Israel’s Missing Peace Offensive

TEL AVIV – Even before the latest cease-fire took hold, it had become clear that the dilemma facing Israel in Gaza entails more than simply developing military answers to the challenge posed by Hamas. The real question is whether Israel’s leadership is capable of using new, non-military tools to address the anti-Israeli rage that has gained momentum across the region in the wake of the Arab Spring. And now, in the wake of Palestine’s resoundingly successful bid for observer-state status at the United Nations, Israel’s conundrum has become particularly acute.

Israel conducted the recent showdown with Hamas in a regional context that has changed dramatically since its last incursion into Gaza, “Operation Cast Lead” in 2008. The rise of Islamist regimes throughout the Arab world, and the subsequent shift of regional alliances, has increased the Jewish state’s isolation. Major regional powers like Egypt, Turkey, and Qatar now support an emboldened Hamas, whose paramount objectives are now to consolidate its increased international legitimacy and sideline the West Bank-based Palestinian Authority (PA).

Indeed, Israel is now in a strategic trap, owing not only to the Arab Spring, but also to its own diplomatic blunders, particularly the disintegration of its alliance with Turkey. No display of military muscle could help; only robust peace diplomacy could end Israel’s isolation. Unfortunately, Israeli leaders are unable to summon the statesmanship required to manage the strategic readjustment occurring in the region.

Instead, Defense Minister Ehud Barak explained the thinking behind the recent hostilities in Gaza in typically existential terms. He fell back on a defining speech in Israeli history, General Moshe Dayan’s eulogy for Roi Rothberg, a young soldier riddled by bullets from the Gaza Strip in 1956.