The Next Gaza War Can Be Prevented

Palestinians are seething. Daily life under Israeli occupation is unbearably humiliating, particularly in Gaza. The fundamental obstacles to peace and justice in Israel and Palestine — the occupation of Palestinian territories and denial of equal rights to the Palestinians — can and must be addressed in the long run. But there is an urgent task now: preventing the next Gaza war.

If Palestinians and Israelis are “to enjoy equal measures of freedom, prosperity, and democracy” any time soon, as President Biden said on May 20, then a new multilateral effort is sorely needed with the United States in the lead and active engagement from the international community.

This effort should start with shoring up the Egyptian-negotiated May 21 cease-fire and urgently addressing the immediate drivers of the recent Gaza war. Otherwise, the potential for renewed conflict is imminent.

The terms and conditions of the cease-fire are not known. In fact, the terms may not exist in writing because Israel and the de facto Hamas authorities in Gaza are unlikely to agree. The multilateral effort should require clarity on the terms and conditions and ideally should support a third-party monitoring mechanism. Without clarity, the cessation of hostilities cannot be sustainable or durable.

The immediate triggers of the May war included the Israeli security forces’ provocations at the al-Aqsa mosque and the eviction of Palestinian families from their homes in the East Jerusalem neighborhoods of Sheikh Jarrah and Silwan, actions that continue unabated. The international community must call for these provocations to stop; otherwise, they risk provoking another round of fighting.

Three times in June, Israel bombed targets in Gaza in response to crude incendiary devices tied to helium-filled balloons, released in Gaza and carried by prevailing winds to southern Israel. Young Palestinian militants trapped in Gaza by the Israeli siege, unemployed and frustrated, are responsible for the balloons. They seem determined to press on until Gaza receives substantial relief or the blockade is lifted.

But there is currently no path for the 14-year blockade to be lifted, and the dysfunctional Palestinian self-governance structures in Gaza and the West Bank are exacerbating the situation. The blockade has caused humanitarian assistance and reconstruction aid for Gaza to lag behind. Gaza and the West Bank have remained under two rival Palestinian authorities; the de facto Hamas authorities in Gaza do not have the resources to respond to the urgent needs, and assistance is limited by concern that Hamas will benefit from the aid. A multilateral effort must call for or facilitate negotiations that would result in clear conditions for the lifting of the blockade.

The international community must also take a new approach to Palestinian governance and mandate the reunification of Gaza and West Bank structures under a renewed Palestinian Authority (PA). The PA’s return to Gaza would provide an alternative to Hamas governance and allow the international community to engage for the reconstruction of Gaza with a single, accepted and accountable authority. Otherwise, the resumption of fighting will be inevitable.

The conditions necessary for the PA to return to Gaza include the formation of an inclusive interim governing authority; the establishment of conditions conducive to democratic elections; the lifting of unwarranted restrictions on Palestinians’ fundamental human rights and an immediate halt to the brutal attacks on protesters by Palestinian security forces; and the creation of a clear timeline for holding promptly the postponed presidential and legislative elections.

Palestinian law requires that candidates in these elections renounce violence, recognize Israel, and accept existing Palestinian obligations. The outcome of these elections, if conducted in accordance with international standards, must be accepted by the international community.

The postponement of elections and dissatisfaction with governance are driving conflict across the occupied territories. The May postponement disenfranchised Palestinians, the majority of whom were too young to vote in the last Palestinian presidential and legislative elections in 2005 and 2006. Grassroots Palestinian civil society leaders are demanding an accountable national leadership. This should be encouraged. The groundswell of youth discontent because of the postponed elections is causing social upheavals against the PA and the Israeli occupation forces.

A United Nations Security Council resolution could be the most effective instrument to consolidate the failings of the current cease-fire and address the immediate drivers of conflict and division among Palestinians. The U.S. could either support or abstain on such a resolution. Abstention would be consistent with the U.S. preference for quiet diplomacy while also recognizing the vital role of the U.N. Security Council as the source of governing international obligations related to the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Ultimately, however, the longer-term and fundamental obstacles to peace and justice in Israel and Palestine must be resolved once and for all. The occupation and the consequent denial of human rights and fundamental freedoms, particularly the denial of equal rights to Palestinians in Israel and the occupied territories, cannot be allowed to fester forever.

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