Belfast may be model for Gaza agreement
COMMENT:Israel should test Hamas by outlining a fair deal and a means to get there, writes RICHARD HAASS
Israeli missiles continued to fall on Gaza; meanwhile, a bus was blown up in Tel Aviv. But by the end of Wednesday, a ceasefire agreement between Israel and Hamas, brokered by Egypt and the US, was signed.
However, there is a big difference between a truce that is an interlude between rounds of fighting and one that presages a promising political process. It might take a willingness to learn from Northern Ireland, of all places, to tip the scales towards the latter.
Decades of violence – “the Troubles” – set the backdrop to negotiations. Success had its roots in British policy. London’s objective was to end the terrorism and bring about a political settlement.
Doing so required persuading the Provisional IRA that it would never be able to shoot or bomb its way into power and that there was a political path open to it that would satisfy some of its goals and many of its supporters, if it would act responsibly.
The government of Israel has internalised the first but not the second part of Britain’s strategy. Israel has carried out massive air strikes that have reportedly destroyed the bulk of Hamas’s Iran-supplied, longer-range missiles and killed dozens of Palestinians, including Hamas’s military chief.
But military force has limits. Israel cannot bludgeon the Palestinians into submission. Nor should it want to reoccupy Gaza: there is no reason to believe the results would be any better this time round.
Israel needs a Palestinian partner if it is ever to enjoy peace and be the secure, prosperous, democratic, Jewish state it deserves to be. But such a partner will not just emerge; Israel, as the stronger party, actually needs to help the process along.
Right now Israel has two potential but deeply flawed partners. The Palestinian Authority (PA) in the West Bank has an apparent desire to make peace, but is too weak to make meaningful concessions. Hamas is easily strong enough but is unwilling to reject violence and accept Israel.
So Israel has a choice: it can work to strengthen the secular leadership on the West Bank or it can work to moderate Hamas. The former argues for dropping sanctions put in place to weaken and humiliate the PA. The latter means not just frustrating Hamas militarily, but demonstrating that negotiation is likely to yield better results.
It is not clear whether Hamas is open to compromise. Even less clear, though, is what it has accomplished with this latest round of fighting. Hamas has again demonstrated its willingness to take the fight to Israel but also its inability to get results.