Gershon Baskin’s feels that the present policy of pressure and strangulation of the Gaza Strip in order to weaken Hamas has backfired and Hamas is stronger now.
The war in southern Israel rages on with increased rocket fire from Gaza into the Jewish state and escalating Israeli responses. The Hamas and Jihad leadership in Gaza has gone underground in fear that Israel will resume its policy of targeted killings against them. At the same time, Rabbi Menachem Froman of Tekoa and Palestinian journalist Khaled Amayreh have worked out a “draft agreement” for a cease-fire that Amayreh claims has the backing of the Hamas leadership, including Khaled Meshaal.
I spoke with Hamas leaders in Gaza and received verification that if Israel would support the agreement, Hamas would declare its support as well. Hamas leaders have also agreed to the idea of involving the Egyptians in negotiations if Israel wishes to make changes in the draft agreement. The agreement includes a call for a full cease-fire between Israel and all of the factions in Gaza. The document explicitly states that attacks against all Israelis will cease.
During the past several months I conducted a series of talks with several Hamas leaders in Gaza who approached me to advocate a cease-fire agreement with the government of Israel. I told those leaders that I would not take such a step unless they could deliver a Hamas guarantee that all of the factions in Gaza would adhere to the cease-fire. I proposed that they either undertake a commitment to impose the cease-fire on all factions or secure the agreement of all of them to sign on. I was informed that at least five meetings with leaders of all factions took place at the home of the prime minister of the Hamas-led government, Ismail Haniyya. However, until recently neither was the agreement of all factions secured nor was there a clear decision by Hamas to impose a cease-fire.
Following the issuing of the draft cease-fire agreement by Froman and Amayreh, several Hamas leaders in Gaza told me that they were willing to accept all of the terms of the draft and to make sure that all of the factions in Gaza adhered to it as well. I suggested that a formal statement be issued by Haniyya in Gaza and by Khaled Meshaal in Damascus. Such a formal statement has not yet been issued.
As opposed to what I believed prior to the breach of the Rafah border recently, today I support the acceptance of this “draft agreement” and believe that it may be the best strategic option for all parties. I would recommend that trilateral consultations between the government of Israel, the Palestinian Authority government in the West Bank and Egypt be conducted to reach consensus on accepting the terms of this draft agreement. I would advise that Egypt mediate in the process of formalizing acceptance of the draft or in making agreed changes to it.
My support for the new cease-fire is based on the following reasons: First, the present policy of pressure and strangulation of the Gaza Strip in order to weaken Hamas has backfired. Hamas is stronger now than prior to implementation of the policy. Second, the complete and total closure of Gaza has not prevented the importation into Gaza of weapons and explosives and the entry of persons that Israel does not want in the territory. Third, the situation in Sderot and in other Israeli communities around Gaza is intolerable. The rocket fire must stop and there appears to be no clear military strategy for dealing with it. Fourth, the lot of the civilian population in Gaza is intolerable and inhumane. Thus, the collective punishment of that population should be ceased. Fifth, a large-scale military operation into Gaza is too risky, too dangerous, too costly – politically, militarily, economically and in human lives – and will most likely only cause an escalation in the West Bank, perhaps the fall of the Mahmoud Abbas Palestinian Authority and the introduction and growth of forces even more extreme into the Gaza Strip. And sixth, the best way to ensure the continuation of the peace process and the negotiations is by arriving at a situation whereby there is quiet in southern Israel.
The issue of what to do about Gaza is complex, and there are no good options at hand. Every decision has its negative consequences and pitfalls that may in fact worsen the situation. Whatever strategic choices are made at this time, it is paramount that all parties keep in focus the primary common strategic objectives of Israel and the Palestinian Authority: to proceed and succeed in a renewed peace process and create the political and security possibilities for Gaza to be included. All policy decisions taken must keep these primary strategic objectives in focus.
It is therefore of the utmost urgency that de-escalation of forces and tensions takes place on both sides of the Gaza border. The government of Israel and the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah should enter into direct consultations on the emerging situation on the ground. The Hamas political and military leadership in Gaza and Damascus should halt all military activities against Israel and allow for a period of calm to return so that all parties can reconsider their strategic options. The government of Israel should respond to any Hamas de-escalation by de-escalating its attacks against Gaza at the same time.
These steps should be completed by bilateral acceptance of a formal cease-fire that could be based on the Froman-Amayreh document.
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.