Israel Cannot Be Complete and Secure Without Just Peace

In the post-Hamas era, two-state solution is the promise for a decent, normal future for both Israel and Palestine.

israel-secure-peaceThe Israeli society has been living since birth in abnormal conditions. Sixty-six years after its establishment, Israel has no internationally recognized borders; some of its neighbors do not accept its very existence; security was and still remains Israel’s toughest challenge.

Since its establishment, Israel has had to fight. From 1948 until now, some 23,000 Israelis were killed in wars and terror attacks. This loss is felt in every home in Israel, given the size of the population. On the eve of Israel’s 66th Independence Day, its population was 8,180,000 people.

Israel’s objectives are to continue its existence, to provide a home for the Jewish people, and to uphold the political prerogatives of nationality. Facing an unequal balance of power, unfavorable geo-strategic conditions, and constant threats of physical annihilation, Israel was forced to develop a strong army that could withstand the siege. Violence is a constant present, perceived as inevitable, and the periods between wars are perceived as latent wars.

Until now, Israel experienced seven wars: the 1948 Independence War; the 1956 Suez War; the 1967 Six Day War; the 1969-1970 War of Attrition; the 1973 Yom Kippur War; the 1982 Lebanon War, and the 2006 Hezbollah War.

In addition, Israel had faced a Palestinian uprising (Intifada) that lasted six years (1987-1993), and since September 2000 it has been under constant terror attacks launched by various Palestinian factions. Terrorism is not a new phenomenon. Israel has been facing terrorism since its inception but the last few years have been particularly harsh. Sometimes, as in July 2006, it reaches the scale of a full-fledge war. At present, the threat of yet another full-fledge war is in the air. At the time of writing (July 18, 2014), it is not clear how this military operation will end.

In 2005 Israel evacuated Gaza, aiming not to return. Prime Minister Ariel Sharon saw Gaza as a test case, leading to a two-state solution, first in Gaza and then expanding to include the West Bank. The Hamas takeover of Gaza in 2006 reshuffled  the cards. Hamas does not recognize Israel and its right to exist. Israel does not appear on its maps. Hamas is firmly committed to the destruction of Israel.

The relationships between Israel and Gaza may be likened to a zipper. Every once in a while, one of the sides escalates the situation, the zipper is opened, both parties embark on a round of violence, hitting each other hard. The “politics of numbers” is taking its toll, until the number of casaulties reaches an intolerable hight. Both parties then decide to close the zipper without real agreement. They only agree to cease violence for a while but they do not address the core issues. As a result, after a certain period of time, the zipper is opened again.

Living under the threat of violence and terror is anything but easy, or normal. You cannot really get used to it. When violence erupts, it takes you by the balls and shakes your entire world. But even in this abnormal living, when tranquility is non-existent, you expect some minimal norms of civility and common decency. When the enemy is breaking these minimal norms, common sense is then losing grounds and radicals have more leeway to dictate realty.

Abduction of three Israeli pupils

The abduction and killing of the three Israeli school boys, Eyal Yifrah, Naftali Frenkel and Gilad Shaar, has shaken Israeli society. Once again, the brute reality has hit hard in the face: Israelis are facing a bitter enemy, full of hatred, who celebrates death, who knows no boundaries, who wishes to destroy you wherever you are, no matter how innocent and young you may be.

There cannot be any reconciliation, not to mention peace, with such an enemy who does not recognize your very existence, who abhors norms of civility, who seeks your destruction even if this demands tremendous sacrifice and loss of human lives from its side. In such periods, when hope is lost, sentiments take over and blur the mind. Calls for revenge, for exacting a price from the enemy, rule supreme.

Israeli politicians had to respond to this senseless killing. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is not a trigger-happy leader. He is a risk-averse leader. Until the abduction and killing of the three youth, he has shown caution in the employment of violence. Netanyahu authorized a measured response. Israel targeted Hamas terrorists as the organization is deemed responsible for the abduction of the three slained school boys. Dozens of air strikes were launched against Hamas targets. Hamas retaliated with rocket fire on Israeli towns.

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While Israel targets terrorists, Hamas targets everyone, any Israelis wherever they are. On July 7, 2014, nearly 300 rockets and mortars were fired at Israel towns and cities, including a barrage of about 80 projectiles. On July 8, Israel responded with a military operation against Gaza. The offensive, dubbed “Operation Protective Edge,” is aimed at striking Hamas and ending the rocket fire.

A personal reflection

My family and I had lived under rocket terror in 2006. We know how it feels. The siren goes off. You have a couple of minutes to seek shelter, wherever you are. The siren might go off a number of times in a single day. Living becomes disturbed, under constant stress. People fear for their lives. It is very unpleasant. It is awful. No one, but no one, no matter one’s nationality and/or religion, should live in such abnormal reality.

We are worried about our family and friends in Israel. We speak to them on a daily basis. They are concerned about their well-being, and especially about the well-being of their children. At the same time, the Israeli public is tired of the constant Hamas violence and wishes the government to provide a solution. People are willing to endure if an action can be taken to make Hamas desert violence.

The word “peace” is not mentioned. People realize that peace is a far-fetched dream when dealing with radical Hamas. The words mentioned are “we need to be tough,” “we need to teach them a lesson they won’t forget,” “we need to be resilient and eradicate the rockets.” Unsurprisingly, similar words are uttered by the enemy despite its great loss. Presently the death toll in Gaza is said to be 264 Palestinians, the majority are innocent civilians. Hamas has posted testimonials of citizens that “Israel does not frighten us” and “Israel withstands Hamas rockets.” As always, Hamas is willing to suffer heavy losses. But for what?

On July 15, the Israeli Cabinet accepted Egypt’s proposal for a cessation of hostilities with the Gaza Strip. While Israel accepted the Egyptian proposal, Hamas did not. Hamas continued to launch rockets on Israeli civilians. Yesterday, on July 17, Israel saw no other option to stop the terror rocket but by opening a ground operation into Gaza.

Looking forward

When the dust is settled, and the bad winds will relax as another wave of violence will come to a closure, there will come the realization that the only thing that violence breeds is more violence. The “zipper relationships” between Gaza and Israel of endless rounds of violence can hardly be said to constitute nay solution. In the short-term, this round of violence is likely to play to the hands of extremists on both sides.

Hamas power is likely to rise, especially in the West Bank where Palestinians were not subjected to the IDF might. I hope the Gazans will elect for a different way of reconciliation over violence. In Israel, Lieberman’s Israel Is Our Home, and Bennett’s Jewish Home are likely to increase their popularity among the Israeli public. But in the long run, peace was and still remains the key for Israel’s security.

And, in turn, two-state solution is the key for peace. In the post-Hamas era, two-state solution is the promise for a decent, normal future for both Israel and Palestine. Israeli leadership should aspire to settle the disputes with the Palestinians in a fair, just way. The Palestinian government needs to replace violence and terrorism with diplomacy, and be able to have full control on the monopoly of weapons. Without such a monopoly, the Palestinians will never have sovereignty and they will never be perceived as worthy of having an independent state.

President Barack Obama has recently said: For all that Israel has accomplished, for all that Israel will achieve, Israel cannot be complete and it cannot be secure without peace. It is never too late to seed the ground for peace—a true and living peace that exists not just in the plans of leaders, but in the hearts of all Israelis and Palestinians.

Raphael Cohen-Almagor, D. Phil., Oxon (1991); Chair and Professor of Politics; Founder and Director of the Middle East Study Group, University of Hull (2008 – ), http://www2.hull.ac.uk/fass/me-study-group.aspx; human rights and peace activist. Twitter: @almagor35Webhttp://www.hull.ac.uk/rcaBloghttp://almagor.blogspot.com. Read other articles by Raphael.