From Gaza to peace with Palestinians, Israel has no long-term strategy

By Mairav Zonszein
Senior Analyst, Israel/Palestine

Originally published in The Telegraph

The Israeli leadership calls what it is doing in Gaza now 'mowing the grass,' knowing it will grow back before long

Many are still scrambling to understand how we got to this point in the Gaza conflict, to process the scope of violence and pinpoint the triggers that sparked it.

But what is already painfully clear is that even when the current warfare subsides, the endgame will remain elusive and while civilians lose their lives, the fundamental problems will still remain and the conflict will only deepen.

Israeli top political and military brass insist that the goal of the current offensive in Gaza is to achieve “long-term quiet,” as Benny Gantz, the defence minister, put it.

For now, Israeli leaders appear to hope to reach that goal through the exclusive use of force. Israel has been staving off a cease fire because it says it needs time to carry out as many airstrikes as possible so as to set back Hamas’s capabilities and restore Israel’s deterrence.

Four major confrontations in the past nine years suggest, however, the limits of such deterrence.

Hamas, for its part, is a Palestinian Islamist group that has, since its establishment in 1987 used indiscriminate violence and force against civilians to try and make gains.

Where does this leave us? No one in the Israeli leadership is articulating the goal of peace with the Palestinians, and hasn’t for quite some time.

Instead, Israeli leaders appear to limit the goal to pushing back the next outbreak of violence for as long as possible, to have a period of long relative quiet until the next round of war.

They implicitly take as a given that there will be a next war. The Israeli leadership calls what it is doing in Gaza now “mowing the grass,” knowing it will grow back before long.

Yet the events of recent days suggest that policymakers now seem unable to achieve even the lesser objective they espouse of long-term quiet not just in Gaza but also in occupied East Jerusalem, the West Bank and inside Israel proper.

The past few days have seen rocket fire from Gaza at a massive scale, popular protests, as well as mob violence between Palestinian and Jewish citizens, all happening simultaneously.

These undermine the notion that Israel can, at no cost to itself, continue to be an occupying power and, within its own borders, engage in systematic discrimination with the support of the international community.

As it continues down this path, Israeli leaders appear to implicitly concede that while Israel may not achieve a decisive victory in Gaza, maintaining the status quo is preferable to any alternative, even if that entails a war every few years. What’s different this time around is that the war is no longer confined to fighting Hamas in Gaza.

What has unfolded over the past week indicates that Israel’s strategy for achieving long-term quiet is not working -- not only with Hamas in Gaza, but on the “Palestinian question” overall.

We are seeing the ultimate failure of Israeli might to control a people by fragmenting and repressing them. Since the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin and the failure of the Oslo Accords, Israel’s chosen policy has been to manage the conflict rather than solve it.

Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, has largely been able to bury the Palestinian issue, chiefly not through the explicit use of force, but through diplomatic and political channels and PR and media warfare (ie. the war on BDS, the movement to boycott goods made in Israeli settlements, and also on free speech) when possible.

This approach reached its climax in the Trump presidency and the Abraham Accords, which sanctioned and normalised military occupation, the acquisition of land through force, and de facto annexation.

Now, however, the Palestinians are rising up everywhere. Over recent weeks, the Israeli government has found itself exerting more explicit force on many fronts once again -- not just the bombardment in Gaza, but by raiding the al-Aqsa mosque, repressing peaceful protests against forced expulsions in the East Jerusalem neighbourhood of Sheikh Jarrah, sending border police units into Palestinian communities inside Israel and threatening to deploy soldiers against its own citizens. The absence of an effective strategy is on full display.

If Israel really wants a long term calm short of overall peace, it should seek to de-escalate tensions and address resolvable issues through political and diplomatic means.

Israel could, for example, articulate a minimum demand that Hamas and other groups in Gaza end any and all indiscriminate rocket fire on Israel while agreeing on ways to phase out the blockade on Gaza and help get it out of its perpetual state of being on the brink of collapse, which is driving people further into despair.

Israel can always fall back on military force if it must, but to the extent it can seek out alternative means to extract and grant concessions, maybe it could begin to carve a path out of the deadly cycle of violence.