Stop the Gaza War Escalation

The chief beneficiaries of the campaign against Kerry have been both those within Israel’s political system and within Hamas who want to continue the fighting and aren't interested in a cease-fire.

Alan Elsner
Alan Elsner
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An Israeli artillery gun fires towards targets in the Gaza Strip, July 30, 2014.
An Israeli artillery gun fires towards targets in the Gaza Strip, July 30, 2014.Credit: AFP
Alan Elsner
Alan Elsner

The military showdown between Israel and Hamas demands a response from American Jews that looks beyond the fighting to a better future both for Israelis and for the long-suffering population of Gaza.

So far, the American Jewish community has sent an unequivocal message of support to the people of Israel who have been subject to constant indiscriminate rocket attacks – and are now threatened by the new menace of Hamas tunnels burrowing into border communities. Some of us have also felt conscience-bound to express our deep compassion for the civilians of Gaza who have suffered an appalling toll during the military operations, some would say an unacceptable toll.

But now, we have the duty to begin a discussion and advance ideas that could come into play once the fighting ends to tackle some of the root causes of the conflict. Even in the midst of conflict, we are required to ask tough questions about what ensures a long-term solution, so that we are not here again in a few years.

Recognizing that there is no military solution to this conflict, we believe the cease-fire should pave the way for more steps to address some of the root causes by alleviating Gaza’s humanitarian crisis, addressing its long-term development and economic needs. It must address Israel's security concerns while strengthening the Palestinian Authority – which, unlike Hamas, recognizes Israel and is a partner for peace negotiations. Ultimately, the horror of this recent round of violence should make all those who believe in the right of the Palestinian and Israeli peoples to live in peace redouble their efforts to work for a two-state solution.

Such a middle ground is not an easy place to occupy when emotions both here and in Israel are running so high, understandably so. Many of us have friends and loved ones in Israel, some serving in the IDF. We feel the same anguish as our brothers and sisters in Israel and the same anger against an enemy that seems to want only to kill and be killed, no matter what the civilian cost. But anguish is not a policy and neither side has a monopoly on it.

There has to be a way to think strategically about the long-term future. “Mowing the lawn” is not a viable strategy. When this round of fighting ends, we don’t want to be bracing ourselves for the next round in a year or two.

The Obama Administration is thinking much along the same lines – but its message has been overwhelmed in recent days by a media storm surrounding Secretary of State John Kerry's efforts to facilitate a cease-fire.

It is highly regrettable that a confidential document offered for the Israeli cabinet's comments as part of ongoing U.S. close coordination with Israel at this perilous moment was mischaracterized and leaked as a complete U.S. proposal. The way Kerry himself was personally maligned in the Israeli press has also been damaging to the relationship.

Clearly, the chief beneficiaries have been those both within the Israeli political system and within Hamas who want to continue the fighting and are not interested in a cease-ire.

The U.S.-Israel relationship is crucial to Israel’s security, the lynchpin of regional stability, such as it is, and the key to ever moving beyond the constant cycle of violence between Israel and the Palestinians. The relationship is too important to be left to leakers and anonymous sources.

In the midst of war, it is natural for Israelis to want their own side to win a comprehensive military victory, to strike a devastating blow from which the enemy cannot quickly or easily recover. But we need to ask, what would be the cost to Israel itself of “going all the way?” According to some analysts, reoccupying Gaza could take up to six months and would cost the lives of hundreds of Israeli soldiers and thousands of Palestinian civilians.

Some Israeli leaders, including Israel’s prime minister and defense minister, seem to recognize this – but wars have a way of developing their own momentum. History is replete with examples of conflicts that, once begun, have escalated far beyond the original intentions of those who launched them. Just look what happened exactly 100 years ago in August 1914, or more recently in the U.S. invasion of Iraq.

We need pragmatic voices, in Israel and in the United States, willing to speak up to avoid going down that path with catastrophic consequences for all.

Alan Elsner is Vice President of Communications for J Street.

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