The government decision to stop the sail to Gaza was correct, despite its inconvenient media implications. However, the incident stresses the need to reassess our approach to Gaza.
Since the Hamas victory in the 2006 elections, and more so since it took over Gaza in 2007, Israel’s policy insists on shunning the group. We argue that its rule is illegitimate, we’re angry at anyone who talks to it, and we confront anyone who suggests a different approach. Yet is this necessarily the proper policy?
The right way to examine this policy starts with defining our own interests. In respect to Gaza, Israel has two permanent interests, and one more current interest. The first one is to ensure that no hostile acts originate in Gaza. The second one is to minimize Hamas’ military capabilities as much as we can. The third one is to secure Gilad Shalit's release.
We had an opportunity to maximize these three objectives at the end of Operation Cast Lead. Israel should have insisted that the end of the operation be conditioned upon four components: A mutual ceasefire, a solution to the botfrt crossingd problem, a prisoner swap, and an arrangement regarding the Egypt-Gaza border.
The main reason for the failure to reach such agreement stemmed from an Israeli refusal to negotiate with Hamas combined with our insistence to safeguard Egyptian and Palestinian Authority interests.
It’s not too late to change the situation at this time, on condition that we remain true to our genuine interests. The way to do that starts with recognizing reality. De facto, Gaza is a state in every way and is regrettably ruled by bad people who reject any diplomatic agreement with Israel. Yet this does not mean we cannot regularize our neighborly relations with them.
Over the years, Arab states did not recognize Israel and openly called for its destruction. Despite this, they took part in armistice committees vis-à-vis Israel.
Childish approachThe relations between us and Gaza should be premised on four principles: Firstly, deterrence – Israel will not agree to go back to the reality that prevailed before Operation Cast Lead. Should the rocket fire be resumed, Israel will attack the Gaza state and bring about its destruction. Secondly, Israel should not be rejecting a dialogue between different states and Hamas. The group rules Gaza and its regime is certainly legitimate.
The fight to prevent others from talking to it is childish. The way to press Hamas on various fronts (including the Gilad Shalit issue) is to talk to it, not to boycott it. A few weeks ago, Russia’s president called for including Hamas in the diplomatic process. Israel quickly clashed with Russia and condemned the initiative, instead of lauding it and letting Hamas explain why it objects to a diplomatic agreement.
Thirdly, Israel needs to stop paying a price for its desire to appease Egypt and the Palestinian Authority. In terms of Israel’s interests, the Egypt-Gaza border is a domestic affair involving Hamas and Egypt. There is no reason for us to insist that the PA be part of an agreement, and there is no reason for us to object to keeping the Rafah crossing open seven days a week, 24 hours a day, without PA presence, without international forces, and without Israeli monitoring.
Under such state of affairs it would be easier to explain that there is no blockade whatsoever around Gaza and that any goods that cannot come through Israel can come through Rafah. Once that happens, Israel would be able to remove Gaza from the customs agreement between the sides (this customs deal is a major Palestinian interest, but not an Israeli one.)
Fourthly, the maritime front - Israel should initiate a proposal whereby it will allow commercial shipping to and from Gaza, on condition that the ships will be operated by organizations recognized by Israel, and that Israel authorities would be able to inspect them.
Once all this happens, the Israel-Egypt-Gaza triangle will be similar to the Israel-Lebanon-Syria triangle – just look at the map to see the similarities. And so, we will be able to gradually get rid of the image of “occupation” and “siege.”