties can bring claims of violations and determinations of violations can be judged. Likewise, the Monitoring Committee could work to prevent spontaneous mutual violations of the ceasefire understandings that could far too easily lead to rapid escalation.
The generals and the right-wingers are likely to say that this proposal is surrender to terrorism and goes against Israel’s need to create military deterrence. They will say that the Palestinians are unable to enforce the understandings with the various factions. They will say that this plan endangers Israel and the security of its citizens. I have not yet heard even one proposal from these critics that would prevent bloodshed – of Palestinians and Israelis alike. Their use of force has not proven itself and their “decisive” suggestion is only to use more force. This will only bring more disasters upon us and upon the Palestinians. The time has come for us to engrave in the brains of the Palestinians that the State of Israel is capable of “changing disks” and to work is a more conciliatory way instead of always demonstrating our aptitude as warriors.
Gershon is an advisor to Israeli, Palestinian and International Prime Ministers on the Middle East Peace Process and the founder and director of IPCRI, the Israeli-Palestinian Public Policy Institute. He was the initiator and negotiator of the secret back channel between Israel and Hamas for the release of 1,027 prisoners – mainly Palestinians and Arab-Israelis of which 280 were sentenced to life in prison for planning and perpetrating various attacks against Jewish targets that resulted in the killing of 569 Israelis in exchange for one Israeli soldier, Gilad Schalit. Gershon is actively involved in research and advocacy concerning topics such as social policy, environmental security, political strategy, peace education, economics, culture and in the development of affordable solar projects with the goal of providing clean electricity for 50 million people by 2020.