Quiet sets in as yet another ceasefire goes into effect. The Israeli campaign against Hamas tunnels and terror infrastructure met with some success and much criticism. Yet, something has changed about the attitudes of Israel’s neighbors and those of the international community.
Last week Prime Minister Benjamin “Bibi” Netanyahu addressed the nation to tell Israelis of the Egyptian-brokered ceasefire. In his remarks, he pointed to the unprecedented cooperation of states in the region. Obviously, this did not refer to President Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority. Bibi was referring to the change in attitudes shown by the “moderate” Sunni Arab states. Egypt, which recently overthrew its Islamist government in favor of a secular one, has been particularly keen to weaken Hamas, an ally of the Islamist Morsi regime.
Perhaps the greatest surprise of the conflict was Saudi Arabia’s response. King Abdullah addressed the humanitarian crisis in very general terms, careful to avoid condemning Israel. He also condemned Hamas, again in general terms, as “distorting Islam.” While these statements are far from a ringing endorsement of Israel, they do represent a significant shift in thinking in the Sunni Arab world. This does not mean that Saudi textbooks will soon be stripped of their anti-Semitic curriculum or that anti-Israel propaganda will cease to be disseminated by the state news.
Aware that Shiite rebels within their borders and Iran are greater threats to these moderate regimes than Israel, they are finally taking action to limit Iran’s influence. They are also not unaware of the appeal of groups like the Islamic State (IS formerly ISIS) that seek the establishment of a single Caliphate throughout the Islamic World.
Regarding Gaza, Egypt and several other powers in the region have spoken of its possible demilitarization. The implication now is that these powers will play a more direct role in the redevelopment of, and political governance in, Gaza. Arab governments could avoid the negative political and press fallout that Israel receives whenever it takes action.
International calls for the Strip’s demilitarization have also been increasing. The so called E3 (Britain, France, and Germany) have set forth a plan to have the Palestinian Authority reassert its control of the wayward region.The also call for the use of an international mechanism for guarding the crossings to ensure that goods can flow freely but that weapons, cement, and building supplies do not go to Hamas. Israel is wary of such grand solutions as they frequently involve tough talk and weak implementation. Ergo rockets being stored in UN schools.
Israel is naturally concerned that such a plan would create a precedent that might apply also to Samaria and Judea (the West Bank) wherein Israel has always sought a security corridor along the Jordan River. If an international force can guard Gaza, why not the West Bank? Israel has a right to be concerned. Justice Minister and Hatnuah Party leader Tzipi Livni has also presented a similar plan to have Gaza demilitarized with the assistance of the PA. Whether Bibi will choose to move forward with this plan or parts of it is unclear.
When it comes to the Palestinian Authority we can certainly expect Mahmoud Abbas to do whatever it takes to assert his authority over the region. Egypt is planning to have the PA take over the Rafah crossing on the Egyptian border of the Gaza Strip. While Fatah, Abbas’ party, has no reason to love Israel, they do want to reassert power and could serve as a mechanism for the disarmament of Hamas. No peace agreement could ever be feasible as long as groups other than the PA are armed, much as Israel could not become a state until it had a single government and military.
Israel must maintain control of the security situation, but there is a lot that the PA with the help of the Egyptian government could do to improve the lives of Palestinians in Gaza while making life utterly miserable for Hamas. I called for greater Egyptian involvement in a recent article. This now seems like a real possibility.
The rebuilding of Gaza must be undertaken, but it must not be a rebuilding of Hamas. Protests against Hamas have taken place several times in recent days, and several Palestinians have been executed for participating. Expect the international media to leave out this “minor” detail. The Gaza must be demilitarized, the PA needs to reassert authority there, and Arab and European governments need to back real solutions to the conflict. Otherwise, in 2017 or so we will be right back in this situation, possibly with a whole lot of Israelis dead.
The Hamas plot to have attackers emerge from their tunnels to rampage through Israeli neighborhoods targeting civilians while wearing IDF uniforms has shamed those in the world who condemned Israel for the conflict but failed to condemn Hamas. For those who regularly support Israel there was no surprise. We in the global Zionist and pro-Israel community must keep up the pressure on governments, groups, and individuals that have supported or otherwise failed to condemn Hamas.
This flare up also saw the unusual statements of support from the 28 European Union Foreign Ministers. Europeans are slowly awakening to the reality that large Muslim minorities within their borders are a serious threat. Anti-Semitic rallies have gone beyond the usual talk to attack synagogues, plunder businesses, and have shown utter disregard for the European cultural tolerance that they themselves demand when Islamic practices are questioned. Europe has a serious problem and they need to address it.
Perhaps the most interesting development from all of this involves Israel’s relationship with the United States, which soured considerably during the flare up in fighting. The State Department issued its strongest condemnation of Israel in decades over Operation Protective Edge; this after John Kerry’s Apartheid gaffe earlier this year. The United States has failed to stand by Israel during the conflict as it has in the past, choosing instead to join the usual chorus of condemnation that we have all come to expect from the international community. Bibi is purported to have told US officials “do not ever second guess me again.” He means it.
Attitudes are changing, but for Israel and the global Jewish community, the world remains a very dangerous place. Israel also resides in a neighborhood that is perhaps now more dangerous then it has ever been.