First the Stick, Now the Carrot

Make no mistake about it — this time was different. The question is, to what effect?

In 2006, Hezbollah claimed victory in response to Israel’s initiative into Lebanon. And due to questionable deployments and tactics, Israel failed to obtain the live release of kidnapped soldiers and to materially weaken Hezbollah. But despite the terrorist group’s claims of victory, the gain of a quieter border with Lebanon later surfaced, in what columnist Thomas Friedman referred to as “the morning after the morning after.”

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This time, notwithstanding spin by Hamas and media apologists, Israel’s victory in Gaza was quick and resounding. The mission, a forceful and well-designed tactical response to years of Hamas rocket fire into southern Israel, resulted in a dramatic weakening of Hamas leadership, deaths of scores of its leaders and massive destruction of military infrastructure.

Israel’s success in Operation Cast Lead served the dual purpose of badly damaging Hamas and its allies, Syria, Hezbollah and Iran, while fortifying world support against terrorism. In the face of myriad ill-informed media accounts that took Israel to task, moderate Arab nations (Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan) and the European Union stood tough in the battle of moderation versus extremism.

Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak deserves particular praise for his ongoing constructive role, hosting key European leaders who then traveled to Jerusalem as well. This international gathering in two nations was described in one JTA account as a “remarkable show of support for Israel…(when) in most cases, the media and the public in their home countries have been strongly critical of the widespread destruction and heavy civilian casualty rate caused by Israel in the war.”

To be sure, the Gaza initiative resulted in substantial loss of human life, a tragedy in any circumstance. Thirteen Israeli soldiers and civilians were killed, an estimated 1,300 Palestinians died, and hundreds more were wounded.

For those lives cut short to have meaning, constructive and lasting results must derive from the war. But how? Even if Gazans overwhelmingly eschew Hamas’s political and military leadership, where will they turn for a lasting peace and the potential for prosperity? And who will have the strength to say to Syria and Iran, “Sorry, you’re not wanted or needed here anymore”?

Some have suggested the Palestinian Authority that governs the West Bank is a solution. But weak leadership and corruption within Fatah, the party that commands the P.A., suggests a poor prognosis for that outcome in the near future. And an alternate concept of joint P.A. leadership by Hamas and Fatah seems unlikely, as the two parties have shown scorn and at times outright hostility toward one another.

The ultimate path to the two-state endgame has not yet materialized (and the upcoming Israeli elections will play at least some part in that endeavor). In the short-term, however, strides will depend on the international community’s fortitude in either cutting Hamas out of the rebuilding process or requiring substantial reform by Hamas as a condition to partnering in the effort.

As foreign aid comes into the territory from moderate governments, they must be firm in their insistence that they and their surrogates, and not a terrorist-led Hamas, be front and center in administering humanitarian and rebuilding assistance. The more Gazans equate help, and ultimately social and economic development, with moderate, civilized governments, the more likely they will be to model their own political future after those nations. In an ideal world, the United Nations could lead this effort. But until the organization sheds the anti-Israeli cloak it so regularly wears, its involvement will be ineffectual at best and downright destructive at worst.

The United States, on the other hand, stands well poised to support this effort, either in the forefront or more subtly so as not to alienate Arab partners. The initial outreach by President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to the moderate Arab nations and the European community was an essential first step. And we strongly applaud President Obama’s appointment of veteran diplomat and former U.S. Senator George Mitchell as the Special Envoy on the Middle East. It was Mitchell who negotiated the Easter Accords, which ended the 30-year civil war and terrorism in Northern Ireland which cost over 3,000 lives.

The crippling of Hamas, combined with immediate and substantial aid from moderate nations, affords the world an opportunity to present Gazans with a dramatic opportunity, that of discarding archaic fundamentalism and the vileness of Syria and Iran in favor of Western social democracy. We hope that international solidarity holds and can help provide an easy choice.