As the ceasefire begins and the IDF withdraws from Gaza, consider the following declarations (not verbatim) made by Hamas leaders in recent years:
Ahmed Yassin (leader of Hamas, assassinated by Israel), 1997: “Hamas is ready for a 30-year hudna (truce) with Israel”.
Mahmud Al-Zahar (co-founder of Hamas), 2006: “Hamas is offering a full hudna for the long term, if a Palestinian state is erected along the 1967 borders”.
Ismail Haniyeh, prime minister of Hamas, 2006: “Hamas accepts the principles of the Arab peace initiative” (which talks about peace with Israel if a Palestinian state is erected along the 1967 borders).
Khaled Mashal, leader of Hamas, 2010: “Israel is a fact”. In 2014: “Hamas wants peace, but peace with no occupation and no settlement”.
Hassan Yossuf, Hamas leader in the West Bank, 2014: “Hamas is willing to sign a hudna with Israel and accept a peace deal if most Palestinians are in favour of this”.
As Israel mourns dozens of its sons killed in the last round of fighting in Gaza; as yet another “operation” ends inconclusively; as Gazans bury hundreds and contemplate the destruction around them – perhaps it is time for Israel’s government to pause and rethink its years-long policy of “managing” the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
This policy assumes the current status quo can continue indefinitely, with no need for peace talks with the other side (because the assumption is “there is no partner”). Perhaps it is time to realize that no matter how strong the IDF is, this is a conflict that will never be solved by military force alone. The fact is that after 4 weeks of ferocious assault, Hamas is still launching rockets into Israel. The same happened in the Second Lebanon War (2006), where after a month of Israeli onslaught Hezbollah continued to rain rockets on northern Israel.
For many years, Israel did not speak with the PLO. In fact, it was a felony for an Israeli citizen to meet someone from the PLO. And yet today Israel’s wettest dream is for Gaza to become like the West Bank! Israel has already talked with Hamas and reached agreements: the freeing of kidnapped soldier Gilad Shalit and the ceasefire in 2012. So declaring “we don’t talk with Hamas” is an empty declaration.
Forget peace. That’s not the goal. Let’s aim lower for now: a long-term period of silence. To achieve this, Israel needs to combine its military response to terrorist groups like Hamas with an ongoing effort to reach an understanding with its neighbours. As prime minister Netanyahu himself pointed out, the circumstances created by this latest round of fighting might just result in the formation of new alliances in the region, leading to a stabler future. Let’s hope this opportunity is not squandered.