The wisdom of Israel’s decision to absent itself from the talks being held with the Palestinian delegation in Egypt is yet to be proved. Presumably it was meant to demonstrate Israel’s independence regarding the anticipated arrangements with Hamas while at the same time to express its lack of trust in the organization after its repeated cease-fire violations.
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But its absence may turn out to be a double-edged sword. Israel will not be able to ignore whatever agreements are reached between Egypt and the Palestinian delegation (in the presence of the U.S. delegation), on the grounds that because it did not attend the negotiations it is not bound by their results.
If the negotiations in Cairo succeed, they will provide the outline for the situation, even if temporary, that Israel will face in the coming years. That is why it would be a mistake on Israel’s part not to participate in deliberations on issues that are vital to its security.
What’s new about these negotiations is that for the first time Hamas and Islamic Jihad are recognizing the authority of the Palestine Liberation Organization and senior members of the Palestinian Authority to represent them in diplomatic negotiations. If Israel aspires to increase the power and status of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and to see him as a partner in implementing the cease-fire agreements — and even to be responsible for them — it should demonstrate that desire by dint of its presence at the talks.
The talks in Cairo are not meant to initiate comprehensive negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians. Their purpose is to achieve a cease-fire under conditions that will prevent, as far as possible, a new conflict from breaking out shortly. These conditions must include the implementation of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s declaration that Israel is not at war with Gaza’s civilians, but only with Hamas and the other armed factions.
After reducing hundreds of homes to rubble, destroying infrastructure and causing the deaths of over 1,700 people, Israel cannot convince the inhabitants of Gaza that it is not at war with them. It can, and should, help as much as possible to rebuild the ruins and to restore normal life in the Strip, not as an act of propaganda but for moral reasons.
This aid, with or without an agreement, should include lifting the blockade, permitting medical delegations and aid organizations to enter the Strip, arranging with the Palestinian Authority for the import of building materials to the Gaza Strip, under supervision and helping to restore the water and electricity systems as well as the hospitals in Gaza.
Israel’s old strategy, of attempting to arouse in Gazans “envy” of the “prosperity” of the Palestinians in the West Bank, has proved to be irrelevant. It must be replaced with a more realistic strategy, based on making a clear distinction between the fight against terror and the welfare of the Palestinian population.