‘Quiet for Quiet’ Won’t Stop the Next Gaza War

It may sound nave right after a war – but Europe and Israel must boost the legitimacy of Palestinians who have opted for non-violence and diplomacy towards a two-state solution, the only way to end the conflict.

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Rubble of destroyed buildings from the 50-day conflict between Hamas and Israel, Shijaiyah neighborhood, Gaza Strip, Oct. 12 ,2014.
Rubble of destroyed buildings from the 50-day conflict between Hamas and Israel, Shijaiyah neighborhood, Gaza Strip, Oct. 12 ,2014.Credit: AFP

On Sunday, in her final month as the European Union High Representative, Catherine Ashton co-chaired the Cairo Conference on Palestine – Reconstructing Gaza. There she announced the EU's pledge of over 450 million pounds for Gaza reconstruction.

Israelis and Palestinians have seen too many Gaza wars over the past years. Nobody wants another round of violence. The question is: What can be done differently in order to change the equation?

First of all, a return to the pre-war status quo ante cannot be an option. Simply relying on "quiet for quiet" may be the path of least resistance in the short term, but it is likely to lead to more violence and suffering in the future.

We must address the underlying issues. That means we must pursue the dual objectives of, on the one hand, ending the threat to Israel posed by terrorist groups in Gaza by preventing their rearmament and, ultimately, reaching the goal of disarmament; while, at the same time, fundamentally improving life for Palestinians in Gaza through reconstruction and the lifting of the closure regime. Those two objectives should be pursued in parallel and not sequentially. Ashton stated in Cairo that international support for Gaza reconstruction needs to take place in a sound and conducive political and security environment.

Furthermore, sustainable economic development, including by enabling a resumption of trade with Gaza's traditional markets in Israel and the West Bank, is key to improving livelihoods, building a middle class in Gaza and fighting unemployment, poverty and despair which are the breeding ground for terrorism. The more people have to lose, the less likely they will be to support extremists and violence. As IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz said earlier this month, calm depends in part on Gaza achieving economic viability: "Palestinians need to be able to live their lives."

Secondly, the key for this fundamental change to happen is the return of the Palestinian Authority to Gaza. The Palestinian consensus government that has committed itself to the Quartet principles is the one legitimate interlocutor in Gaza, both for the international donor community and for Israel. All sides must do their level best to enable this government to actually govern in Gaza, including through paying salaries to a consolidated civil service and, eventually, also in the field of security.

Thirdly, everybody should understand that there is no "Gaza only" solution. Gaza and the West Bank are both inseparable parts of a future Palestinian state. Events in Gaza and in the West Bank impact on one another. All attempts to treat those two territories separately have failed and are bound to fail again. Genuine security will only be reached with a two-state solution that ends the conflict. We know how very complex this is to achieve, and how nave it may sound right after a war, but a political perspective and tangible progress is urgently needed to boost the legitimacy of those who have opted for non-violence and diplomacy.

The EU is ready to contribute to all these three objectives. We are ready to help with reconstruction, development and security arrangements, for example by assisting the PA in manning and monitoring the border crossings or a dedicated sea-link to Gaza. We can support PA-led civil service reform and help the PA establish good governance in Gaza, building on our support for Palestinian state-building in the West Bank, where we have been training Palestinian civil police for years. We stand ready to help both sides, together with our partners in the region and with the U.S., to make the hard choices that are needed for a broader peace and have offered the incentive of a Special Privileged Partnership to both sides. As Ashton said in Cairo, "The only durable solution to the situation in Gaza, which is in everyone's interest, is a political one. Our efforts for Gaza will be successful only if placed in the larger framework of our support to Palestine and our commitment to the peace process."

Finally, while the EU was unequivocal in its condemnation of Hamas' indiscriminate firing of rockets at civilians and use of human shields, many Europeans were deeply shocked by the level of destruction and human suffering in Gaza.

However, contrary to the oppressive regime of Hamas, which the EU continues to list as a terrorist organization, Israeli democracy has the ability and strength for self-criticism and accountability. The best response Israel can give to its critics is to conduct swift and transparent investigations and to fully cooperate with international fora. The EU has taken a clear position on the Commission of Inquiry established by the UN Human Rights Council, the wording of whose resolution in our view unfortunately lacked balanced in a way that could prejudge the outcome of the investigation.

We insist that the Commission of Inquiry should investigate violations by all sides, including by Hamas and other militant groups. We also pledged to closely monitor the implementation of the mandate and to continue to work towards a balanced outcome of the investigations, that should, for example, also address the sad and tragic death of young Daniel Tregerman, killed in one of Hamas' many rocket attacks on Israeli towns. We hope that Israel will work with us in making sure this is a balanced and comprehensive investigation.

Lars Faaborg-Andersen is Ambassador of the European Union to Israel.

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