The way forward in Gaza

With an indefinite ceasefire to the Hamas-Israel war in place, the focus must now be on establishing a lasting peace. Such a peace is dependent on the people of Gaza gaining access to international support for reconstruction, along with dignity, genuine self-determination and freedom.

The international community is right in pressing the jihadist group Hamas to relinquish control of Gaza to the Palestinian Authority (the Palestinian-Israeli peace group OneVoice is using the slogan “Abbas, not Hamas”), but more must be done. Palestinians deserve fundamental civil rights of free speech, peaceful assembly, and the ability to freely choose their leaders. This is impossible in Gaza, where Hamas leaders have publicly threatened to kill anyone who stands against them. In the West Bank, the terms of PA president Abbas and other Palestinian Authority officials ran out several years ago and nothing has happened since. This is unjust.

Many in the international community are reluctant to advocate for such basic rights for Palestinians, remembering that candidates from Hamas won a majority of legislative seats in the last national Palestinian elections in 2006, and fearing a similar outcome if new Palestinian elections are held.

There is certainly risk that this could occur. Indeed, recent polls of the Palestinian public show a significant increase in public support for Hamas. At the same time, the status quo of political instability severely weakens the Palestinian negotiating position and represents an insurmountable obstacle to the two-state solution. Israeli security will not exit from most of the West Bank without confidence that the West Bank will not become a base for missile attacks at Israel, as happened after the Gaza withdrawal in 2005. Without a freely elected Palestinian government committed to peace providing this confidence, it is difficult if not impossible to envision the people of Israel taking such a risk.

In addition, Israel’s government must not yield to the more extreme voices in its society and government who increasingly are calling for their own one state solution. These extremists have made the peacemaking process increasingly difficult because of their continued advocacy for new settlement construction in the West Bank.

Peace is possible between the Palestinians and Israelis. However, to create peace, reasonable voices in both societies must be empowered. Rather than fueling anger on both sides with actions such as boycotts, divestment and sanctions, the church’s role is to strengthen the voices of the majority of people in Israel and Palestine.