Digging In

Jewish Light Editorial

Everyone wants an easy narrative to the Israel-Gaza conflict, one that will provide context from the past to explain the present and predict the future.

Dream on.

What we can offer instead is a clear, unequivocal position about what we think Israel should insist upon for any long-term solution: The tunnels and weapons in Gaza must be eliminated, and their permanent absence must be verifiable and sustainable. We support Israel’s efforts to demand at least that much in any resolution of the ongoing battle.

Beyond that, in thinking about temporary cease-fires, negotiating partners and more, there’s a lot to consider.

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At this writing, repeated attempts to establish a lasting and respected cease-fire have been met with limited acceptance by Israel and mostly outright rejection by Hamas. Israel has accepted five humanitarian pauses in the fighting, all of which were met by Hamas rocket attacks.

This is hardly surprising, as Hamas, by both charter and action, is committed to Israel’s destruction. The terrorist group has struggled recently to pay its bills and retain political credibility in Gaza; has been damaged by the Muslim Brotherhood’s descent in Egypt; and is persona non grata by some Arab League members who would relish the group’s elimination.

So, we ask sarcastically, what better way to prove its continuing relevance than by killing and attempting to kidnap civilian Jews and Israeli military personnel?

The fighting and carnage in the Gaza Strip could stop immediately if Hamas would accept and honor an extended period of calm, as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has repeatedly offered. The problem for Hamas is while it can purport to claim victory (as it always has when it has lost less badly than was expected), it has lost a huge portion of its military arsenal and a good number of its illicit tunnels. And Gazan public opinion of leadership in Hamas has declined.

Israel, on the other hand, despite facing world condemnation as always for its defensive actions, has ever-climbing public support for ensuring Hamas cannot continue to inflict death and suffering. The elimination of the tunnels – several of which have proven to burrow under Israeli soil and out of which have emerged Hamas operatives intent on killing civilians, or kidnapping them to extract grossly inequitable prisoner trades – is an absolute must for Israel.

Hamas has succeeded in unifying the Israelis like we have rarely seen. Israeli Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, considered a moderate and often an outspoken opponent of Netanyahu, is on board with the other members of Knesset’s Security Cabinet in insisting on a resolution of Operation Protective Edge that will incapacitate Hamas.

Livni was hardly the only leader taking U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry to task for his boneheaded tactics in the past week. Israeli officials initially were not thrilled about Kerry’s insistence on being involved in the first place, preferring the Egyptian mediation plan to be carried forth. Nevertheless, Kerry, after consorting with Qatar and Turkey, two of Hamas’ closest buddies, provided a cease-fire proposal that appeared laced with Israeli concessions and with no assurance that Israel could continue to deconstruct the tunnels.

No matter his intent, Kerry’s conduct was abysmal, and required President Barack Obama to call his counterpart, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and confirm the U.S. position that any long-term deal must ensure demilitarization and tunnel destruction.

This is not only essential in a long-term solution but of any short-term one beyond a few days. Israel should not and won’t be pressured into a cease-fire of any significant length before it has accomplished its legitimate objectives of finding and permanently destroying all of the tunnels and securing a verifiable plan to prevent Hamas rocket fire and other incursions.

A cease-fire will only result from discussions among reliable negotiating partners. As funders or open supporters of Hamas, Qatar and Turkey don’t qualify. Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi, while justifiably criticized for extreme autocratic measures, supports the Egypt-Israel peace treaty and wants to disarm Hamas. It and other more moderate Arab League members who eschew terrorists like Hamas are more capable convenors.

Amidst primary concerns for Israel’s safety and security, we reiterate our deep concern and sorrow over the mounting casualties on both sides. The Iron Dome and brilliant intelligence have thankfully limited the painful death toll exacted upon Israel via rocket destruction and tunnel incursions. And we won’t ignore the suffering of Palestinian civilians used as human shields and pawns in terrorists’ cruel games. We hope that Gazans will ultimately stand up to their hateful, violent leadership and insist on something better, safer and even modestly civilized.

These are indeed times that try our souls. But Israel and its supporters in the United States and right here in St. Louis must stay the course in the fervent prayer that peace can be achieved in that deeply wounded part of the world.