Two friends — one a Hasidic Jew who supports Israel and the other a solidarity activist who supports the Palestinians — asked me for my recommendations to end the bloodshed in Gaza.
#1 Have a clear understanding of the current position of each side.
Every Palestinian I’ve talked with says the same thing – “We would rather die together with our families than return to the status quo which was a slow death with no dignity. No ceasefire unless Israel lifts the 7-year siege.” Hamas makes the same demands.
Netanyahu can’t give Hamas a “win” by lifting the siege. He wants to eliminate the tunnels between Gaza and Israel and a demilitarized Gaza. He’s also stated he wants to eliminate Hamas altogether because he views Hamas as an existential threat to the State of Israel.
#2 The mediator must be neutral.
OK …. I know that’s an obvious point but apparently it’s beyond the comprehension of President Obama who has sent Secretary of State John Kerry to mediate a ceasefire. Kerry has no street cred with either side. I won’t explain the whole long sorry tale here but suffice it to say, the parties need a neutral mediator to help them hammer out a lasting agreement.
Since most nations of the world have already taken sides in this match, I think the United Nations is the only party capable of serving in that capacity.
#3 Israel and Hamas must talk with each other.
I know, I know, I know. Israel doesn’t recognize Hamas and refuses to endow it with any legitimacy by talking or negotiating with Hamas. The mediator can ferry messages back and forth between the parties if the two can’t sit in the same room, but a viable ceasefire will not come through dictates (as Israel and Egypt attempted a few days ago). There must be honest and transparent negotiations and both sides must be treated as equals.
#4 The Rule of Law must govern.
This should be a no brainer but it’s not acknowledged, and it should be. Both sides must be held to the rule of law. Israel doesn’t want the responsibilities or legal duties that flow from the Law of Occupation. Israel claims the right of self-defense and Hamas claims the right of self-defense but both endanger innocent civilians in contravention of international law and the laws of war. Unless the world is descending into lawless anarchy, the mediator must stipulate the ground rules — and the Law of Occupation, International Humanitarian Law, Refugee Law, etc. must be the basis for any negotiation.
#5 Address the legitimate needs of both sides.
The State of Israel needs security but can’t bomb its way to a sustainable peace with its neighbors. The people in Gaza need the suffocating siege lifted. Each side has more demands that will require more trust before compromises can be made, but to end the bloodshed now, these two issues (Israel’s security and lifting the siege on Gaza) must be addressed immediately.
Since every indication is that Netanyahu is not inclined to lift the siege, he needs outside “help” to make the right decision. It’s time for sticks, not carrots. Ideally, President Obama should signal his intention to withhold $8.5 million per day that the U.S. sends to support Israel’s military. Unfortunately, the U.S. has not proven to be a very effective partner for peace in the Middle East despite Obama’s words to the contrary. So the EU and others who have already taken steps to wield some serious sticks at Israel should be counseled to do so now.
In exchange for lifting the siege, the tunnels between Gaza and Israel should be dismantled under the supervision of an international body. This must be documented to the satisfaction of Israel and the community of nations.
There’s much more that could be said —- should be said —- about the occupation and the long-term prospects of co-existence. For the time being, the bloodshed must end. The rule of law must prevail.
As international correspondent Jon Snow says — “We can each make a difference if we care.”