A s the fires fade, as the dust settles on the graves of the latest children to die in a battle that seems destined to repeat itself with depressing regularity, and as world leaders breathe a sigh of relief that an all-out war was, this time, prevented, it should be clearer than ever that there can be no military solution to this relentless conflict.
Just as Kassam rockets and suicide bombers cannot secure justice for Palestinians, so fighter jets will not ensure quiet for Israelis. Just as protracted talks and hard choices led to the eventual release of Gilad Shalit, only negotiations will deliver long-term security and prosperity for Israelis and Palestinians.
Violence in the Middle East should have long reached the end of its trial period. It is time to give alternatives a hearing. But then, if all you think you have is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail.
Unilateral moves are not a viable alternative, be they UN declarations or disengagement plans. When former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon unilaterally withdrew soldiers and settlers from the Gaza Strip, he refused to co-ordinate with the Palestinian Authority, repeating that exhausted refrain that “there is no partner for peace”.
Disengagement led to a political and security vacuum that was filled by Hamas, whose leaders claimed vindication for their policy of violence over diplomacy as the only effective method.
For four years, the international community has been distracted by Arab uprisings, debt crises and natural disasters, and has understandably grown weary of the apparent inability of Israelis and Palestinians to resolve their differences on the basis of a template reached more than two decades ago — that of two states for two peoples, with mutual land swaps, a shared Jerusalem, a just settlement for Palestinian refugees and an end to future claims. The one attempt by the Obama administration to intervene in the Middle East ended in humiliation.
During this period, Israel has seemed a temple of serenity and prosperity, sheltered from the revolutionary and economic storms that have lashed the world around it. In the Middle East, however, a lull in violence is used to prepare for the next war, rather than prevent it. Seven years of quiet in the West Bank will not hold in the absence of a political agreement, just like the years of calm in Gaza did not.
During that period, Hamas restocked their arsenal and reinforced their stranglehold over every aspect of Gazan life, while the Netanyahu government oversaw a wave of anti-democratic legislation and an aggressive expansion of the settlement population.
This is has been fought fiercely at every stage by Peace Now, Israel’s largest peace movement, which has urged in vain for Israel’s leaders to seize the moment of calm to reach a solution before one is imposed on them. War, however, always feeds into the self-fulfilling prophecy of the extremists who shout fire in a crowded theatre and then pose as firefighters. In this environment, fear reigns and people turn to leaders who vow to protect them at any cost. Moderation is treason, and fanaticism wins.
Peace Now has for more than two decades led the struggle to save Israel from sleepwalking into self-destruction. The devastating announcement that the government has chosen the nuclear option and intends to build the E1 settlement in revenge for Abbas’s UN victory is one step closer to that cliff. Whether this is mere bluster remains to be seen, but this will undoubtedly fuel more fires and sideline voices of peace.
The changing demographics, coupled with growing Palestinian calls for full civil and political rights in the West Bank, make the existential threat to Israel as the democratic nation-state of the Jewish people more real than at any time since 1967.
That is why we aim to bring open debate on tough issues to the heart of the Jewish community. These discussions will create anger and discomfort in some quarters, but when the very future of Israel is at stake, it would be reckless to continue the same knee-jerk, lock-step support of an Israeli government that believes it has given Israelis calm but has only prepared them for the next war.