Steven Balkin
Inspired by Martin Buber and Eleanor Roosevelt.

Stop the invasion of Rafah by ending the war

Rafah's population has swelled from 250,000 to 1.5 million as Palestinians have fled to Gaza's southernmost city (Getty Images, picture date: 10 February 2024)
Rafah's population has swelled to 1.5 million as Palestinians have fled to Gaza's southernmost city (Getty Images, picture date: 10 February 2024)

Background on what needs to be done.

Francesca Albanese, the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories, issued a Human Rights report on March 25, 2024 specifically analyzing the situation in the Gaza Strip, since October 7, 2023.

The report has obvious weaknesses since she (1) was not able to visit the Gaza strip and depended on secondary sources (2) did not consider the Oct. 7 human rights violation of Hamas towards Israel as they were beyond the geographic scope of her mandate and (3) focused on Israel’s participation in the crime of genocide, which, as she describes it, was difficult for me to distinguish her definition from the acts of military behavior during a period of intense warfare.

Nonetheless, two of her conclusions have merit: the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights is to enhance its efforts to end the current atrocities in Gaza and, in consultation with the State of Palestine, deploy an international protective presence to constrain the violence.

Whatever you may want to call the war, directed towards Hamas or directed by Hamas towards Jews, it is brutish, barbaric, inhuman, and destructive of the social fabric and built infrastructure. Shoyn genug (in Yiddish); yakfi bialfiel (in Arabic) and enough already (in English).

I agree with the Israeli and moderate Arab view that peaceful coexistence of Jews with Palestinians is possible but only if Hamas is destroyed. The (unspoken) Middle Eastern mainstream Arab government view is that Hamas has to be destroyed militarily and politically. Hence, the need for Israel to invade Rafah. I have a related but a different view: peaceful coexistence between Palestinians and Jews is possible if Hamas is destroyed ideologically. Specifically, to be destroyed are its ideology of violence towards: Jews, Palestinians who want positive interactions with Jews, Palestinians who want to live a more secular and liberal lifestyle, and Palestinians who believe they have a right to freedom of speech.

Stopping the Israeli invasion into Rafah requires a drastic change in circumstances of Hamas and Israel such that a ceasefire of substantial duration can occur. Hopefully, it would be an end to the Gaza Wars resulting in peaceful side-by-side existence. With some pushing and welcomed interventions by third party countries towards Hamas, its ideological goals can be changed such that a mutual comfort level can be achieved for Israel and Hamas so that hostilities can stop in the long term.

I will suggest what needs to occur but it will depend on Palestinian supporters convincing Hamas to move away from violence to accepting peace and prosperity in a Palestinian State coexisting with Israel.

Hamas does not need to lay down its weapons; nor does it need to flee to another country; nor does it need to change its name.  But this plan will require Hamas to comply with what is defined below as the Seven Tasks for Peace (STP).

Noticeably absent in the discussion is the integration of Gaza with the West Bank of the Jordan River. While it seems that the Palestinian Authority (PA) is in the midst of a major reformation, it may take time to achieve that organizational makeover. Therefore, the focus here will be on Gaza.

It was reported in the March 26, 2024 Washington Post that Israeli PM Netanyahu said his government “will not accept Hamas’ delusional conditions for a cease-fire.” Hamas rejected the latest truce proposal because it says Israel is ignoring its core demands. Hamas wants the war to end by Israel’s full withdrawal from the Gaza Strip.  On the other side, Israel feels that its existential protection requires it to destroy Hamas and get all of remaining hostages returned. Hamas has stated in speeches, videos, and in its 1988 Covenant of the Islamic Resistance Movement that it intends to kill all Jews in Israel and the occupied territories, and that terrorist activity like the October 7 massacre will be repeated again and again until Jews are gone from the Levant.

Hamas ideology

For those who think Hamas is just another radical anti-colonial liberation group like Nelson Mandela’s African National Congress, Michael Manley’s Jamaican People’s National Party, or Gamal Abdel Nasser’s Arab Socialist Union, it is not. Do your research. As a side note, Nasser was no friend to the Muslim Brotherhood and in 1954 the Brotherhood made an assassination attempt on his life. Another name for Hamas is the Palestinian Muslim Brotherhood.

To understand their ideology, here are two links to videos of Hamas leader Yahya Sinwar and to their 1988 Covenant of the Islamic Resistance Movement. (Only, the first two minutes do not have English captioning). (pay attention to these thirteen articles: 7,11,13,15, 17, 22, 28, 30, 31, 32, 35, and 36).

PM Netanyahu’s Likud Coalition government will use the above to demonstrate why a Palestinian State could not co-exist with Israel. But I want to use these links to argue that Hamas’s ideology can be changed, as Japan and Germany’s ideology was changed after WWII.

In a January 25, 2024 Atlantic Council article, Gazan-American political analyst Ahmed Fouad Alkhatib believes Hamas can be politically rehabilitated. He gives the examples of  Columbia’s Revolutionary Armed Forces (FARC) rebels, the Irish Republican Army members in Northern Ireland, and the PLO fighters (who became the nucleus of the Palestinian Authority).

But the view here is that Hamas won’t change without support, encouragement, and protection from other countries or organizations; and Israel won’t accept that Hamas has changed unless it has an intermediary guarantor country or organization on the ground in Gaza that the Likud Coalition Government can trust. That trust is needed to assure that Hamas adheres to a peaceful co-existence arrangement with Israel.  Below are suggestions of countries or organization to fulfill that protector function for Gaza to be in protectorate status until statehood is achieved.

With a protector country in place in Gaza, Hamas can even keep its conservative Muslim teachings (even Sharia Law) as long as their new ideology is tolerant of less religious or non-religious Palestinians, of Palestinians who positively interact with Israelis, and of Jews of various religiosity. To stay relevant in Gaza, the “New Hamas” will need to keep being re-elected without coercion of the Gazan population.  One of the functions of the Protector State is to make sure there are regular Gazan parliamentary elections and that a wide range of Gazan people can peacefully run for office and form coalitions.

Of course, if Hamas reverts to its violent anti-Israel, anti-Jewish, anti-Palestinian and anti-democratic ideology and practices, Israel will need to be able to stop and reverse the process and either expel them or revert to war. Similarly, if Hamas is fulfilling its Tasks for Peace (for a time) as outlined below, and Israel were to intentionally and adversely control Gaza’s access to food, electricity, water, its transportation system, and basic freedoms, Hamas can revert to terrorism along with several of its Iranian backed allies in the region. No sane person in the Levant would want that.

What are Hamas’s alternatives? 

Hamas has rejected the idea of its leaders surrendering and going into exile. In the present circumstances, they will unlikely release all the hostages, their biggest bargaining chip. If they release all the hostages, there is nothing to restrain Israel Defense Forces (IDF) from annihilating them, as is IDF’s stated goal. Hamas does not care about saving the lives of the Palestinian civilian Gazans. They are an expendable sacrifice for the Hamas cause and their fatalities revs up antisemitism and puts global public pressure on Israel to give in to Hamas’s demands, perhaps making life so unbearable for Israelis that they will move out of Israel. In this context, Hamas has made it imperative for Israel to try to destroy it. The Netanyahu Likud Coalition, even in its National Unity form, has fallen into this trap and is unable to use its strategic skills to get out of it.

Hamas’s current demands are Israeli withdrawal from Gaza, a long-term ceasefire, reconstruction of the Strip, and release of hundreds of Palestinian prisoners, even those accused of murdering civilians. If Israel acquiesced, Hamas would declare victory, stay in control of Gaza, recruit new members, rebuild tunnels, and restock its munitions. In those circumstances, the IDF appears to have no other options other than to continue its invasion of Gaza and move into Rafah. But I want to give Israel a way out this trap.

In this alternative option, Israel does not invade Rafah. This saves Palestinian civilian lives which many Israelis and Jews care about, helps its global public image, reduces antisemitic sentiment, and will be a favor to its ally Joe Biden.

In a tit for tat game theoretic strategy, that you always repeat what the opponent did in the previous period, Hamas starts by ceasing its belligerency and then Israel grants a ceasefire and allows Hamas to be a political party in Gaza where it can run for election in the Gazan parliament.  Israel ceases its occupation of Gaza, facilitates immediate and dramatic increases in humanitarian aid flow, electricity and clean water restoration, an airport and two ports to be created, and reconstruction to begin. Gaza gets being put on a track for Statehood, individually or with the West Bank, conditionally on Hamas and Gaza meeting certain conditions.

If Hamas starts the positive self-reinforcing process by truly ceasing its belligerency, it, the Palestinian people, and Israelis are, put on a path towards co-existence, prosperity, and Palestinian Statehood. On the other hand, if Israel were to start the process of non-belligerency, Hamas would see this as an indicator of weakness and position a ceasefire as a time to prepare for another terrorist massacre. That is why for peace to occur, Hamas has to start the non-belligerency process.

This is what non-belligerency is.

Hamas has to perform the following Seven Tasks for Peace (STP):
1. Return all hostages and the bodies of killed hostages.

2. Cease the use of weaponry and violence directed against Israelis, Jews, and Palestinians.

3. Cease diverting aid to military uses.

4. Eliminate 13 anti-Israel and anti-Jewish articles in the 36 articles of its 2018 Covenant.

5. Cease the publication of anti-Israel and anti-Jewish books, educational materials, and propaganda.

6. Cease teaching anti-Israel and anti-Jewish topics in all schools and colleges, religious and secular.

7. Accept non-belligerent occupation by a sympathetic country or organization to ensure non-violence (de-militarization and de-radicalization), peaceful co-existence with Israel, and compliance with the above.

With respect to the seventh task, the key is to find a country or organization to perform the role of Protector to stop retaliatory activity directed to Hamas and to protect Israel by monitoring and ensuring Hamas compliance with the STP.

Hamas has a reputation of lying and concealing aggressive activity to gain an advantage in terrorist activity. Hence the need for a third party monitor-intervener to be involved that Israel can trust.

Third party protector states

It has been suggested by Creighton University Law Professor Michael J. Kelly in his December 4, 2023 Leiber Institute West Point article, that the Arab League can and should fulfill this role.

I disagree because the Arab League appears too dysfunctional. The countries in the League, as a whole, do not feel in alliance with Palestinians; and the moderate Arab League countries are against Hamas and hopeful that Israel would get rid of them. If the countries in the Arab League took part with Israel to, in any way, control Hamas, those Arab League countries would experience Arab Spring instability from their own populations in the streets.

What countries remain, for Hamas to work with, to transform and protect Hamas such that Hamas can promote democracy and work for Gaza to be politically peaceful with its neighbors and prosper economically?

According to Professor Kelly, the European Defense Agency (EDA) is good candidate that has previously and successfully deployed peacekeepers on over 30 missions in Europe, Africa, and Asia. I agree. The EU is the single largest donor of foreign aid to the Palestinian Authority and is a substantial contributor of humanitarian aid to Gaza. I think both Hamas and Israel would trust it to facilitate Hamas’s reform and protect both Israelis and Palestinians.

My next preferred candidate for protector state is the Republic of Ireland by itself, or Ireland with the EDA, or Ireland with the Republic of South Africa. A March 29, 2024 article by CNN called Ireland the most pro-Palestinian nation in Europe. There are several reasons for this affinity including similar experiences as a colony of Britain such as the Great Potato Famine of the 1840s, the splitting of the Irish island into two states on the basis of religion, and the military and political connectedness between the rebel Irish Republican Army and the Palestine Liberation Organization. The Irish government considers peace in the Middle East to be a key foreign policy priority. Matt Carthy, Sinn Féin’s spokesperson on foreign affairs and defense, is quoted as saying, “Our experience of the peace process and our experience of the importance of international solidarity and interventions has made us acutely aware that this isn’t something we can just sit back and watch on our TV screens.”

Ireland has deep empathy and affinity with Palestinians. But is it only rhetorical or are they really willing to leave their TV screens and help Palestinians and Israel achieve peace? Will Irish people, who are sympathetic to Palestinians, use their agency to speak to their Hamas contacts to curb Israel’s existential need to invade Rafah or will they continue meaningless protests at the Irish grave of President Biden’s Great Grandfather. Will they be willing to try to convince Hamas that doing the STP will be good for them and for Palestinians? And, if Hamas and Israel invite them, will Ireland send troops and administrators into Gaza to monitor Hamas, provide domestic order, and insure that Hamas complies with the STP?

Next on my list is Canada or Canada with Australia and New Zealand. On February 14, 2024, the prime ministers of Australia, Canada, and New Zealand issued a joint statement on the stationary of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. Here is an excerpted summary of it.

“We are gravely concerned by indications that Israel is planning a ground offensive into Rafah…. A military operation into Rafah would be catastrophic. …Israel must listen to its friends…. Palestinian civilians cannot be made to pay the price of defeating Hamas.  …Rapid, safe and unimpeded humanitarian relief must be provided to civilians. …Any ceasefire cannot be one sided. Hamas must lay down its arms and release all hostages immediately….Ultimately, a negotiated political solution is needed to achieve lasting peace and security.”

Here is my response to PM Trudeau, PM Albanese, and PM Luxon: You have good intentions and admirable ethics, but you must now put them into action by talking to Hamas and entering Gaza. Hamas are the ones who have the power to stop the ground offensive into Rafah. You must persuade them that if they perform the STP, they will gain and improve their situation and better the position of the Palestinian people. You should not expect Israel, attacked in a cruel massacre, to allow its existence to stay in jeopardy when Hamas can stop the conflict. But words are not enough. You three countries must offer to protect Hamas and the Palestinian people. You are needed to make sure aid flows profusely and that you monitor Hamas compliance to the STP so that Israel can leave Gaza and your wish for “lasting peace and security” can be fulfilled.

Based on their stability, resources, pro-Palestine activities, and pronouncements, here are other countries that are good candidates to offer to go inside Gaza to be peace making monitors and protectors of Hamas (and thereby also protecting Israelis): Spain, Malta, Slovenia, Malaysia, Indonesia, Albania, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Brazil, Argentina, and Sweden. Recognizing Palestine is not enough. At present, it is speaking into the wind. You need to talk to Hamas and Israel and offer to go into Gaza to protect Hamas and oversee Gaza and the STP peace making process.

It is likely that there are other countries that have not been mentioned that may be able and want to do this. Please declare yourself to Hamas and Israel.

Finally, I propose that if no country or block of countries, that both Hamas and Israel can trust, are willing to fulfill this peace making function, that a plea should go out to leftist peace and protest organizations that profess affinity to Palestinians, to leave their TV screens to be trained to come to Gaza to convince Hamas that doing the STP will be good for them and for Palestinians? And, if Hamas and Israel invite them, to be troops and administrators into Gaza to monitor Hamas, provide domestic order, and assure that Hamas complies with the STP? Are these pro-Palestine peace and protest organization advocates only in their rhetoric or do they really want to see the casualties in Gaza stop; and for casualties to stop in Israel also. You can’t have one without the other. Ending a war means stopping the experience of violence for both sides to a conflict. A long term cease fire, means stopping violence now and far into the future.  It is also the stopping of threats and ceasing preparation for resumption of war by the planning of terrorist massacres.

The Uncommitted National Movement (UNM) in the US has put a lot of time and money into trying to defeat Joe Biden in his 2024 presidential re-election effort. In the Wisconsin primary, a battle ground state, they spent over $310,000 to getting voters to vote uncommitted as retaliation to Biden for supporting Israel. Rather than teach Biden a lesson and thereby help to elect his opposing candidate who will be much more belligerent towards Palestinians, why not use your time and resources to go to Gaza and work with Hamas and Palestinians there to stop the war and the assault on Rafah. Alternatively, you can use the money raised to provide to a country like Ireland for them to go to Gaza to be a peacemaker and increase humanitarian aid.

What should happen the day after?

Living peacefully in a side-by-side situation is the outcome to attain. I am not sure that a two-state solution is the best way to get there. I think it will require a multi-state solution of some sort within the context of a weak confederation. I have discussed this in one of my recent Times of Israel blog posts but I think it needs further refinement.

Let’s transform Hamas, stop the Gazan War, move towards a long term ceasefire, and then we can fine tune land sharing with an optimal one state or multi-state configuration. When our populations are secure, well fed, and well housed, our diplomats, sitting across tables, should be making arguments while drinking strong thick coffee with ample plates of falafel and kunafa. That is the goal to seek.

I want to thank Michael J. Kelly and Ron Litchman for being readers and giving me critical feedback. The opinions expressed in this post are my own and do not necessarily express the views or opinions of these readers.

About the Author
Dr. Steven Balkin is a Professor Emeritus at Roosevelt University in Chicago where he teaches courses in economics, social justice, and criminal justice. His PhD. is from Wayne State University in Detroit. He is the author of many articles and a book: Self-Employment for Low Income People. His research focus is on violence prevention, international development, entrepreneurship, and cultural preservation. He is a member of the Chicago Political Economy Group.
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