Even before the saga of the March of Return has ended, and with Naksa Day – which marks the start of the Six-Day War in 1967 and the occupation of Gaza, the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights – still waiting around the corner, a dangerous military conflict is developing with Gaza. The firing of mortar bombs at Israel, in response to the killing of three members of Islamic Jihad on Sunday – which itself was in response to the planting of bombs along the Gaza-Israel border fence – shows how wars can develop that are liable to spin out of control.
It’s impossible to overstate the fragility of the balance of power that, until recently, has prevented a widespread conflict between Israel and the Palestinians in general, and the Palestinians in Gaza in particular. Unofficial agreements, born of effective Egyptian mediation between Israel and Hamas, along with the deterrence created by Operation Protective Edge in 2014, have resulted in a relatively calm daily life and a feeling that neither side is interested in conflagration.
This pattern was disrupted by the Palestinian March of Return, which the army and the government decided to respond to strongly. But even after that display of lethal force, it’s hard to talk of success – since nothing major has changed in the situation of Gaza’s 2 million residents. Furthermore, the reasons that prompted them to launch a protest and join the popular struggle remain in place.
This latest clash with Islamic Jihad has, as usual, prompted an automatic Israeli response, based on the conclusion – in itself unexceptional – that a state cannot tolerate attacks or attempted attacks on its citizens and its territory. But precisely because of the need to rehabilitate the de facto cease-fire that was in place before the March of Return and restore the routine of daily life, it’s essential that this response not be ostentatious, excessive and therefore dangerous.
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Israel should already have recognized the fact that a show of force in and of itself is no guarantee of its security. Nor is it sufficient to dampen the frustrations of oppressed people or the organizations that represent them. Several proposals for managing the Gaza crisis are on the government’s table. Israel could avail itself of mediation from Egypt, which has become its ally in the war on terror. Israel even views Hamas as a responsible party capable of preventing the development of an unwanted conflict, even if this time it didn’t succeed in reining in Islamic Jihad.
The battle cries by ministers and lawmakers who are urging Israel to act with full force are hollow fanfare, which must not be a substitute for judicious, measured conduct that takes the explosiveness of the Gaza land mine into account. What Israelis need now isn’t an ostentatious military show, which is already imprisoning its citizens in shelters and safe rooms.
This duel must end immediately, in order to create time and space for dealing with Gaza’s fundamental problems.
The above article is Haaretz's lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.