A pathway to non-belligerency: make life in Gaza better

JCRC Scene
Matt Goldberg

Whenever there is a war between Israel and the Palestinians, there are no winners or losers, only victims. This latest round was no different.
Prior to this last round of fighting, there had been an understanding between Hamas, the terrorist group that controls Gaza, and Israel: Hamas, or another terror organization, fires a rocket at a Jewish community near Gaza, causing no damage, and Israel responds by attacking a Hamas outpost, which usually has already been abandoned.
But during this last round, Hamas fired a rocket at Jerusalem, upsetting this balance.
Why Hamas escalated the violence (evictions in Sheikh Jarrah, provocations at the Al Aksa Mosque, internal Palestinian politics) is irrelevant. Hamas knew, or should have known, that this was a major escalation, and that Israel would respond in kind.
After two weeks of vicious fighting, nothing has really changed. Israel has (rightly, in my opinion) decided against a full-scale invasion of Gaza that would completely defeat Hamas. Hamas remains in power, although they sustained significant damage. Perhaps, as some analysts say, Hamas has been deterred enough to defer any escalation for a while, but this just means that the countdown to the next inconclusive battle is extended a bit. Make no mistake, that countdown began when the cease-fire took effect.
Meanwhile, Palestinian and Israeli civilians are left to recover.
Hamas is guilty of many awful things. They launch these deadly rockets indiscriminately at innocent civilians. They cynically store their military hardware in civilian areas, including schools, hospitals and mosques. They are obviously commandeering humanitarian aid they receive to repurpose for military purposes.
I find arguments to lift the current blockade of Gaza unconvincing, though the people there are suffering, and Israel should permit humanitarian relief to reach them and make real improvements in their everyday lives.
Israel should implement plans that have been talked about for years, like assisting with water management and electricity. They should work with other countries for a supervised port. They should significantly increase the number of Gazans allowed to work in Israel and allow many more Gazans treatment there for complicated medical situations. And they should certainly be assisting all Palestinians in managing COVID.
Don’t expect Gazans to become Zionists if these ideas are realized, but there might be some pause created the next time Hamas thinks about firing rockets at civilians.
These gestures will not lead to peace; they won’t substitute for negotiations. Israel and the Palestinians must address outstanding issues together – settlements, Jerusalem, borders, etc. What transpired these last two weeks in Israel should be a stark reminder that the status quo is unsustainable. However, for many reasons, real negotiations do not look like they will happen soon. But if Israel can work with international partners to make real improvements in the lives of Gazans, perhaps the next Hamas-Israel war will not happen.

(Matt Goldberg is director of the Jewish Community Relations Council.)

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