If peace is merely the absence of war, then peace fell upon Israel and Gaza on Wednesday. The bombs and rockets were finally back in storage. Yet the cease-fire agreement that ended this 50-day conflict was only a start. The real peace must come in the talks between Hamas and Israel expected in September.
Those negotiations should define peace in positive terms, such as a demilitarized Gaza Strip that provides a thriving economy for its 1.8 million people. Hamas and Israel may not become friends. But they needn’t be enemies if they have an understanding of the need for mutual coexistence.
One model: Ever since the 2006 Lebanon War, the militant group Hezbollah and Israel have lived in relative peace.
Unlike their two previous wars over the past decade, this Hamas-Israel conflict was marked by two differences that give hope for an active peace:
One was the sheer devastation of Gaza’s infrastructure, such as secret tunnels, and the killing of many Hamas leaders by Israeli forces. This opens the chance for the more moderate Palestinian Authority in the West Bank to hold sway in the reconstruction of Gaza. PA President Mahmoud Abbas needs to be the main funnel for an estimated $5 billion in foreign aid expected to flow from major donor nations to the rebuilding of civilian buildings in the coastal enclave.
The other difference was a heightened mood in the Middle East and the West not to tolerate any Islamic radicals in the region. Hamas is now more isolated than ever by recent events in Egypt, the weakness of Al Qaeda, and the rise of Islamic State fighters in Iraq and Syria.
If Israel and other countries can help Mr. Abbas take command of the reconstruction effort, it will reduce Hamas’s appeal among Gazans and reinforce those Palestinians who already recognize Israel’s permanent existence. And tying the flow of aid money to the disarmament of Hamas would also test the Islamic group’s nascent moves to accept Israel.
This time, Israel can afford to push Gaza’s development hard as a strategy for peace. Merely accepting a “long quiet” in hostilities is not the best option again. Gazans are not the enemy. Rather, treating them as such is.