The discussions during Sunday’s international conference in Cairo on reconstructing Gaza in the aftermath of Operation Protective Edge offer a window into an important missed opportunity.
To be sure, most of the potential contributors voiced wariness over the inevitability of future military confrontations between Israel and Hamas and the attendant widespread destruction, and called for sustained efforts to resolve the issues between Israel and the Palestinians. Yet the resultant multi-billion-dollar aid package unfortunately was not premised on the obvious key to avoiding such repetitions.
That key is the disarming of Hamas and the demilitarization of Gaza – as the U.S., EU, and others agreed to in principle at the end of Operation Protective Edge. While an Israeli official was quoted to the effect that aid will flow only so long as the present cease-fire continues, this has not been confirmed.
Though they may rail against a half century of supposedly unlawful occupation of Palestinian lands, not even the most ardent supporters of the Palestinians can deny that the devastation wrought in the course of Operation Protective Edge would not have happened absent the Hamas rocket onslaught against Israeli civilian targets.
Indeed, both Israel and the Palestinian Authority have publicly committed to a two-state solution and have engaged in negotiations to bring this about. In a very real sense, then, Hamas’s military adventurism, based on its unremitting hatred for Israel and its vow to bring about its destruction – have played out on the sidelines of Israel’s relationship with the Palestinian Authority.
But one needs to be mindful that PA president Mahmoud Abbas’s posturing cannot negate the fact that as long as Hamas has a military capacity, and the support of large numbers of Palestinians, his freedom to negotiate as well as his reliability are profoundly suspect.
And it is more than likely that, given the current military and political realities, whatever land Israel turns over to the Palestinian Authority will eventually be seized by Hamas in a reprise of its takeover of Gaza.
From where we sit, therefore, it should have been a no-brainer for Hamas to have been the target of the Cairo conference. After all, is there a greater detriment to a stable Gaza than Hamas’s continuance in power?
As Secretary of State John Kerry noted at the conference, “as long as there is a possibility that Hamas could fire rockets on Israeli civilians at any time, the people of Gaza will remain at risk of future conflict.”
That the conference did not insist on a disarmed Hamas is not, however, to say that the conferees evinced no concern for that organization’s predatory nature. Several spoke of the need to channel aid through the Palestinian Authority and to strengthen its role in Gaza.
Secretary Kerry reflected the views of other delegates when he said:
[W]e need to get back to the difficult work not just of reconstruction and recovery in Gaza, but of actually building Gaza’s economy for the long term and developing its institutions under the Palestinian Authority. The Palestinian Authority and President Abbas must be empowered in all that we do in order to define and determine Gaza’s future. There is simply no other way forward, and all of us here need to help the ability of the Palestinian Authority to be able to deliver.
The wild card in all this is the deterrent effect a rebuilt Gaza itself will have on Hamas. The massive destruction wrought by Operation Protective Edge will make Hamas leaders – and the population they rule – wary of once again drawing the attention of the IAF. Hizbullah has barely been heard from since the damage inflicted on it and the surrounding area during the Second Lebanon War.