Palestinians Must Declare 'Lawfare Cease-fire' to End the Conflict

If we are to avoid future repetitions of the hostilities between Israel and Hamas, the war must end not only in the battlefield, but also in the international fora

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Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas addresses the United Nations General Assembly at UN Headquarters, in New York just prior to the 2012 vote on making Palestine an observer state
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas addresses the United Nations General Assembly at UN Headquarters, in New York just prior to the 2012 vote on making Palestine an observer stateCredit: REUTERS

This time, fortunately, the war between Israel and Hamas did not end with a ground operation, but with Egyptian mediation. And although world leaders have now reiterated their call for the parties to return to the negotiating table, the fact that the current war ended like the previous ones shows that a future recurrence of hostilities is more than likely. As long as Israel will not cease to exist, Hamas will continue to have missiles and will keep governing Gaza, rocket attacks will take place any time the organization believes that an Israeli action cannot be tolerated. This is in addition to the balloon and kite attacks which are continuing even now and are still tormenting the Israeli citizens residing near the Gaza border. 

Israel must understand this: the blockade in Gaza did not bring the expected results. In as much as no Israeli or global isolation is sufficient to deter Hamas, the key in preventing any future Gaza escalation lies with the Palestinian Authority. 

It is true that the last few years have seen the PA grow weaker and weaker, and Israel must be partly to blame for this. An elderly Mahmoud Abbas, left alone and without competent international negotiators after the death of Saeb Erekat, seems incapable of exerting pressure on Hamas without risking a coup. During the rocket barrage and the Israeli reaction, the world saw Abbas identifying with Hamas. However, what is required from the PA is not to try to approach Hamas, but Israel, not in order to serve Israeli interests, but in order to strengthen Palestinian voices who want peace, acceptance of the other and coexistence. 

In recent years and starting with the United Nations statehood claim, the Palestinian Authority has taken very active initiatives on the international scene – not only by emphasizing the legitimate right of the Palestinians to self-determination, but also by delegitimizing any Israeli or Jewish quest. Thus, before UNESCO, the city of Hebron was considered a World Heritage Site without reference to its Jewish past, and the Dead Sea Scrolls have been tagged as Palestinian cultural heritage. In addition, the Israeli occupation, which can undoubtedly lead to human rights violations, is called “apartheid,” and the Palestinian Authority has willingly brought Israel to the International Criminal Court on a wide range of issues, including the previous Israeli operation in Gaza, the clashes near the border fence and the entire settlement enterprise. The fact that the first two of these issues involve Hamas as the affected Palestinian side, cannot go unnoticed. The UN Human Rights Council’s current convening lies in the same war crimes rhetoric, already foreshadowed in earlier statements by the Palestinian Prime Minister, who spoke of the need for accountability for Israeli war crimes to be requested.   

There is no question that the Palestinian Authority must seek justice for any crime committed against its people, and Israel must do so for its own citizens. Yet, beyond any exclusive victimhood claims, both sides must also appear ready to hear the other’s narrative. In this sense, by leading diplomatic and legal initiatives that focus on negating Israeli and Jewish claims, rather than affirming Palestinian claims, the Palestinian Authority does not appear to be in a position to set the refreshing tone needed to overcome the polarization created by Israel and Hamas. Until the Palestinian Authority signals to Hamas that Israel's moral taint in the eyes of the international community is not the goal, Hamas will continue to launch rockets for years to come.  

If the international community wants to avoid this, any wind of change should come from Ramallah or even from New York, Geneva or The Hague with a softening of the Palestinian Authority tone in the various international bodies. Contrary to the circles of violence between Israel and Hamas, this is something that does not need to wait for international mediation in order to take place. 

The author is former member of the Knesset legal department on international and constitutional issues.