Commentary Magazine


Change the Game in Gaza Talks

It’s no secret that Hamas seeks to win through post-war diplomacy what it cannot on the battlefield. Israelis—or at least Israel’s intellectual elite—can be their own worst enemies in this regard, as they seek Western gratification by downplaying Israel’s security needs and spinning reality. Just look at the pages of Haaretz on any given day. And Israel journalist Ronen Bergman describes the conclusions of many in this recent piece in the New York Times.

Dictatorships–and the Palestinian Authority and Hamas are both dictatorships–have an advantage in shaping messages, because democratic discourse makes message discipline more difficult. That’s not to castigate democracy; individual liberty should be paramount. Still, the situation Israel finds itself in is reminiscent of the aftermath of the 2006 Hezbollah war, when so many journalists concluded Israel had lost, and never bothered to report Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah’s admission to Lebanese journalists that had he known how Israel was going to react in the face of Hezbollah’s kidnap attempt across Israel’s northern border, he never would have launched the mission. Nor did they report the protests of Iranian labor unions who condemned Iran’s funding of so-called Lebanese resistance at the expense of Iranian people in need.

It’s time Israel changes the game. As the Gaza talks continue, Hamas will certainly try to win the diplomatic round of its fight with Israel. Hamas knows that the international community seldom assesses the true impact of its aid and many diplomats and foreign officials are loath to let a good crisis go to waste, never mind the implications of their actions. So here is the New York Times castigating Israel for not fulfilling the Oslo Accords’ call for a Gaza seaport, never mind that Hamas doesn’t accept the Oslo Accords. Norway, of course, has begun preparations for a new donor conference for Gaza, in effect rewarding Hamas for the violence it began with is missile salvos and diverted humanitarian supplies channeled into tunnel and bunker construction. And here’s the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), which by its own founding charter should have ceased to exist a half century ago, using the crisis in order to fundraise, never mind its own complicity in the crisis by allowing its schools to be transformed into weapons depots.

Diplomacy is war by other means. Israel’s diplomats have long been the keystone cops of Israeli officialdom, as the best and the brightest try more for careers in the private sector, military, or intelligence. Let us hope that they hold firm at the table and, rather than mow grass with all due respect to Efraim Inbar, they seek to change the game permanently.

Israeli historian and writer Moshe Dann emails with some good ideas:

The government of Israel could require that funds for reconstruction be used to build in uninhabited areas south of Gaza City and far from Israel’s borders. Under no circumstances should UNRWA be allowed to rebuild its facilities, as they have proven incapable of supervising their properties. In addition, El Arish can be used by Gazans as a port for exporting produce. Gazans should be allowed to relocate in the uninhabited areas between El Arish and the Gaza Strip, as well as other areas of Sinai. Reconstructions funds should be allocated to build a water desalination plant. Neighborhoods which were used to fire rockets should not be reconstructed. They should be used only for public purposes — parks, playgrounds, etc.

Let’s put the El Arish question aside for another day. Dann is absolutely right that UNRWA should not be permitted to rebuild facilities which it allowed to be corrupted. I would go further and suggest that any deal include the provision for the phased withdrawal of UNRWA altogether. The Palestinians want to govern their own affairs? Let them, without the promise of endless subsidy.

The urban planning—some of which admittedly takes on a security dimensions—is under-discussed but extremely important. With Western diplomats and UN officials essentially acting as zoning officers, telling Israel where it can and cannot build, there is no reason why they cannot reprise that role in the Gaza Strip.

A ceasefire is not enough, nor should the Gaza Strip become the scene for some sort of lethal Groundhog Day. It’s time to change the rules of the diplomatic game.

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2 Responses to “Change the Game in Gaza Talks”

  1. NEERA GOITEIN says:

    Speaking of reconstruction and uninhabited areas. How about a new uninhabited area – a mile or so of the Gaza side of the Israel-Gaza border could become an uninhabited no-man’s land: not a blade of grass or bush. Their land for our peace of mind. Every rocket or tunnel, another 50 yards of Gaza becomes the waste land they wish to make of all Israel. Every year of quiet, they can have 50 yards returned to them for cultivation, perhaps parkland. That way, the rockets have further to travel, the tunnels are easier to detect, and there is perhaps a new incentive for them to behave themselves.


    The problem is, Israel has not laid the necessary military groundwork for this diplomatic strategy to succeed. Hezbollah’s situation in Lebanon is more complicated than Hamas in Gaza, for a lot of reasons, and to boot, Israel for all its misteps in Lebanon still hurt Hezbollah more than it did Hamas in the recent campaign. At least in Lebanon, Israel belatedly attempted to win the campaign through some late operations that seem to have put some actual fear into Hezbollah. In Gaza, right after it became clear that an IDF soldier had not been taken, the IDF pulled out. Much different message.

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