From Gaza to Where?

CANBERRA – The wisest words on the Second Gaza War may have come from an Israeli living in a kibbutz near the Gaza border. “If you want to defend me… Don’t send the Israel Defense Forces for us in order to ‘win,’” Michal Vasser wrote in Haaretz on November 15. “Start thinking about the long term and not just about the next election. Try to negotiate until white smoke comes up through the chimney. Hold out a hand to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. Stop with the ‘pinpoint assassinations’ and look into the civilians’ eyes on the other side as well.”

Israel is, of course, entitled to defend itself from rocket attacks. But the lesson of the last two decades is that attacks stop, and intifadas do not start, when there is a prospect of peace – and that, when there is no such prospect, Palestinian militancy is uncontainable.

The chances of a comprehensive and sustainable two-state settlement now being negotiated with Mahmoud Abbas’s West Bank-based Palestinian Authority (PA) – and of its acceptance, albeit grudgingly, by Gaza’s Hamas after a popular vote – may be slim and receding. But the only alternative is an endlessly recurring cycle of deadly violence between Israelis and Palestinians.

The immediate priority is to calm and stabilize the situation in Gaza. But if there are not to be more and even worse eruptions, Israeli policymakers need to ask themselves some fundamental questions. So, too, must their rusted-on supporters in the United States and countries like mine.