Thursday, August 7, 2014

Watching the dust settle on Operation Protective Edge

Damage to a house in Rafah refugee Camp
Looking back at my article from 2012 , "As the dust settles: In the aftermath of Pillar of Defense", I realized how little has actually changed.  With only changing years, names, and some details, the essence of my post still stands: not much has changed from two years ago, and I could probably just copy and paste it again right here in August 2014.

In 2012 I argued that while both Israel and Hamas will claim victory, no one actually won.  Once again, I stand by this statement.   Israel will say it weakened Hamas: after all, our goals weren't to destroy Hamas nor to reoccupy Gaza,  but simply Bibi's vague notion of "weakening" them and destroying tunnels.  On the other side, Hamas will also claim victory.  They're still here, and they've succeeded in bringing fear to Israelis and turning the IDF around and out of Gaza. They'll claim more and more Gazans will turn to terror and support Hamas, and that in fact we haven't found all their tunnels or destroyed all their rockets.

And just like I said in 2012, while both sides claim victory, there are no winners.  It certainly wasn't the
Israeli children take cover in a playground during a red alert siren
citizens of the south, who for one month lived in fear of constant rocket attacks and from fear of terror tunnels.  Nor was it the families of 64 soldiers, sitting shiva for some of the best boys our country had to offer.  And there is no victory for the citizens of Gaza, who will now return to their pile of bricks, their neighborhoods in ruins, and with too many of their family, friends and neighbors dead.  Once again, used as collateral damage by their own leaders.

And just like in 2012, we'll now return to normal. We'll turn to the good ol' status quo.  Hamas will begin to rearm.  More rockets will be made, and smuggled in, preparing to kill innocent Israelis.  In 6 months time, another tunnel will be built, (with all that aid money the world will now send to Gaza) preparing to kidnap one of our soldiers.  And the blockade will resume, crippling Gaza exports, essentially stifling their chance at business and prohibiting them from fishing on the coast. And Gaza economy will continue to crumble, bringing resentment to the hearts of the next generation. Back to normal. Back to quiet. Until the next time where we play our little game of war, destruction and death.

I don't want to argue on the justness of the war, and I don't want to argue on the necessity of the war.  I'm not a military expert or a lawyer versed in the international laws of war.  We've been told a lot of stuff by our leaders on those two points in the last month, and not everything has made 100% sense to me, and not everything has logically connected.  But that's because they're not just leaders, they're also our politicians, with their own goals and their own future in mind.

What I do want to argue on, is the exact same thing I argued in 2012, something that we didn't take advantage of within this time.  In the past two years, we had a chance to solve the real problem instead of putting a bandaid on it's symptom.  In 2012, I argued that the only real solution to Gaza lies in the West Bank.  The creation of a diplomatic peace solution with moderate forces.  In 2012, Abas claimed he would make sure there would be no third Intifada, that the solution could only be found through the diplomatic creation of a Palestinian state through negotiations with Israel.  Then, in what I found to be an incredible revelation, he admitted that he was waiting to visit his hometown of Safed, not as a citizen, but as a visitor, in essence relinquishing the Palestinian right of return.  In my last article, I claimed that this statement, though small, was an incredible breakthrough on the Palestinian narrative of the right to return.  It's affirming Israel's right to stay Jewish, by admitting that it's unfeasible for scores of Palestinians to return to Israel proper, therefore drowning the Jewish majority.  To me, it was a sign of readiness to make peace.  Yet, what happened in those two years of opportunity?

In a recent Op-Ed the Times of Israel editor, David Horowitz, wrote an article titled "Netanyahu finally speaks his mind".  Here he argues that in a recent press conference, Bibi finally speaks his mind on the two state solution.  He says, "I think the Israeli people understand now what I always say: that there cannot be a situation, under any agreement, in which we relinquish security control of the territory west of the River Jordan." For anyone unsure, this means, no full Palestinian sovereignty.  What happened to those two years of opportunity? For Bibi, it was never an opportunity he was willing to take advantage of.

Meanwhile, a few days ago, Abbas had another interview, once again like in 2012, on Channel 2, which slipped through the cracks of mainstream Israeli discourse. (It wasn't only aired on Israeli network but also Palestinian, for the Palestinian people as well)  He said that the Palestinians made a mistake 1947, by refusing the UN partition plan which split the land into two states, one for Jews, and one for the Arabs.

This is huge.  The current Palestinian narrative focuses on victimhood. They were victims of Jewish immigration to Palestine, victims of the colonial powers, victims of the 1948 war that made them refugees (known to them as Nakba), victims of occupation, victims of consistent occupation and Israeli aggression.  Abbas' statement shifts the narrative.  It complicates the narrative of victimhood, and carries implications that they made a mistake, and that they need to take some responsibility for this mistake.  To me, it's another hand for peace.  It's saying, we made a mistake in 1948, but today, in 2014, we realize the power of the diplomatic process and are willing to fix this mistake through compromise.

Israeli narrative is also heavily reliant on victimhood.  We were victims of antisemitism in Europe, (and still are) we were victims of Arabs in Palestine, we were victims of the entire Middle East, we were victims of Syria, Jordan, Egypt and Lebanon. We are victims of terrorism, and we are occupiers because we are victims of continued Palestinian terror, that we cannot allow to kill our children.

I'm not denying that either groups aren't victims: both narratives hold truth.  However, the story of the past is much more complicated than a string of victimhood. Both groups have acted in ways that have casted them as perpetrators and agents of their own future.  Both sides have made mistakes, and both sides need to make hard compromises.  Etgar Keret in his recent article in the LA times, says that we should stop calling it peace, and start calling it for what it truly is: compromise.  He writes, "That's why the first step might to be stop using the debilitating word "peace", which has long since taken on transcendental and messianic meanings to both the political left and right wings, and replace it immediately with the word "compromise." It might be less rousing word, but at least it reminds us that the solution we are so eager for can't be found in our prayers to God but in our insistence on a grueling not always perfect dialogue with the other side."

Because compromise means not only hard decisions, but also a compromise in our world view, in how we see and define ourselves and how we see and define the other.  It's a compromise we have to make, and that they have to make.

It's time we made a choice.  We can continue to live in our cycle of violence.  We can make ceasefire after ceasefire with Hamas, only for it to be broken.  Only for us to forcefully go back in, with gun in hand to bring back our quiet, bring back our status quo.  Until the next time of course.

Hamas is a crazy terrorist group, we can't negotiate with Hamas nor can we empower them.  But every time we make ceasefires, we empower them.  We tell them that their violence paid off. We affirm their narrative of victory.  And so instead, we must turn east, to the West Bank, to the PLO, to Abbas. They aren't perfect, they've made mistakes, and will probably make more in the future.  But when we turn inward, we realize that neither are we, neither have we been, and neither will we ever be.

Compromise is a process.  Peace can't come overnight. It will be a long hard road.  But it needs to start somewhere, sometime.  But broken peace talks that take us back to status quo will never secure our future, they'll only drag us into cycle after cycle of violence, like the one we just ended.  And only when will we begin to demand from our leaders that they take this road, can we repair the real problem, can we stop fear from dictating our future, and stop the never-ending cycle.  Because if not, in 2016, 2017 or maybe 2018, I'll be writing this same article, all over again.

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