It is widely known that entering a war can be based on swift and logical decisions. Exiting from that war can be, and often is, complicated. The more substantial, decisive and measurable a victory is, the clearer the path is to ending conflict and an exit.
An outstanding instance providing evidence for this is the Second Intifada which is an example of both a problematic entry and exit. Israel was not fully aware that the country was at war for many months. A negotiated exit was attempted and failed dismally. When finally, the government took a clear decision, decided to crush the intifada militarily and limit entry to Israel by building the Separation Barrier, the Second Intifada wound down to a humiliating whimper and the acknowledgment by many Palestinians of the damage they incurred. Determining the end of this uprising was possibly more difficult than the beginning. What is the moment that one is aware that indeed the war has ended? It is known, now in retrospect, that the Second Intifada began to fail following Operation Defensive Shield. We know now that the intifada had ended by 2006 and that sporadic acts of terror were no longer endorsed by the Palestinian Authority. In hindsight, this of course was the moment to launch the diplomatic initiative towards the two-state solution, in earnest. Instead, we saw more land and built more settlements and corrupted our children by teaching them that the lesson of war is theft of the defeated enemy’s property. We have wasted 8 precious years.
However one of the chief factors always threatening any kind of negotiated peace was the separatist Palestinian body known as Hamas, present in Gaza and influential in the West Bank. The question that was always prescient was how this specific wild-card will act whether in the South or three kilometers from Ben Gurion Airport. The Israeli left has always subscribed to the position that Hamas will be marginalized and moderated by a viable peace negotiated with the Palestinian Authority, with dignity, rights and a national countenance in place. It may be correct to say, that the peace movement in Israel placed this problematic logical foundation at the basis of any model. Clearly without it, the entire two-state model sits on shaky ground at best, and is supported largely by a lot of hope.
The time has now come – whether derivative of shocking diplomacy by Israel or whether by the belligerent machinations of the extremist regime in Gaza known as Hamas, or by a combination of both, that the Hamas threat needs to be contained and if and where possible rendered powerless. A diplomatic solution will only come on the acquisition of concrete strategic military assets gained by Israel in this conflict. Without this, truly, there is nothing to talk about. A gun aimed at your head is no way to start a conversation about life, with someone who seeks your destruction.
But with such a strategic gain and those assets in our back pocket – still far off but not impossible -what comes next?
Unfortunately it comes back to the issue of settlement and occupation. Israel may have well founded security considerations that hold back a negotiated path into a two-state solution. No doubt that will cause trouble, outrage and dissatisfaction by our adversaries in any negotiation. However, the rotten apple in the barrel that will in any circumstance ruin any fresh productive solution will be that of the settlement endeavor and the Greater-Israel fantasy. One cannot seriously entertain a negotiated two-state solution when you act to acquire both states. Hamas too has a zero tolerance position on one state or no state. And of course their actions are based on heinous crimes against humanity and a totalitarian regime of fear. But remove that for a moment and we are left with an Israel that is deeply addicted to its colonial mission, its biblical entitlement, its emotional connection to land, and its dependence on the settlement drug for short fixes. As long as the occupation rides on that addiction only, rather than on a clear vision for peace with a strong military foundation underpinning it, we will remain incapable of taking the diplomatic opportunity to bring this long conflict to an end. That moment of opportunity may present itself sooner than expected