18 months ago, in May 2011, I wrote a blog entitled “Hitting Back” which finished with the following paragraph:
“Our government has a tendency to suggest that the Palestinians only understand violence. ‘We won’t talk under fire,’ they say. But when the Palestinians aren’t firing at us we won’t talk either. It seems that we simply won’t talk at all. As the mother of an Israeli soldier, I feel compelled to voice my plea for our government to talk now in order to prevent armed conflict later. I, for one, am not prepared to see my son go into battle in an entirely avoidable war. Now’s the time to take action to prevent the next war. It’s time we learned to use words rather than always hitting back.”
I find it almost unbearable to see my son go into battle in a war that might have been prevented. I believe in Israel’s right to self-defense, but I also believe that the right to self-defense has some conditions and obligations alongside it. Our government is promoting the question in its propaganda campaign, “What would Obama / Putin / etc. etc. do if New York / Moscow etc. etc. was under fire?” I find the question objectionable because it completely ignores the context of this campaign. Israel cannot afford to look at things only through the lens of an immediate response to the current situation. We are morally and strategically obliged to have a longer term view. What would Obama do? I hope he would develop a long-term strategic plan to change the equation rather than simply re-playing the same record over and over again. Here are some steps we Israelis could have taken since the last round of fighting four years ago (what a coincidence) in order to prevent this one:
- We could have acted to strengthen the moderate Palestinian leadership of Mahmoud Abbas, in order to increase his legitimacy as the Palestinian leader, rather than undermine him at every turn.
- We could have initiated negotiations, direct or indirect, with the Hamas leadership, in order to promote a long-term cease-fire – something that was seemingly undertaken by peace activist Gershon Baskin, who successfully brokered the Shalit deal.
- We could have strengthened our strategic alliance with Turkey – rather than insisting on our “honor.”
- We could have taken a long and hard look at the Arab Peace Initiative.
- We could have stopped building settlements, which only protract the conflict, in order to sit down with a reasonable partner and try to reach agreement.
- We could have welcomed Abbas’ UN initiative and agreed to recognize a Palestinian state, on condition that its borders remain to be negotiated.
- We could have poured the billions of dollars we invest in occupation and war into peace and the real security that peace would bring.
Many call me naïve. But who is naïve here? I am not for one moment suggesting that Hamas is a peace-loving movement of the righteous. I am not even sure that any of the possibilities I suggest above would have been successful. I don’t know if any of these initiatives would have brought the residents of Southern Israel the security they deserve. But I would feel very differently about this war if I felt that we had made ANY significant effort at peace since the last one. And I say it is naïve, if not worse, to throw away human life on both sides, in an entirely predictable repeat performance of the last Gaza fiasco, knowing that the same results are all that we can hope for: a few months of semi-calm, followed by a renewal of sporadic sniping, which will last 4 more years until we do this again. ENOUGH!