George Petrolekas and Ferry de Kerckhove are on the Board of Directors of the CDA Institute and co-authors of the 2013 and 2014 Strategic Outlook for Canada. Mr Petrolekas served with NATO, and in Bosnia, Afghanistan and Cyprus. Ambassador de Kerckhove was Ambassador to Indonesia, Pakistan and Egypt. The opinions expressed are their own.
For 47 years, the Gordian knot of Israel and Palestine has evaded all attempts to unravel it. It has ensnared not just the two principals, but nations across the Middle East and further afield; the issues of the Israeli occupation and the legitimate desire for a Palestinian state are often used to camouflage deeper problems in the Arab world, inflaming opinions and manifesting themselves in anti-Western reactions. Notwithstanding the best efforts of many in various incarnations of the Middle East Peace Process, rockets rain on Israel and in its own defence causes deaths by collateral damage, feeding a new generation of mistrust. It is a never-ending spiral.
For the last decade, Hamas, born in the conflict of the First Intifada, has been dedicated to the liberation of Palestine but also of lands that now comprise Israel. It isn’t just about Palestine, but the expulsion of Israeli Jews. In pursuit of this aim, no target of terror is exempted, either military or civilian and thus many nations, including Canada, classify it as a terrorist organization. The Palestinian Authority, in its efforts to gain statehood over the full territory of Palestine, does itself no favour in continuing a dialogue with Hamas.
Not willing to deal with the problem decisively, most nations will seek to broker a truce, a respite, a ceasefire, anything just to make it go away. Unfortunately it won’t, it only buys time – but after 47-odd years of this, how much more time do we need before a Hamas rocket actually does irreparable damage?
Like clockwork, every couple of years, Hamas, over one pretext or another, or over an Israeli provocation, will start another round of rocket launches into Israel. Not a few, more than hundreds and since 2007 into the tens of thousands. To be fair, a people under blockade and siege often see no other recourse – but neither have Gazans tried anything else. When Israel responds, it faces criticism for the apparent disproportionality of its reaction as innocent civilians are often casualties. Collateral casualties – that’s one of the cruelest ironies of this war. No matter how smart your weapons, no matter how targeted, they appear dumb when your adversary places rockets and weapons in and amongst a population; the best effort at proportionality vanishes from the public mind.
Instead of trying to unravel the Gordian knot, maybe it is time to sever it, as Alexander once did.
Gaza must be demilitarized and Hamas must be pushed out of power if it doesn’t alter its policies. The first step can be done benignly, much as the pact between the United States and Russia over Syria led to a dismantling of Bashar al-Assad’s chemical weapons stockpile. Or it can be done offensively, by permitting Israeli forces to sweep and clear Gaza of all offensive weaponry since no international force could possibly be cobbled together to do so.
When Gaza is cleared of weapons, then the international community and the United Nations must do their part to achieve the second goal. Gaza must never be permitted to re-militarize; ideally, it would be run under a UN mandate (as East Timor was), with a UN Interim Military Force. This would help Gaza’s citizens rise beyond the sanctions, the blockade and the siege they have been subjected to all these years. It would permit a normalcy that is unattainable at the point of a gun. In time, but not immediately, a transfer to a wider Palestinian state might be possible.
This is not and cannot be a solution on Israel’s terms uniquely; there must be a quid pro quo – Palestinians must feel and be seen to have achieved a modicum of justice.
Based on, but not necessarily exactly on, the 1967 borders, a Palestinian state must be established. It must be demilitarized but it must also be viable, meaning complete internal authority within contiguous borders – not a state built of enclaves. It is in Israel’s long-term strategic interest to do so.
Sun Tzu warned that long wars are deleterious to the state; they are deleterious to a people too, as witnessed in the tit-for-tat kidnapping and killing of teenaged kids. But there is hope in the revulsion felt by Israelis and Palestinians alike at what transpired that both populations can turn away from the abyss.
For Israelis this will require two painful decisions. The first would be to halt and also to remove some settlements from the West Bank. The second will require Jerusalem emerging as a divided city. An international disengagement force could assist in the transition.
Aside from land, settlements and Jerusalem, final tradeoffs will need to occur on the right of return and the recognition of the existence of Israel, not only as a state, but as a Jewish state. If the world order and many Mideast states can accept theocratic or Islamic governments, why are the Jews so different in their demand?
Without decisive action, we will see as predictably as the sun rises a repeat of this month’s events with the same pattern repeating – Israelis being targeted, Palestinians being killed as Israel responds in self-defence, the world doing little more than shaking its head as a new ceasefire is forged, plunging into crisis repeatedly again. And Palestinians and Israelis continuing to live in a state of fear, when they really don’t have to.