by Eli Hazan
Just ahead of Rosh Hashana, negotiating teams were to meet in Cairo on Tuesday, marking the beginning of indirect talks between Israel and Hamas on a long-term truce in the Gaza Strip. This comes after the U.S. Senate passed legislation last week that upgraded Israel's status to "major strategic partner," a move that will enhance cooperation between the two countries on regional issues.
This week, the Israeli government approved a special NIS 1.3 billion ($360 million) aid package for southern communities near the Gaza border. At the same time, Israel is implementing a number of economic relief measures meant to ease the lives of civilians in Gaza. It is no wonder that this is being done, as Israel clearly distinguishes between Gaza's civilian population and Hamas terrorist forces. This was demonstrated during Operation Protective Edge, when Israel avoided, as much as possible, harming innocent Palestinians civilians, while Hamas continuously tried, without much success, to harm innocent Israeli civilians. This has been the pattern of behavior by both sides ever since Hamas established itself as a dominant terrorist organization.
Israel, in my opinion, won the recent round of fighting with Hamas. Some commentators are trying to propagate a misleading impression that Israel lost because it did not decisively defeat Hamas. But this was not so. It is enough to look at the pictures -- entire neighborhoods of Gaza were razed to the ground. Around 2,200 Gazans were killed and many more were wounded. The disappearance of Hamas leaders to underground bunkers during the fighting was symbolic.
Israel, therefore, enters the long-term truce takes with a huge advantage over the other side and it must fully push for the following equation: "rehabilitation for demilitarization" -- that is to say, the demilitarization of Gaza must be a condition for any agreement, easement or reconstruction sought by Hamas. Palestinian declarations of refusal to disarm will not be accepted this time. Israel's demand for the demilitarization of Gaza has received international support. The U.S. and Europe are watching the Islamic State group with horror, and they understand that Israel's demand is justified.
Moreover, European nations, including Germany, Britain and France, have offered to set up a force that would supervise the reconstruction and demilitarization of Gaza. It should also be noted that, unlike during the Muslim Brotherhood era in Egypt, when Mohammed Morsi's government expressed solidarity with Hamas, Egypt is now ruled by Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, who is revolted by Hamas and its leaders. And the Saudi royal regime feels the same way. On the other side stands Qatar, which will send millions of dollars to Gaza for reconstruction, no matter what.
We should not fear proposing creative solutions, such as Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz's idea for a complete separation from Gaza and the creation of an artificial island off the coast of Gaza on which an airport and seaport would be built for the Palestinians. At the same time, we must insist on protecting our interests. Residents of southern Israel know this better than anyone, but all Israelis must come to understand it. This will require a united Israeli front on the need for the demilitarization of Gaza. Unfortunately, not everyone understands this now, and some are trying to delegitimize the concept. Either way, if needed, we will again fight a war in Gaza.
Thus, we are now being tested, and we will all bear the results, whatever they may be.
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