With a ceasefire now in effect between Israel and Hamas, diplomacy can begin to take root.
By Lolita Brayman
A 72-hour humanitarian ceasefire between Israel and Hamas seems to be shakily holding, with a lull in rocket attacks and the deployment of the Israeli military to positions outside of Gaza. The IDF spokesperson officially announced on Tuesday that Operation Protective Edge’s goal – to destroy all known terrorist tunnels leading into Israel – was complete. What was looking like a unilateral Israeli withdrawal from Gaza a few days ago, a surprising move that forced Hamas to change its strategy and provided some international legitimacy to Israel’s military objectives, could become an opportunity to change the status quo.
The situation is now ripe for a diplomatic track to replace the repeated failed policy of conflict management via deterrence. In a move that would surely catch all parties off guard, Israel can take advantage of this moment and initiate a United Nations resolution draft.
A unilateral declaration by Israel of an end to its operation is likely to erupt into another round of violence in the coming days, weeks or months. A multilateral settlement, on the other hand, will put pressure on Hamas to adhere to its outline. Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad are back at the negotiating table in Cairo, desperately trying to achieve Israeli concessions to their political survival demands via Egypt and the Palestinian Authority’s influence.
Meanwhile, a quickly closing window may now exist for relevant international parties to help Israel draft an exit strategy that goes beyond halting the violence and rocket attacks and sets the stage for more permanent stability. This diplomatic opportunity can only occur if Israel alters its lofty and impractical goal of completely “demilitarizing” Hamas by also proposing a rehabilitation plan for Gaza, and changes its opposition towards the Palestinian unity deal and Fatah-Hamas reconciliation.
The high number of Palestinian and IDF casualties has made this Gaza operation very different from Operation Pillar of Defense in 2012 and Cast Lead in 2009. Instead, for a more permanent end to hostilities, Israel should look to the Lebanon model from 2006. UN Security Council Resolution 1701 ended the Second Lebanon War fought between Israel and the non-state actor Hezbollah. It reinforced the Lebanese government’s rule of authority and addressed Israel’s security by downgrading Hezbollah’s dominance in the region. It also brought in a UN peacekeeping force – the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) – along the Israeli border that combined forces with the Lebanese army. Resolution 1701 provided 13,000 UNIFIL troops with a role in disarmament and intercepting arms, provided tanks and heavy armor, and authorized it to use force.
Although there is some controversy as to the success of Resolution 1701 concerning the rearmament of Hezbollah, it was effective in that it restored order near the Israeli border and ended immediate warfare. The Lebanon model can provide an applicable framework for this current Gaza situation and change the nature of the protracted armed conflict between Israel and Hamas with a new strategic relationship. The resolution should call for the reinstatement of the Palestinian Authority in the Gaza Strip and put in place an international monitoring system to prevent the smuggling of weapons and building of unlawful tunnels. UN peacekeeping forces could be supplemented by Palestinian Authority security powers and also combine other armed Gaza forces along Egypt and Israel’s border.
There is always the possibility that Hamas will refuse a resolution that limits its authority in Gaza and return to launching rockets at Israel. But the back-door negotiations taking place in Cairo right now demonstrate a change in strategy – old tactics will not ensure political survival, especially with PA and Egyptian pressure mounting. If Israel retracts its opposition to the Fatah-Hamas reconciliation, the political wing of Hamas would be more likely to accept such an arrangement.
Israel could then, with these international assurances in place, lift its blockade of Gaza, work with the PA to begin humanitarian and economic recovery, allow the transport of goods, extend the fishing zone from the Gaza shore, repair critical infrastructure with the help of a UN emergency plan and open the Rafah crossing to Palestinians under Egyptian inspection. In an INSS Insight report, Udi Dekel and Shlomo Brom suggested that rehabilitating Gaza must also be included in a “reconstruction for demilitarization” policy, and an international monitoring mechanism (with Arab League guarantees) shall ensure that aid entering Gaza is not used to rearm Hamas but instead to develop the Strip.
Operation Cast Lead in 2009 also ended with a UN Resolution, but was far from successful, considering fighting continued between Hamas and Israel in 2012 and now in 2014. UN Resolution 1860 temporarily halted hostilities, but did not proceed further in changing the conditions for Palestinians living in Gaza, nor addressing Israeli security concerns. This UN attempt at diplomacy failed because all relevant international parties were not included in the resolution’s drafting; moreover, the U.S. abstained from voting on its implementation due to Israel’s policy guidance. All interested and involved bodies, including the U.S., Israel, the Palestinian Authority, Egypt, Turkey and Qatar should be on the same page in the resolution’s wording in order for a lasting impact to transpire and be influential on Hamas.
Israel’s Foreign Ministry has also advised Prime Minister Netanyahu to initiate the drafting of a new UN resolution. According to a Haaretz report, the ministry outlined two possibilities for how this could be presented to the UN Security Council: 1) Israel should reach an agreement about wording with Egypt, the U.S., other European countries and the PA, and then bring it to the Security Council for final approval before a vote is put to member states; or 2) Israel, the U.S. and other interested European states should draft the resolution together.
For the first time during this round of violence between Israel and Hamas, the UN can be helpful in creating tactical changes. However, the ball is in Israel’s court to use this platform instead of arguing with the international community about proportionality and other international law standards regarding urban warfare. There is a brief diplomatic window of opportunity to establish realistic long-term goals towards peace – alternatively, the UN Security Council just might issue an official condemnation of history repeating itself (again).
Lolita Brayman is a lawyer and former editor at Haaretz.com with an M.A. in conflict resolution and mediation from Tel Aviv University. Follow her on Twitter at @lolzlita