Ending the Violence, from Destruction to Dialogue

by Dr. Ron Kronish

first published on The Times of Israel, July 24 2014

We in Israel have been waiting with baited breath every day for a week for a ceasefire so that the ongoing attempts at mutual destruction will cease and so that innocent civilians on both sides can breathe easily once again and stop living in fear. The immediate round of mutual violence and recrimination needs to come to an end as soon as possible!

The Hamas military wing –and their Islamic allies –have shot hundreds of missiles all over southern and central Israel, causing almost no personal harm but instilling fear in the hearts and minds of millions of Israeli parents and children. They have succeeded in their psychological terror campaign . Since the beginning of the ground Invasion, they have killed 32 Israeli soldiers and injured more than 100.

Millions of people throughout Israel have been running to their shelters and “safe rooms” every day, and especially at night, in order to avoid incoming missiles from Gaza. The psychological trauma has been huge and it continues every day.

And, Israel’s army, navy and air force launched an invasion into Gaza during the last week, with the stated purposed of destroying the tunnels built by Hamas that reach underneath Israeli communities near the border with Gaza. The military has reacted with much force, bombing suspected Hamas military sites all over Gaza, and justifiably destroying terrible tunnels that are dangerous to Israelis living in communities near the border with Gaza. This is been done to get the message to the Hamas leaders that they must stop their insanity!

At the same time, his has led to hundreds of innocent civilians killed and over three thousand injured, many of them women and children; moreover much property has been destroyed and 100,000 people have been forced to flee their homes. Yet the Hamas and other Islamic militants in Gaza keep firing more and more missiles, with seemingly no or little concern for the losses on their side.

Is the military pressure bringing Hamas to the negotiating table? It seems that the answer is negative. More force seems to make them insanely more stubborn.

And, do the diplomats who are shuttling all over the Middle East have any sense of urgency? It seems that the answer is negative, since they are not convincing either side to compromise on its demands, and the talks drag out from day to day.

In the meantime, there have been some outrageous “leaders” in Israel who called for the Israel Defense Forces to go on the offensive and reconquer Gaza! How outlandish! They apparently forget about our 18 years in Southern Lebanon! They live in the past, still thinking that military force is the best mode of conflict resolution.

Fortunately, our current political and military leadership ignored their irrelevant and irreverent bluster, and did their best to avoid a ground offensive for a long time. But now that we are one week into the ground offensive, many questions are being asked: is there any end in sight? Are the goals of the operation limited and realistic? Is it just a surgical operation? The Defense Minister said 3 days ago that it would take 3 days! But another senior military man said last night that it will take 2 more weeks!

Can all the tunnels leading to Israeli communities near the border be destroyed? And, what does it mean “to restore quiet”? How long will this take? Is it achievable? At what costs? Are we entering the Gaza quagmire, reminiscent of the Lebanese quagmire? Are we sinking deeper and deeper into the mud? Are we on the brink of a mini war of attrition? Is there an exit strategy? These questions are on the minds of everyone in Israel.

After the guns and the missile launchers fall silent—hopefully the sooner the better–the key question will quickly become: can we move from destruction to dialogue, from negating the other to entering into serious negotiations? When will we come to the realization that military power is limited and that it cannot achieve lasting peaceful coexistence?

How exactly will the ceasefire be achieved if not through dialogue and negotiations? Israel doesn’t talk to Hamas, but it talks to the leaders of Egypt, who talk to the leaders of Qatar who talk to the leaders of Hamas for us! For many years, we didn’t talk to the PLO either, until we realized that talking is the only effective way to make progress, and eventually also peace.

Some of Hamas leaders even floated some ideas for a 10 year “hudna”, Arabic for “truce”. This is amazing and should not be totally ignored. Maybe some of the ideas are even mutually beneficial to both sides?

We can talk indirectly to the Hamas, at first, as we have been doing for years. This is, of course, what led to the release of Gilad Shalit! And this is the way a cease-fire was reached in the past. Talking is better than shooting –it is less harmful to human beings on all sides.

But some will argue that negotiating is very complicated, and often very confusing. And, anyway, it only works at the end of a military campaign, they say. And, the other side makes too many unrealistic demands, they will add.

Maybe so. But at the end of the day, there is no real alternative to dialogue and negotiations, if we really want to live in peace with our neighbors in this region. The military path—even when it is justified to blow up dangerous tunnels that come underneath our communities– is too full of damage and destruction, of life and property, and, it just generates more animosity and hatred.

Now is the time, therefore, to move from damage and destruction, to dialogue and deliberations.

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