New peril for Israel, as cease fire appears to hold

The cease fire in Gaza appears to be holding and Israel has pulled back, its military campaign apparently over. Now comes the hard part — the diplomatic war.

As Herb Keinon of the Jerusalem Post observes, Israel has almost always done far better on the battlefield than in the diplomatic arena that follows its wars. This is likely to be the case once again.

Israel appears to have accomplished militarily its main goal of degrading Hamas’ ability to attack it. However, as we noted before the war began, Prime Minister Netanyahu seems fixated on a more ambitious goal — the demilitarization of Gaza.

Herein lies the diplomatic danger. Terrorist organizations do not “demilitarize.” Their raison d’etre, as Keinon reminds us, is to militarize, to accumulate arms and weapons to kill and terrorize.

So how can Israel hope to demilitarize Gaza via an agreement with Hamas? The correct answer, I think, is that it can’t.

Consequently, Israel’s goal should be limited to negotiating a permanent cease fire, period. If Hamas won’t agree and instead continues to fire rockets, Israel should resume its missile attacks, but from a safe distance.

But this, in all likelihood, isn’t how things will work out. A combination of American pressure and the hope of demilitarization will probably keep Netanyahu at the bargaining table for months. And no good will come of it.

Hamas, if it’s going to agree to demilitarization, however insincerely, will need a big payoff. This means freer access to “material” from its allies like Iran, freer access into Israel, and, naturally, plenty of cash.

These concessions would be a huge win for Hamas. But they won’t be the end of the concessions demanded of Israel. Keinon is right when he says:

Israel will obviously want to see the US, the European Union, Egypt and even Saudi Arabia involved [in the demilitarization process], but this will not come without a price.

Netanyahu’s formula that the extent of Gaza’s rehabilitation must be linked to the scope of demilitarization may very well be met by a counter formula: The depth of international cooperation will be linked to a revival of the moribund diplomatic process with the Palestinians. . . .

“You want our help demilitarizing Gaza, be more forthcoming toward Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in the West Bank” will be the likely refrain. And this refrain will also be heard from Washington, where the Gaza crisis further strained the already less than ideal Obama-Netanyahu relationship.

In short, Israel will be expected by all involved not only to permit the rehabilitation of Gaza, which likely means the rehabilitation of Hamas, but also to make major concessions to Abbas and his Palestinian Authority.

Israel’s refrain should be “thanks, but no thanks.” Having experienced the near-closing of its airport due to enemy rocket fire and having witnessed the threat posed by terrorist tunnels into Israel, Israel cannot afford to make further territorial and political concessions on the West Bank. It was similar concessions in Gaza that led to the longstanding difficulties that culminated in this war.

Moreover, the “peace talks” with the PA ended for a very good reason — there was no proper peace agreement to be reached. The war in Gaza didn’t change this.

Finally, a negotiated demilitarization of Gaza is a pipe dream. Even if they wanted to, outsiders couldn’t enforce demilitarization; only the people of Gaza can. To do so, they must first turn against Hamas. This could happen, but not if Hamas delivers a peace agreement that lightens the isolation of Gaza.

Netanyahu should stop dreaming of an internationally enforced demilitarization Gaza, and resist the calls of Egypt, the Saudis, and the U.S. (none of whom is his friend) to convert yet another military victory into yet another diplomatic defeat.