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November 20, 2012

The Day after Tomorrow
Posted by The Editors

This guest post is written by Erica Mandell.

Anyone who has ever written anything about Israel or Palestine will know that there is
no such thing as a single defining moment, at least not one that exists in the absolute.  Time stretches forward and backward and more so in times of crisis. The current situation in Israel and Gaza is no exception. 

For example, if asked what led to the current escalation, many would point to last
week’s targeted killing of Hamas military chief Ahmed Jabari.  Others would point to 2008’s Operation Cast Lead, or better yet the 2005 withdrawal from Gaza, or perhaps the 2006 election of Hamas.  If we really want to get to the root of things, maybe we should go back farther.  The establishment of the state of Israel in 1948?  The Arab revolts of 1936?  The ill-fated Balfour Declaration of 1917?  Long and lamented story short, all of it is relevant, and all of it continues to play out today in clear, historical narratives.

This is no more apparent than on my Facebook newsfeed, where I watch my Jewish and
Arab friends exchange equally compelling arguments for why their side (be it Israel or Gaza) is more besieged.  Indeed, the situation involves so many considerations that leaving this page blank may be more effective than an attempt to hash out the causations and reactions to what we currently see unfolding.  Instead, let us consider options for where things could stand after, God willing, there is a resolution to this sickeningly tragic impasse.

Israel’s political right is emboldened

We all know what it is like to rally around the flag.  Depending on how the situation plays out, this phenomenon is likely to occur in Israel, just in time for the January 22 elections.  Should Israel manage to halt the rocket fire before any major loss of Israeli life, Netanyahu is likely to be strengthened. His was a gamble however, because should, God forbid, a rocket successfully hit a target in Tel Aviv or Jerusalem, Netanyahu’s decision to go after Jabari (who was taken out in a targeted killing) would cause a significant fall from grace. A ground operation would also likely complicate matters, and would possibly delay the elections.

However, let us assume that Likud and Yisrael Beiteinu win the election and Netanyahu’s
position is assured once again. What happens when things calm down and the status quo prevails? Even before Operation Pillar of Defense began, all in the region felt the status quo was unsustainable. Sadly however, while Netanyahu and his government place priority in guaranteeing Israel’s daily security, they do little to help Israel in the long-term.  Settlements would likely expand and President Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority would continue to be marginalized. Adding to Israel’s concerns would be the rise of Mohamed Morsi of Egypt (though he seems willing to reason with Hamas on their behalf) and Iran’s progressing nuclear program.

 It would be business as usual, to the detriment of both sides.

Hamas is emboldened

Now let us assume that Hamas is further endeared to both its constituents and to
its Arab supporters.  It is likely then that Hamas would be encouraged in its quest to compete with Fatah as spokesparty for the Palestinians, thus drawing out any potential end to the conflict.  Indeed, we have already witnessed enthusiasm from the West Bank for Hamas’ efforts in Gaza.  Hamas might also feel confident enough to venture suicide attacks or continue to push Israel’s red lines. An emboldened Hamas would undoubtedly cause Israel to abandon any would-be long-term security efforts in favor of locking down moment-to-moment security. Israel’s security is bifurcated. They focus on current security (i.e. weather forecasts that include rocket fire) and basic security (the continued existence of the state) but rarely at the same time. Arguably, many threats overlap between the two categories, but if current security is threatened, long-term efforts go out the window.

No matter who is in power in Israel, this would effectively mean a step backwards
in security for both sides and a major step backward for Palestinian statehood
aspirations.

Moderate forces prevail

Luckily there is a Goldilocks option, however unlikely. Either Israelis elect a Kadima or Labor-led government or Netanyahu suddenly sees the West Bank and its leadership in a new light.  Just as crises cause Israel to revert to the agenda of the besieged, perhaps a reprieve in violence would inspire Israel to own its role in the conflict and start laying groundwork for final status agreements. Let us not deceive ourselves, a solution is a long way off, but concrete steps can be taken immediately to drastically improve the situation and foster hope. This would include fostering institutions that would serve as the building blocks for a future Palestinian state, start reducing Israeli presence and control in the West Bank, and focus on logistical progress over rhetoric-heavy final status agreements. 

Short-term quiet would give way to concrete progress. 

But lest we forget, this is a two-party conflict. While I continue to argue that Israel has the upper hand in taking effective action toward peace, Palestinians must also act with their long-term interests in mind. Unfortunately, the recent conflict has confirmed Palestinian support for Hamas and has only further alienated Mahmoud Abbas, whose commitment to the plight of Palestine was publicly questioned just weeks ago. For the Palestinians, the key to a moderate way forward is to unify behind moderate leadership. At this point, even if Netanyahu or any other coalition leader were to sit down at the negotiating table, they would be talking with someone who does not represent both territories and therefore cannot speak on behalf of a unified potential state. Rallies and cheers at the sound of rockets falling near Jerusalem may swell spirits in the short term, but they undermine realistic shots at a two-state solution.

As of now, rumors of an imminent ceasefire swell. If it is successful, this would be a good opportunity to analyze the role of Egypt in upcoming peace efforts, and push for American-backed but regionally led frameworks. If a ceasefire remains elusive, and Israel goes forward with a ground incursion, then things will get worse before they get better. Israeli presence in Gaza would no doubt be prolonged and moderation would fall by the wayside for both Palestinians and Israelis.

My preference for option #3 is no secret. While both sides have legitimate claims to fear, resolve, and bereavement, it is time for leaders to abandon the status quo and take
responsibility in acting in their own self-interest to establish peace. I am looking to both sides for this.

While pinpointing single moments in the conflict as stand-alone events is near
impossible, wasting opportunities to resolve long-term security issues seems to
be the rule.  Let us hope that what
happens next is the exception.

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