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Israel should rethink its strategy against Hamas in Gaza

Israel has dealt with Hamas through a policy of isolation and military containment. The recent escalation of violence in Gaza calls for a reconsideration of this strategy. Israel’s military response only offers a temporary palliative against a broader, inherently political problem.

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Israel’s renewed military confrontation with Hamas may backfire, both empowering Hamas within Gaza and the West Bank, as well as further highlighting the weakness of the Palestinian Authority and its leadership. It may already be enabling the more hard-core leadership within Hamas.

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But the main problem with Israel’s current military response is that it only offers a temporary palliative against a broader, inherently political problem. A post-2006 assessment clearly shows that Israel’s policy of non-recognition neither weakened Hamas nor compelled it to relinquish its armed struggle in the long term. Similarly, isolating Hamas did not topple its government, but instead punished the civilian population of Gaza.

Perhaps it is time to review both notions. Hamas, as the de facto government of Gaza, should be directly engaged through a political process leading to both a ceasefire as well a reversal of the “'isolation”' of the strip.

Talks are underway in Cairo, but the hopes for a ceasefire are still dim. Israel’s past several days of military operations weakened Hamas militarily, and sticking with this diplomatic process should not be seen as being soft on them. Rather, it shows Israel is being realistic in its assessment of the possible consequences of a protracted military conflict in Gaza.

As part of talks, Hamas should commit to a ceasefire as well as to gradually and incrementally move closer to the Quartet’s (United Nations, US, European Union, and Russia) conditions for recognizing the group. Those conditions include renouncing violence, recognizing Israel, and accepting past agreements between the Palestine Liberation Organization and Israel. Instead of serving as preconditions to negotiations, however, they should become objectives to achieve during these direct negotiations.

A diplomatic solution will likely include difficult compromises for both sides. But military power alone will time and again prove insufficient to create the conditions for genuine stability. Instead of pushing for an escalation and a ground military operation, Israel should make every effort to defuse the conflict. And with the help of countries like Egypt, both groups should aim to negotiate a prompt end to the hostilities while beginning a longer-term political process.

Benedetta Berti is a fellow at the Institute for National Security Studies, a lecturer at Tel Aviv University, a member of the Atlantic Council’s Young Atlanticist working group, and coauthor of the book, “Hamas and Hezbollah: A Comparative Study” (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2012). Follow her on Twitter at @benedettabertiw.


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