There has been almost no systematic long-term strategic planning as regards how we envision our relations with the Palestinians.
This may have really been a “war of no choice,” however I am completely convinced that the policies implemented over the past years have led us directly to the point where we perhaps had no choice.
In 1995 a senior member of the Palestinian police force in Gaza with the rank of brigadier-general who was working in the office of the military liaison between the IDF and the Palestinian police invited me to visit him in Gaza. A.H. was one of the first Palestinian security personnel to arrive in Gaza after Oslo. He had lived most of his life outside of Palestine and for years was a fighter in the Palestinian Liberation Army, first in Jordan and later in Lebanon. As a military man, he took an instant liking to the IDF officers that he met in the early days of the preparations for the PLO takeover of Gaza and he befriended many of them.
I spent a full day with A.H. – much of the time sitting in the back of his jeep being escorted around Gaza and under the protection of his guards sitting in two other jeeps with their Kalashnikov rifles. It was quite a bizarre feeling riding all over Gaza under the protection of PLO fighters.
At the end of the day, sitting in the salon of his home which was also his headquarters, he said to me: “I have something secret to tell you and I ask that you pass this information on directly to prime minister Rabin.” A.H. knew that I was serving as an adviser to the peace team within the Prime Minister’s Office. The information that he wanted me to pass on was that there were 35 tunnels underneath Rafah which were being used for smuggling weapons, drugs and other normal commodities. “Why are you telling me this?” I asked him. He answered: “Because my hands are tied. I cannot do anything about this, but if it is not dealt with, it will explode in our faces.” How right he was. I passed the information along to the appropriate authorities. To the best of my knowledge, nothing was done.
THE WAY that governments over the years have dealt with the Palestinian issue is not different than the way that our governments deal with any other strategic issue. We are always in the midst of a crisis. Our governments deal with crisis situations usually when it is too late to make an intelligently planned strategic change. Our governments are always “putting out fires” and only rarely invest the time and resources to develop a vision and long-term plans for reaching that vision.
The current water crisis is just one example. The State Comptroller’s Office is conducting another investigation; its conclusions will be that the roots of the crisis and the urgency stem from not only poor management and bureaucracy but also from a lack of real strategic planning and vision.
Energy policies are another example. Why is it that some 20 years ago the country was in the forefront of solar technology with most homes heating water with solar panels, yet today we sadly find ourselves at the bottom of the list of Western states in the application of solar energy for producing electricity? It is not because we don’t have enough sun. Denmark is already producing more than 20 percent of its energy needs from renewable energy sources, and in far away Scandinavia there is not even a fraction of the sunlight that we enjoy.
OUR RELATIONS with the Palestinians are certainly dialectic. What one side does effects what the other sides does. There is no doubt that the Palestinians have a great deal of direct responsibility for continuous spiraling downward and the growing distance from real peace for both sides. Nonetheless, there must also be the recognition that Israel is clearly the more powerful of the two sides. It is a recognized state with a strong economy, a powerful military, a very developed legal system, real state mechanisms of governance, a vibrant democracy and an incredible amount of creative, intelligent and highly motivated human resources. In the Israeli-Palestinian relationship, Israel is the occupier and Palestine is the occupied. There is no symmetry in the balance of assets under negotiation or in the ability of Israel to dictate the terms of agreements. There is absolutely no balance of power.
Many Israelis argue that we are the only ones who give, the Palestinians are always taking and it’s never enough for them. Palestinians have no capability to even understand that argument. From their perspective, they compromised on giving up 78% of the land between the Jordan River and the sea. They entered the Oslo process understanding that they would be able to create their state in the remaining 22%; they did not know that they would be required to negotiate on what remained.
Except for a very short period during the Rabin era after Oslo, the Palestinians have never believed that Israel was really ready for peace. The continuation of building and expanding settlements and bypass roads for settlers confirms for Palestinians that there never was an intention to withdraw from the West Bank. How could they understand anything different? Both at the public level and at the level of policy planning, no answer was ever provided for the contradiction between settlement expansion and future withdrawal.
As early as the 1970s Israel adopted a policy of supporting, licensing and facilitating the work of the Islamic Associations in Gaza headed by Sheikh Ahmed Yassin as a counterbalance to the activities and organizations of the PLO. When the same Islamic Associations gave birth to Hamas, “experts” on Palestinian affairs were caught off guard. When Israel withdrew unilaterally from Gaza at the same time that prime minister Ariel Sharon humiliated President Mahmoud Abbas declaring that he was “a chick with no feathers” and repeating over and over again that there was no partner, the country was once again caught off guard when Hamas claimed victory for expelling the Zionist military and settlers. With victory in its hands, Hamas proceeded to elections and captured a majority in the parliament. When Abbas begged not to hold the elections, having a pretty good sense of the possible outcome, US and Israeli officials demanded that they be held, without considering what would happen if Hamas were to win.
I HAVE been intimately engaged in this process for the past 20 years. I deeply believe that there has been almost no systematic long-term strategic planning as regards how we envision our relations with the Palestinians. Instead, we move from crisis to crisis. Even now, with all of the strategic planning that went to preparing for this war, there seems to be no real thinking about the day after.
It is not only the lack of an “exit strategy,” a term that everyone learned to spew out after the US failures in Iraq, but also and perhaps even more important, a coherent plan for what is supposed to happen in Gaza when this war is over. So when this war does finally end, we will once again find ourselves in a new crisis and once again, we will not make any long-term plans on how we will one day live in peace with our neighbors.
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.