The cease-fire that began Tuesday evening is only the beginning of a negotiation channel between Israel and the Palestinian administration. There were minimal conditions stipulated in this cease-fire because it was aimed first and foremost at stopping the mutual attacks and paving the way for detailed negotiations whose goal is to create a new reality in the Gaza Strip.
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The negotiations are to begin within a month under the auspices of Egypt, which invested tireless efforts to restore quiet, and for that it deserves thanks from both the Israelis and the Palestinians.
It’s still too early to cite points of victory or defeat for either side; that will depend on what the final agreement says. We’d best relate to the near term as a stage of building confidence in the cease-fire, since at this point both parties have concerns and suspicions about its very feasibility.
But there’s no ignoring the fact that the upcoming negotiations put Israel at a crossroads of strategic decisions. Israel has to decide whether Operation Protective Edge is meant to end merely with counting the numbers of people killed and buildings destroyed, investigating the way the war was conducted and the accompanying decision-making process and arguing over how to pay for it, or whether the operation can also serve as a diplomatic milestone.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu hinted during one of his public appearances during the operation that he expects “a new diplomatic horizon” will follow, but he did not elaborate. Such a horizon cannot be realized without a fundamental change in perception, to the effect that only a comprehensive diplomatic process that brings an end to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict can change the regional reality.
For the third time in a decade, Israel has come to understand that military force isn’t enough to deter organizations weaker than it and that the brutal blockade of the Gaza Strip will not foment a civil rebellion against Hamas. Until now Israel’s policy has been that quiet would bring economic development; this policy collapsed in Gaza. It’s time to adopt a new policy — that development will bring quiet.
The Gaza Strip, with its 1.8 million residents, needs not just reconstruction of its ruins but economic development that will include sea access, an airport and the investment of billions of dollars so that it can realize its potential for growth.
This is the approach that ought to guide the State of Israel if it wants to turn the declared cease-fire into a long-term reality.