Friday, April 25, 2014
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Beyond the Gaza Ceasefire

TEL AVIV – Finally, the long-sought truce between Israel and Hamas in the Gaza Strip has become a reality.

Reaching this uneasy state has not been easy. For months, wise and responsible people had exhorted Israel to accept the ceasefire that the Hamas leadership in Gaza had proposed. But Israel’s government, using all kinds of pretexts, stubbornly resisted.

“A truce would weaken Palestinian President Abu Mazen,” officials claimed, as if the construction of new Israeli settlements in East Jerusalem and the refusal to dismantle previous illegal ones had not already weakened him. Or they argued that “Hamas does not recognize the state of Israel,” as if other ceasefire agreements with the Arab states and the PLO in the last 60 years had been based on recognition of Israel, rather than on a simple ethical principle that has guided Israel for many years, namely to gain, for us and our enemies, a pause in hostilities.

In the end, however, logic prevailed over escapism and hesitation, a ceasefire was signed, and we can only regret all the time that was lost and the unnecessary suffering on both sides.

In this war, which has been going on for nearly a century, it is important to keep one principle in mind: the Palestinians are Israel’s neighbors and will live side by side with Israelis forever. Because of this simple fact, the military considerations are very different from those in a conflict between countries that are distant from each other.

Memories of spilled blood, be it Israeli or Palestinian, remain vivid in the hearts of both peoples. An immediate break in the hostilities is therefore more important than a chimerical long-term “capitulation.”

The launch of five Qassam rockets into Israel five days after the signing of the truce suggests its precariousness. So can it last and evolve into something durable? Opponents of the truce predict, – indeed, wish – that it will be short-lived.

But even skeptics nourish many hopes. To be sure, if this new truce is merely technical, if efforts are not made to stabilize and consolidate it, it could become just one another in a long string of bitter episodes. But all who had feared a “great Israeli offensive” in Gaza should make every effort to strengthen the truce and create a climate for relaxing tensions that could, with time, lead to a peace agreement with the Palestinian Authority.

So what should be done to bring this about? Above all, border crossings between Israel and the Palestinian territories should be reopened for the sick, for students, and for families whose members were separated by the blockade.

Second, a generous (and, with time, growing) quota should be set for Palestinian laborers to work in Israel – indeed, they must be allowed to work in the very agricultural centers around Gaza which were the most affected by the rocket attacks. Palestinians working in Israel are good for both sides, and better than the foreigners who come from distant lands and live an isolated life in Israel, solitary and under constant threat of expulsion.

Palestinian workers, who go back home every night, do not become alienated from their normal life. Future workers from Gaza, having a moral right to earn their living in Israel, will become natural supporters of the maintenance of the truce.

Furthermore, past industrial projects that fell victim to the hostilities should be revived and made more legitimate in the eyes of Hamas through the participation of the Arab state. The killing by Israel of Hamas terrorists in the West Bank should also be stopped – or at least limited as much as possible – and the Palestinian Authority should be permitted to deal with them in their own way.

Above all, we must assure that the armistice has its own dynamic. In a state of war, people get used to the status quo and cannot imagine anything else. But when tensions relax, the idea of taking up arms again becomes painful and unsupportable inasmuch as it means a return to the familiar and terrible experience of suffering.

So this truce must be seen not as a piece of paper with some legal significance, but as a young plant that needs to be tended to, watered, nursed, and protected, so that it grows into a strong and robust tree that cannot be uprooted with an occasional Qassam rocket or a stray grenade.

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