Saturday 17 January 2009

How to Win the Peace

Operation Cast Lead, otherwise known to most of us as the Gaza War, seems to have progressed broadly according to our expectations. The IDF has done an admirable job of dismantling Hamas positions that endanger Israeli lives. Many Hamas militants have been neutralised and weapons destroyed. Although the daily barrage of rocket fire has not been stopped entirely, it has been substantially reduced. With each passing day of the war, we suffer less rocket fire. And even though we mourn the loss of every precious life of those who have been prepared to make the ultimate sacrifice in the defence of the homeland, we are thankful that the casualties that we have suffered have not been greater.

Some voices from the military establishment are now saying that they have achieved all that they can hope to achieve. I interpret this to mean, all that can be achieved without unnecessarily and arbitrarily risking lives on either side in a negligent manner. So, what happens when the military job is done? Can we trust our political leadership to operate in the same precise and patriotic way to captalise on the great job done by the IDF? Once the war is won, how will we win the peace?

The answer to this question centres on what we can expect out of a ceasefire agreement. Given that we do not officially recognise Hamas as the entity which governs Gaza, there is an interesting question as to whether we should even enter into a formal ceasefire with Hamas. If not with Hamas, then with whom? I don't believe we have much of a choice. It is clear that this war is with Hamas, and nobody else. If so, the ceasefire agreement must be with Hamas, and nobody else. Having said that, it seems clear that there should be other parties to the ceasefire agreement. Egypt has an important role in helping to prevent a future build-up of arms in the Gaza Strip. This is also true of other members of the international community in helping to police any agreement that may be implemented.

In light of the above, the ceasefire agreement that I would want Israel to sign would contain the following key aspects:
1. Release Gilad Shalit. For me, this is not negotiable, and would appear on the top of my agenda. With the Hamas infrastructure severely damaged and the leadership structure weakened, this must surely be the best moment to demand Gilad's release. I would not cease the war in Gaza without this term being agreed to.
2. Dismantle the rocket launchers in the Strip. These are the main source of insecurity to Israeli towns and settlements surrounding the Gaza Strip. By dismantling these launchers, it allows Israeli civilians to get back to their regular daily existence, something that they have looked forward to for the best part of 8 years.
3. Stop the arms smuggling. The Gaza border with Egypt is riddled with many hundred tunnels dug below the surface. These tunnels are used to bypass the Israeli control over Gaza which attempts to deny Hamas the means to obtain weapons to attack Israel. The tunnels and the associated trade on the Egyptian side of the border are an economy unto itself. Not only are they used to smuggle food and other daily subsistence goods, they are a conduit for huge sums of cash and large quantities of arms being brought from Iran and other countries. This must be stopped to guarantee future peaceful coexistence.

In return for the above, I would cease the current Operation Cast Lead and would be prepared to agree to other terms including the provision of humanitarian aid and an attempt to conduct peaceful coexistence with Gaza and its citizens. Of course, any act that reneges on the agreements would result in a very significant and harsh response from Israel.

The Israeli political establishment is currently making a number of different statements about a ceasefire, two of which seem to be at opposite ends of the spectrum. On the one hand, there seems to be support for a unilateral ceasefire. I have no idea what this would achieve. To me, it appears to throw away all advantage that has been gained by the military. Without understanding what may be giving rise to such a thought, it seems a ridiculous prospect to me.

The other view coming out from the politicians is that there should be no ceasefire unless Hamas agrees to a cessation of hostilities for a period which is longer than a year. We all know that Hamas has, as its main objective, the destruction of the State of Israel. So how can any period of cessation of hostilities be significant and worthy of trusting? Whatever period is agreed upon, the next round of hostilities appears inevitable. And the timing will be according to whatever Hamas wishes and is unlikely to be determined by any ceasefire agreement.

It is difficult to measure the effectiveness of the current round of hostilities. History will, no doubt, judge this in hindsight. There can be no doubt, however, that the military success is heavily dependent upon the success that the politicians can extract from the situation. It is my hope that the politicians do their job well on this occasion and, as a very minimum, succeed in bringing home Gilad Shalit. In my view, this would win the peace.

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