Israel’s policy must be premised on the understanding that Gaza is a de facto state in every way. It has clear geographical boundaries, a stable regime that was elected democratically, and an independent foreign policy. The self-righteous approach whereby we do not recognize the Hamas rule is a folly. The fact that Gaza is a state, even though it’s ruled by the “bad guys,” is better than chaos or the situation that prevailed in the Strip before 2007, when power was formally held by the Palestinian Authority, yet in practice the main military force was Hamas.
We can draw three conclusions from this point of view: First, Israel must not be dragged into distinguishing among three players – the Gaza government, the Gaza population and terror groups. For us, this is a state responsible for any hostile acts originating there. Even the utilization of the term “Hamas’ military wing” is wrong. There is a state, it has an army, and this is how Gaza should be treated.
Secondly, as a state, Gaza is an enemy state. It is possible to maintain economic and other arrangements with an enemy state, but it is not common to keep providing the enemy with electricity, fuel and other goods while it fires at you. The distinction – which the world wants us to make – between a (limited) ability to fight (only) those who fire at us, and the “provision of humanitarian goods” to the innocent population is a grave error that allows the Gaza government to avoid any real dilemma.
Thirdly, there is no way to reach understandings with the international community at times of escalation. Under a state of escalation, the only thing one can discuss is a ceasefire. On the other hand, a period of lull – like the one that started this week – is a convenient time for formulating a policy and ensuring that it is very clear one, both to the West and to Egypt.
This Gaza policy should be premised on five principles:
1. Israel recognizes de facto that Gaza is a state in every way.
2. Gaza is not under occupation. The border between Gaza and Egypt (“The Philadelphi Route”) is completely open.
3. The Gaza state bears responsibility for any hostile acts against Israel originating from the Strip.
4. As long as quiet prevails, Israel will boost the extent of traffic at border crossings and agree to moderate human traffic between Gaza and the West Bank. Any fire directed at Israel, including to “Gaza-region communities,” will prompt an immediate halt to the provision of goods, fuel, electricity, and so on.
5. In any case of attack from Gaza, Israel will respond against the Gaza state, including the elimination of government targets.
The above policy is more appropriate than the other two alternatives: Maintaining the current situation, where Israel’s deterrence is increasingly being eroded, or a ground operation (“Cast Lead 2”).
And something in this context about Egypt: The fact that the Egyptian president is a member of the Muslim Brotherhood is an advantage, as his influence on the Gaza government will be much greater than that of the previous Egyptian regime. Morsi will need extensive American aid (on top of the military assistance, the US also provides Egypt with wheat,) and ending this aid will cause real hunger in Morsi’s country. No Egyptian president at the beginning of the road will risk that. Hence, the American ability to press Egypt is very high. American financial aid must also be conditioned on vigorous work by Egypt’s president to restrain the aggression from Gaza and improve the state of security in the Sinai Peninsula.