In a system dominated by diplomatic rather than military thinking, the prime minister would long since have summoned the heads of the defense establishment and ordered them to come up with ways to support Gaza in order to bolster Israel’s security. There would be no more restraint, no more easing the blockade and acquiescing in the Hamas government’s existence; instead, we would strengthen the state of Gaza. Nothing less.
Gaza is a state in every respect, at least as social scientists understand the term. It has a central government with an army that’s subordinate to it and that protects a population living in a defined territory. Nevertheless, Gaza is a castrated state. Israel and Egypt contol its borders. The Palestinian Authority pays for the salaries of some of its civil servants. And the army doesn’t have a monopoly on armed force, because there are independent militias operating alongside it.
Therefore, this state is unable to fulfill the well-known quid pro quo deal in which the state provides its citizens with security and welfare and they abide by its authority. And when this deal isn’t implemented, Israelis’ security is undermined.
Gaza’s central government isn’t able to control the independent militias, which periodically heat up the border. It mobilized Gaza residents for mass protests that ignited clashes along the border fence, but it has trouble controlling all the expressions of popular resistance, like the launching of incendiary balloons. And as if all this weren’t enough, the government has trouble controlling the army, whose funding doesn’t depend on the political leadership.
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Yet at the same time, the state does work to ensure its citizens’ security by creating a balance of deterrence with its Israeli enemy through the acquisition of long-range weapons.
Despite having sobered up from the idea of toppling the Hamas government, Israel has so far continued acting in conformance with the simplistic doctrine, which is also embodied by the military’s latest strategy document, that it must respond militarily in part to “undermine the enemy government’s ability to survive.” In line with this doctrine, Israel attacked Egypt and Jordan in the 1950s, Lebanon in the 1970s and 1980s and the Palestinian Authority in the 2000s. But this didn’t contribute to its security.
Virtually the only time when the government adopted a strategy of building up the enemy state so that it could control its forces better and thereby serve Israel’s security was between the Western Wall tunnel riots and then-MK Ariel Sharon’s visit to the Temple Mount (1996-2000). Those were the years when Israeli-Palestinian cooperation flourished. But this constructive strategy is basic to diplomatic thinking rather than military thinking. Therefore, it cannot be found either in the defense establishment or in the research institutes that are aligned with it in spirit.
A policy derived from this strategy would be centered on building up the Gazan state, on the understanding that it’s an enemy which wants, first and foremost, to survive. This would require Israel to refrain from attacking the symbols and resources of Gaza’s government unless deemed necessary for self-defense, and the long-term ramifications of such an attack would always have to be considered. This new strategy would respect the sovereignty of the Gazan state by opening its land, sea and air borders, even at the price of short-term security risks.
Economic rehabilitation is part of this effort, but it will miss its target if it’s carried out in line with the failed doctrine frequently adopted by international aid agencies, and apparently also by the UN envoy to Gaza. The state must disburse the aid; bypassing the state by aiding the population directly weakens it. Involving the Palestinian Authority in ruling Gaza is also undesirable as long as the PA can’t serve as a legitimate alternative to the institutions of the Hamas government.
The discussions about a long-term cease-fire with Hamas provide an opportunity for rethinking. It would be a pity to waste it.