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Gaza: How We Got Here — and What’s Next

August 21, 2014 By:
Donna Robinson Divine and Asaf Romirowsky
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Despite the conviction in Israel that its military actions against Hamas in Gaza are justified, the notion that this third Gaza war in the past six years has been a consequence of the failure to conclude a peace agreement with the Palestinian Authority is widely accepted across the globe.
 
For Palestinians, the argument goes, there is no choice but resistance and confrontation since diplomacy and non-violence have not ended the occupation. For that reason, many Palestinians claim that Hamas is fighting not simply to lift the blockade imposed on the Gaza Strip but also to give them their freedom.
 
The claim resonates broadly with the international community. Even as many political heads of state recognize Israel’s right to defend its citizens, they also emphasize that the country must adopt policies that offer Palestinians hope for the future.
 
Let us stipulate that the Oslo peace process has failed to fulfill the expectations of the Palestinians for a state with Jeru­salem as its capital and recognition of what has been adopted as the nation’s sacred right of return.
 
But has the peace process been totally without positive consequences for Palestinians who live on the West Bank?
 
Palestinian institutions operate in cities; schools, colleges, and universities provide education for the population; and security forces guarantee some measure of stability, widening the ambit for economic growth.
 
All of this is less than ideal, but is it not better than the alternative circumstances in Gaza, where the population has been held hostage to the political Ilamist agenda of Hamas and its promise of liberation through perpetual war against Israel?
 
The question is not whether resistance hurts Israel — it does — or whether constant confrontation reminds the world of what is widely regarded as an illegal occupation of Palestinian lands, but rather whether negotiations, in the context of a commitment to peaceful co-existence can produce more benefits for more Palestinians than war, which is always presented as the only alternative.
 
Given Israel’s military capabilities, the insistence on resistance and violence causes far more suffering for Palestinians than for the citizens of the Jewish state.
 
Even the Iron Dome system that offers Israelis a shield against rockets helps save Palestinian lives as well by foreclosing the need for the kind of bombing Israel would be forced to unleash to protect its citizens.
 
Diplomacy may not fulfill all Palestinian ambitions, but doesn’t war totally and continuously dispossess them of life, property and a reasonable standard of living?
 
Further, isn’t it time to put aside refugee status in favor of actual citizenship and to stop allowing United Nations agencies — specifically, UNRWA, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency — to perpetuate Palestinian refuge status for generations?
 
Despite admiration in Israel for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s conduct of the operation, many experts blame  him for the outbreak of violence rather than accord him credit for responding to it responsibly.
 
Netanyahu’s failure to meet the Palestinians’ conditions on settlements made by Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian Authority president, and/or his refusal to work with the so-called unity government endorsed by Hamas and the Palestinian Authority, inevitably, pundits insist, left Hamas deprived of the financing they expected, with no choice but to issue a call to arms and attack Israel on land, sea, air and even from under the ground.
 
Moreover, it is argued that because Netanyahu pursued policies that subverted the power of  Abbas, he can no longer realistically expect Abbas to possess the capacity to rule over a Gaza devastated by war.
 
But it is important to remember that the unity government created by Abbas would have allowed Hamas to keep its wea­pons and, presumably, its power to decide when to deploy them. Hamas hoped to turn Gaza and perhaps even the West Bank into a kind of Lebanon, where Hezbollah has veto power over policies without full responsibility for governance.
 
But this summer’s fighting has dramatically changed the circumstances in Gaza. A weakened Hamas and an Egyptian government that insists on preventing arms deliveries can enable the P.A. to exercise control over all factions and begin to build Gaza above and not below the ground.
 
Any post-Gaza reconstruction is once again going to highlight the ongoing Palestinian dilemma — pursue a fake justice for a virtual Palestine or, alternatively, generate concrete opportunities that can be secured for the next generation that could have a future.
 
Donna Robinson Divine is Morningstar Family Professor emerita of Jewish studies and government at  Smith College. Philadelphian Asaf Romirowsky is the executive director of Scholars for Peace in the Middle East and co-author of Religion, Politics, and the Origins of Palestine Refugee Relief.

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