The cease-fire that went into effect Tuesday moves the battle to the negotiating table. This is the stage at which wars generally end, as long as an agreement can be reached that more or less satisfies both sides. Some figures are already predicting the date of the next round of violence, because they do not believe in Hamas’ willingness to abide by whatever terms are reached in Cairo for any length of time. Perhaps they are right. But it is precisely because of this premise that it is so important to lay a strong foundation for cooperating with all the other parties to the negotiations.
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Egypt, which has demonstrated a strong position, is already considered a worthy partner not just for negotiations with Hamas but for other security issues, and one hopes this will expand to the economic and diplomatic realms. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas will now be the agreed representative for overseeing the Gaza recovery plan and for security cooperation. Contrary to the disgraceful and harmful position of Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, who on Tuesday said it was a “serious mistake” to consider Abbas an ally in the Gaza Strip, Abbas’ status must be strengthened. In addition to negotiating with him over the future of the Gaza Strip, Israel must also revive the comprehensive peace process with Abbas.
After the death and destruction faced by the Strip’s population of 1.8 million, the focus is on rebuilding the territory. Israel, Egypt and the Palestinians, together with the United States and Europe, must work to create a strong economic foundation that could change the lives of Gazans and constitute a genuine defensive barrier to renewed violence. Obviously such an economic plan requires the lifting of the blockade on the Gaza Strip, the reopening of the border crossings and permission and funding to build a seaport in the Strip. But reconstruction alone, without a diplomatic horizon, is insufficient.
As a first step, Israel must recognize the Palestinian unity government as the agreed representative for cooperation in all fields. Without this, Israel will find itself signing an agreement with Hamas that will be nothing more than a cease-fire of limited duration. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu recognizes the opportunity that has been given to Israel to reshape its relations with some Arab states. He must adopt a broad view that will not settle for an ad-hoc agreement on the Gaza Strip alone but will also resuscitate the peace process, which might now include both territories within the Palestinian Authority.