Not managing the conflict

‘I am convinced from the depth of my heart and my best knowledge that this disengagement will strengthen Israel in its holding of the land necessary for our existence and will be blessed and recognized by those near and far, will reduce hatred, will break through boycotts and sieges and will promote us towards peace with the Palestinians and the rest of our neighbors.”

That is how then-prime minister Ariel Sharon presented his plan to disengage from Gaza in 2004.

Be the first to know –

Fourteen years later, we know things didn’t go the way Sharon predicted – to say the least. This weekend, Israel was struck by a barrage of hundreds of projectiles from Hamas-controlled Gaza. The IAF shot back, thus beginning a pattern we’ve seen again and again since Israel fully pulled out of Gaza in 2005, with peaks and valleys in the level of rocket-fire.

For the past three months, since the “Great March of Return” began, there has been a steady increase in attacks on Israel from Gaza, with thousands of dunams burned by incendiary kites and barrages of rockets followed by all-too-brief ceasefires. The residents of the Gaza envelope are once again running for shelter on a regular basis. There’s a sense of deja vu from the lead-up to past IDF operations in Gaza, and while it’s been four years since Operation Protective Edge, it seems inevitable that there will be another one.

There should be absolutely no doubt or wavering from the fact that Hamas, as the theocratic, authoritarian governing body in Gaza, is responsible for the violence against Israeli soldiers and civilians and the grievous conditions in which Gazans live.

However, that does not mean that the government should not be trying to come up with new ways to bring about a change. While most of the promises of the disengagement remain unfulfilled, that does not mean that Israelis should be doomed to living under rocket-fire and fighting the same mini-war every few years.

Since 2005, Israel mostly responds to Hamas and Islamic Jihad’s attacks, hoping things don’t escalate too badly and putting more money into the lifesaving Iron Dome and rocket-proofing Gaza envelope buildings, without any apparent overarching plan or strategy.

The issue is complex, and it’s unlikely that one sweeping solution will solve Israel’s problems with Gaza, but it’s time to try something different and take initiative.

On Sunday morning, Education Minister Naftali Bennett called for a large-scale military response to the attacks from Gaza. That does seem like more of what we’ve seen every few years, but if the strategic goal is something greater than “quiet for a little while,” it could disrupt the pattern. However, if it isn’t, are Israelis prepared to endure considerable IDF casualites again, like 2014’s Operation Pillar of Defense, only to see the situation repeat itself in a few years?

Others, in the opposition and international community, have called for massive humanitarian aid to improve the quality of life for Gazans, with some operating on the theory that it would lead to less terrorism. While there is no evidence this has ever worked on Hamas-controlled Gaza, there seems to be little downside, as long as Israel can ensure none of the aid is being used to attack.

In fact, there is a debate within Hamas, as The Jerusalem Post’s Khaled Abu Toameh reported last week, between rejectionists who are concerned that accepting Western aid proposals could weaken the Islamist terrorist group – something that could only be good for Israel – and those who feel that Gazans will revolt if Hamas doesn’t do what it can to improve their lives.

Another idea is Transportation and Intelligence Minister Israel Katz’s call for international partners to build an island port off the coast of Gaza, to alleviate the humanitarian issues and also remove any responsibility Israel could be said to have for its civilians. Last year, Katz argued in an interview with the Post’s Lahav Harkov that his is “the only real idea” to make progress in the situation in Gaza. “Otherwise, there’s just containment.”

Each of these ideas has its advantages and disadvantages, but they’re something other than just managing the conflict, which, after 13 years of the same thing happening over and over again, has turned into mismanagement.