Is peace possible?

BY GALIT LEV-HARIR

As I write this commentary, Israeli ground forces have just entered Gaza. To many of us, this conflict is reminiscent of Israel’s incursion into Lebanon in the summer of 2006. Once again, the world is watching as Israel attempts to destroy terrorists hiding among a civilian population. The Palestinian death toll currently stands at 450, and sadly, that number will probably rise by the time this article is published, especially since Hamas operatives are known to be hiding in hospitals and storing weapons in mosques.

It must be noted that Israel had no choice but to take action: for the past eight years, Hamas and other Palestinian groups have fired thousands of rockets into Southern Israel. Residents of Sderot — who were assaulted with an average of three to four rockets a day in 2007 –have had only 15 seconds to take cover from the time the warning is sounded until the time that a rocket impacts. Imagine for a moment what it would be like to constantly live like that, what it is like for children in Sderot who know no other life.

ADVERTISEMENT


In 2008, the barrage of rockets became significantly worse: over 3,000 rockets were fired in a single year, including Grad-model Katyushas, which are larger, more deadly missiles, manufactured in Iran and China. These missiles have a longer range and can hit large cities deep inside Israel, such as Ashkelon, Ashdod, and Beersheva.

Israel’s current incursion is designed to find and remove as many of these weapons as possible — also the goal of the Israeli incursion into Lebanon in 2006. However, in the two years that have passed since the last Lebanon war, Hezbollah forces have restocked their arsenals to their pre-war capacity, even under the eyes of the United Nations international forces. Therefore, can we expect Israel’s Gaza invasion to create long-term deterrence or are we destined to see a repeat of it several years from now?

The answer depends in great part on what actions President-elect Barack Obama will take when he enters office. Both President George W. Bush and President-elect Obama have made public statements regarding Israel’s right to defend its civilians from attack. When the ground forces finish with their operations in Gaza, the Israelis will retreat and the U.S. will assist in determining what course of action will best prevent a repeat of the conflict.

For the past year, the Bush Administration has tried to conclude negotiation of a two-state solution with Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority. However, successful conclusion of an agreement will not appease Hamas. Hamas is not interested in living side-by-side with Israel, nor with the Palestinian Authority. The only way to defeat Hamas is to cut off their funding sources, so that they do not have the means to re-arm and to continue to threaten Israel.

It is estimated that Hamas’s annual budget totals about $50 million a year. Some of these funds come from Iran and Syria; however, a significant amount comes from charitable donations to prominent Islamic organizations in the U.S. and Europe. Additionally, Saudi Arabia provides about $12 million a year, as well as assistance in operations training.

In order to promote peace, the international community should stop the flow of funding to Hamas and other radical, militant Islamic organizations, and should simultaneously invest in peace education initiatives in Gaza and other Muslim countries.

The key to this initiative is Saudi Arabia. Today, Saudia Arabia plays on both sides of the fence; on the one hand, it professes to be an ally of the United States, while on the other hand, it continues to fund radical, militant Islamic organizations throughout the world, including organizations aligned with al-Qaeda.

A peace agreement between the Palestinians and the Israelis will never succeed as long as the Saudis are funding the terror organizations that can destroy it.

The details of a Palestinian-Israeli agreement more or less exist; they have been vetted on numerous occasions — with Bill Clinton, Ehud Barak, and Yasser Arafat in December 2000; at the Taba talks between those same parties in 2001; in the Geneva Accord put forward by Yossi Beilin and Yasser Abed Rabbo in December 2003; and in the hundreds of hours of post-Annapolis talks orchestrated by Condoleezza Rice.

Today, the Palestinian people are not united, and they do not have a leader who is strong enough to impose a comprehensive peace agreement.

However, Saudi Arabia controls the Islamic teachings that are promoted in mosques and madrasses (Islamic schools) in most of the world. If Saudi Arabia agrees to support an agreement between the Palestinians and the Israelis, that agreement will be honored by Muslims worldwide.

As soon as the dust settles on Gaza, Obama should make plans to meet with the Saudis. The current oil crisis means that the Saudis may be willing to sit down and talk. If the U.S. is successful at convincing Saudi Arabia to support a Palestinian-Israeli agreement, to help improve the economic plight of the Palestinians, and to stop funding radical militant Islam, we may actually see long-lasting peace in the Middle East.

Galit Lev-Harir lived in Israel for nine years; several years of which were spent conducting peace education initiatives with Arab and Jewish groups in the Western Galilee. Galit recently participated in “The Mind of Peace Experiment” hosted by the Center for International Studies at the University of Missouri-St. Louis. Galit currently lives in Ballwin.