Israel provoked the latest round of rocket attacks from Gaza when it overreacted to the kidnapping and murder of three Israeli teens by a rogue element of Hamas. The moral responsibility for provoking a war that has led to nearly 650 deaths in Gaza rests mainly with Israel. Hamas does indeed share some responsibility for the war. Even though its leaders probably didn't order the kidnappings, they certainly gave it their blessing after the fact. And their fortunately mostly futile attempt to kill as many Israeli civilians must be condemned. But Israel, through its actions and overwhelming use of force must bear most of the blame for the war starting in the first place.
I could write a lengthy post backing up that thesis, but time is urgent and I simply don't have the time. Perhaps I will develop this thesis in more detail in a future post, but today I want to make a suggestion for how to end the fighting and prevent further needless deaths. I will leave links to several articles at the end of this post if you want to know why I consider Israel primarily responsible for this tragedy.
While Hamas is not mainly responsible for starting this war, it does bear primary responsibility for not stopping it. Israel accepted the cease fire proposed by Egyptian President al-Sissi's fire. Hamas did not. Some speculate that Hamas's refused to join the cease fire because it did not want to boost the international standing of Egypt's President, who they consider to be a mortal enemy. Perhaps there is something to that speculation, but that is hardly the main reason for their refusal. Their main reason can be found in their five demands for a truce and in their 10 conditions for a ten-year cease fire. I strongly urge you to read those demands; then read this article by Ali Abuminah who accurately diagnosed the problem: "It's the siege, stupid."
At first glance, Hamas's demands seem quite reasonable--lift the siege and release those Palestinians rounded up in the aftermath of the kidnapping and murder who had nothing to do with the incident. They are reasonable as far as they go, but they don't go far enough. They do nothing to address Israel's legitimate safety and security concerns. Hamas's charter calling for the extermination of Jews throughout Israel will still be intact, as will their ever-growing, ever more capable rocket force. And this Israel finds unacceptable. Any plan that capitulates to Hamas's demands without addressing Israel's security concerns will be Dead On Arrival. Furthermore, it will be viewed by the Israelis as rewarding Hamas for launching rockets against Israel, so it will be deader than DOA--it will be folded, spindled, mutilated, stomped on, spat on, and set on fire. And that's just the warm-up act.
So how do we get around this dilemma? How can we arrange a cease-fire that addresses Israel's concerns while simultaneously addressing Hamas's minimum needs? Daniel Nisman and Ron Gilran came up with a brilliant answer when they wrote that Hamas Should Be Disarmed, Not Destroyed. Read their column NOW!!! Here is the heart of their idea:
There is, however, a rare opportunity for a regional arrangement which could ultimately bring an end to the cycle of violence in Gaza. As part of any ceasefire, the international community should demand that Hamas dismantle its rockets and those of other fringe groups in exchange for a lifting of the blockade by Israel and Egypt. Israeli government officials are increasingly citing the Syrian example of a successful case where a credible threat of military force succeeded in extracting destabilizing weapons from the region, in a sign that Jerusalem may be warming up to such an agreement.
Bibi Netanyahu should jump start this approach by making the following speech directed at the leaders of Hamas.
We Israelis are eager to have a cease fire. That is why we accepted President al-Sissi's proposal and withheld our fire for six hours in the hopes that you would accept his proposal too. But you did not. Instead, you fired rocket after rocket at us, rejected the proposal, and issued a list of demands that you insist we must accept before you are willing to cease fire. I have read your demands for a cease fire and I can understand why you make them. Unfortunately, they do not adequately address our security concerns. And so we have rejected them.
I would now like to make you an offer that you should consider very carefully before you refuse. I am ordering a withdrawal of our troops and from Gaza and I will order our forces to cease fire for 24 hours while you consider this offer. We will give you more time to consider the offer if you reciprocate by stopping all rocket fire into Israel.
You think you have the support of your fellow Gazans for your continued attacks against Israel. You say that your population is being so choked by our blockade that they would be willing to risk their lives to break it. We do not agree with your characterization of our blockade and we are reluctant to ease up on it further without more assurances that our easing won't be used to smuggle more weapons into Gaza that will be used against us. We also are not as sure as you are that your people support this war. We do not believe that most Gazans are willing to risk their lives to continue it while you hide in your bunkers. So we call on you to hold a vote. We want to know what your people really think. We ask that you put two questions on the ballot. First, "Should Hamas agree to a cease fire with Israel?" If they vote yes then we will release all who we have arrested in the aftermath of the brutal kidnapping and murder of Naftali Frankel, Gilad Shaer, and Eyal Yifrah except for those who we are charging with this act of terrorism. We will also improve the conditions of other Palestinians who we continue to hold in prison. You, of course, will have to return the bodies of any Israeli soldiers killed and release any Israelis that you have captured since the beginning of hostilities. We will continue to honor the truce as long as you do.
The second question that should be put on the ballot is this: "Should Hamas dismantle its rockets and the rockets of fringe groups and do all it can to discourage violent attacks against Israelis in exchange for lifting the blockade by Israel and Egypt?" If your people vote "yes" then we will lift the blockade on Gaza and encourage the Egyptians to do the same. As your rockets are being dismantled we will lift economic restrictions on you. If we see that you are serious about giving up violence against Israel then we will help you develop economically. We will help you build an international airport and seaport supervised by UN and non-biased countries. And we will not interfere with your reconciliation with the PLO.
I want you to note what we are not requiring you to do at this point. We are not going to ask you to give up nonviolent forms of resistance such as supporting the BDS campaign against us. We want you to give up that campaign, but we will not require you to commit yourself to this. Of course, you realize, the more economically isolated we become, the less we will be able to help you with your development.
And we will not demand that you give up your charter that claims that all of what was in the Palestinian Mandate, including Israel, is part of an Islamic waqf and that this requires you to drive Jews off the land. We will not tolerate it if you do anything concrete to try to obtain this goal, but we will not use force against you to get you to change your charter. Instead, we will try to persuade you with logic and evidence that you are wrong. We will ask you why you are such a tiny minority amongst Muslims in this belief. The Saudis and the Egyptians do not believe this. In fact, I am unaware of any other government, Muslim or otherwise, that shares this belief with you. Even Iran's Foreign Minister, Mohammad Zarif, said that Iran would be willing to recognize Israel if Israel and Palestine achieved a peaceful resolution to the conflict. So even Iran has declared in principle that it is willing to recognize Israel under the right circumstances. That is a far cry from your charter which states that all of what was the Palestinian Mandate has been part of a holy waqf since Caliph Umar Ibn al-Khattab's time and that no king or president or country has the right to give up this land for peace with the Israelis. Back in the 1930's Amin al-Husseini, the Grand Mufti and the President of the Supreme Muslim Council of the British Mandate went around trying to to get Palestinian Arabs to endow their private lands to an Islamic waqf so that it couldn't be sold to Jews. But, as Professor Yitzhak Reiter notes, "This very fact proves that in his mind Palestine was not waqf territory . . . rather, he recognized private ownership of lands but he wished to change its legal status to waqf." Or, to put it another way, why would he have to make an effort to get the land donated to a waqf if it was already part of that waqf? It just doesn't make sense.
So much as we want you to drop your evil, outdated, and wrongheaded notion that Israel is part of a waqf and that Jews have no right being here, we will not make you do so at the point of a gun. We want peace and we want it now. We don't want to risk killing more innocent Palestinian babies to get you to change your charter.
This is but a short overview of the approach we would like to take. We can work out details later. For now, you need to concentrate on one question. Will you allow the people of Gaza to vote on whether they want to continue hostilities with Israel? If you say "yes", and if your people vote "yes" in an internationally monitored vote, then we can work with you towards peace. If you say "no" to a vote then your people will know that you do not represent them. If you say "no" to a vote then your people will know you do not care about what they think on this life and death issue. If you say "no" then it will be you who bears responsibility for continued fighting. We want to end this. Do you?
Clarification and update: In the above speech, I suggested that Netanyahu say "We do not agree with your characterization of our blockade (that it chokes the Gaza population). Actually, I very much believe that the population of Gaza is choking under an oppressive blockade. But I can not imagine Netanyahu ever admitting it. So instead, I wrote words that he might actually say in a speech. That doesn't mean I endorse this particular viewpoint.
Also, I see Peter Beinart and I think somewhat alike. I read his column a few hours after I wrote mine, and he makes some of the same suggestions I have. However, his column is more eloquent than mine and he covers certain aspects in more detail than I do. I highly recommend it.
Update 2: 7/28/14--There are now over 1000 deaths in Gaza, and it appears that Israel is the one who is refusing a cease fire.
Update 3: 8/7/14: As I write this, Israel has declared it is willing to extend a 72-hour cease fire indefinitely, so long as Hamas goes along with it. Hamas, however, has declared that they will not extend the cease fire if Israel does not end the bolckade of Gaza. Also, a recent poll shows that 92 percent of Gazans want a long term cease fire between Israel and Hamas and 72% want a lasting peace agreement with Israel.
For Further Reading On How Israel Provoked The War