Monday, January 5, 2009

Chatting with Charlie about Gaza Part 2

My pastor and I had coffee today, to discuss and compare our different views on the current situation in Gaza. Our perspectives, of course, don't entirely mesh: I'm more likely to find Israel's actions in Gaza defensible (though not entirely so), and he's more likely to find them reprehensible (though not entirely so). Charlie and I have always had the ability to debate collegially and disagree while remaining friends, and today was no different: neither of us particularly changed our minds, but we were each able to talk about our perspectives, and learn from the other.

One interesting aspect of our conversation is that while we continued to disagree on where the (primary) blame lay for the latest round of violence, we were largely able to agree on what needed to happen next. I don't want to speak for Charlie, but this is what I hope Israel does in the coming months:

  1. Once the cease-fire is in place, Israel should immediately lift its blockade on Gaza, and invest in rebuilding the infrastructure its military has destroyed. Israel has made it clear to Gaza and to the world that it wields a very large stick; it should show Gaza an even more substantial carrot.
  2. Israel should look the other way for a few months. I can't imagine that Hamas and Islamic Jihad (or their remnants and successors) will allow an attack of this size to pass without an attempt at retribution, cease-fire or no. If Israel is serious about peace, it should plan on ignoring several major violations of the cease-fire in the coming months, without re-imposing the blockade or responding with more violence. But Israel should also make it plain to Hamas (or its remnants) that its patience is limited, and that if violence continues beyond a very short period, Israel will wield an even larger stick, with even more dire consequences.
  3. Israel should enforce its own ban on settlement-building in any contested territory, and the government should bend over backwards to ensure that its courts offer quick and fair hearings for any Palestinian lawsuits over contested land. It shouldn't take a Palestinian farmer five years to evict illegal settlers. And it should begin carrying out its own demolition orders.
  4. Israel should announce to the world that it acknowledges, in principle at least, that East Jerusalem is the legitimate capital of Palestine, and will negotiate the many remaining sticky details with Fatah in good faith.
  5. If this calms things down, in several months, Israel should begin the release of Palestinian political prisoners who are not guilty of actual bloodshed.

I don't think Israel should do these things because it has been wrong and its enemies are right: I think Israel should do these things because its people want peace, and it has the strength to make peace, if it has the will to do so.

If Israel took these steps, it would take all the wind out of Hamas' sails. Hamas is able to sell the Palestinian people the fantasy of Israel's destruction because the Palestinians believe the possibility of peace and prosperity is just as much a fantasy. If Israel could show them that it is as serious about peace as it is about deterrence, that its people are willing to risk suffering as much for peace as they have in war, Hamas' evil and corrupt ideology would lose all its appeal. The IDF has clearly regained its deterrent capability: and Israel will have a (perhaps brief) opportunity to be merciful without appearing weak. If Israel takes advantage of the opportunity its military has created, perhaps even this grievous war will have been worth the price.

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