Last week, in what was otherwise a particularly aggressive speech, Israel Defense Forces Chief of Staff Aviv Kochavi said the military sees an opportunity for a deal in Gaza and supports significant steps to improve the Strip’s economy. Even people concerned by his battle cry against Iran in this speech can embrace Kochavi’s bottom line: A long-term cease-fire agreement with Hamas is good for Israel.
In an effort to nip criticism from the right in the bud – especially since we’re in the midst of an election campaign, when parties are vying to show which is the most staunchly right-wing – Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu convened the security cabinet on Sunday to discuss the indirect talks with Hamas. He did this lest Defense Minister Naftali Bennett or Transportation Minister Bezalel Smotrich go to the media and demand that Israel “defeat Hamas” at a time when the prime minister appears to be in sync with Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh, and could be depicted as making concessions to Hamas.
It’s true that in the current political climate, in which warmongering is considered advantageous and negotiating with enemies is perceived as weakness, criticism of a deal in Gaza has been heard even from the largest opposition party, Kahol Lavan. Nevertheless, the three former chiefs of staff who head the party should be reminded that during their years in that job, they too failed to bring about complete quiet.
They should also note that two weeks ago, the chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court in The Hague said there are grounds for opening an investigation against Israel for war crimes against the Palestinians over some of the actions Israel took during Operation Protective Edge in Gaza in 2014 – an operation that then-chief of staff Benny Gantz, now Kahol Lavan’s chairman, hailed for bringing quiet to Gaza.
In a situation where thinking about security is monolithic, it’s important to speak out clearly in favor of a long-term deal with Hamas, regardless of whether it’s called an agreement or an arrangement. Israel’s government, like its army, knows very well that there is no military solution in Gaza. The repeated rounds of violence have hurt residents of the south, cost the lives of civilians in Gaza and destroyed civilian infrastructure there. Moreover, the blockade of Gaza has given birth to nothing but despair, which is fueling the next round of violence.
It’s just too bad that a necessary step like a long-term arrangement with Hamas has to be backed up by collective punishment in the West Bank. The government’s decision to deduct 149 million shekels ($43 million) from the tax revenues it transfers to the Palestinian Authority has been framed as a punishment for the PA’s support of terrorists’ families.
But it is actually evidence of a distorted worldview, in which the Israeli public can’t swallow positive diplomatic steps toward the Palestinians in Gaza without other Palestinians in the West Bank being subjected to sanctions of some kind or another. This is an embarrassing and unnecessary ritual that is meant to hurt the Palestinian Authority, the very organization that’s supposed to be our partner in a future diplomatic agreement.
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The above article is Haaretz’s lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.