Unless something dramatic happens, most of the Israel Defense Forces troops will be leaving the Gaza Strip in coming days. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his cabinet ministers are hoping that, after almost three weeks of being battered in Gaza, Hamas will be sufficiently deterred to stop launching missiles at Israel.
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But the cabinet decision to embark on a unilateral cease-fire is only the first and relatively easy part of ending the war in Gaza.
The second, more difficult, part is the diplomatic process. Instead of exhausting negotiations mediated by the Egyptians that will grant Hamas a series of achievements, Israel will try to create another solution. A solution that will take advantage of the common interests that have developed between Israel and the countries in the region, which will strengthen the more moderate forces and perhaps provide an opening for progress in the peace process.
The cabinet member encouraging this move is Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, who is averse to any arrangement with Hamas. Already during Operation Cast Lead in 2009, she successfully opposed Defense Minister Ehud Barak, who favored such a move. This time, only after the Hamas violation of the cease-fire on Friday was she able to convince Netanyahu to seek a different diplomatic solution for the crisis in Gaza.
The guiding principles must include establishing the idea of demilitarizing the Gaza Strip of rockets and heavy weapons; a continuation of the struggle against arms smuggling; a mechanism for monitoring the entry into Gaza of building materials, money and materials from which war material can be produced; restoring a Palestinian Authority presence in Gaza – first of all at the Rafah crossing or the crossings into Israel; and a significant process of rehabilitation and development in Gaza.
Livni believes that, along with the unilateral conclusion of military activity, the diplomatic activity should be multilateral. The United States, Egypt, the PA, the United Nations and the major European countries must be sitting around the pot when the process is cooked up. But not Hamas. After all the participants agree on the principles of the process, the plan can be turned into a binding UN Security Council decision. That would be a diplomatic achievement that would serve the interests of Egypt and the PA.
Netanyahu isn’t there yet. He isn’t a big fan of UN Security Council decisions. On the other hand, as a former ambassador to the United Nations, he knows that the alternative is liable to be a decision that won’t serve Israel’s interests and that will be forced on it.
Instead of a diplomatic holding battle and resorting to the American veto, Israel can initiate. The present composition of the Security Council is the most suitable for such a step.
The hottest name in the cabinet discussions in recent weeks was that of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. Netanyahu, Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon and Communications Minister Gilad Erdan, who in the past year described him as not being a partner for peace, are suddenly pointing to him as a major partner in any agreement in Gaza. And the Palestinian reconciliation government, which until recently was described in Jerusalem as a terror government, has become a body with which Israel wants to cooperate.
Netanyahu and many in his government came to their senses during the war in Gaza. They now have a profound understanding of the difference between Abbas and Hamas. Saturday night, Netanyahu said that when the battles are over, new diplomatic options will be open to Israel.
This may be the first sign that, after the war, Netanyahu will turn to peace – and this time with greater determination and seriousness.