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Posted on Aug 6, 2014 in Foreign Policy Issues, Middle East | 0 comments

A new cease -fire-a difficult path

Once again this week’s post finds Israel and Hamas embarking on a 72 hour humanitarian cease-fire that everyone hopes will be followed first by an extension of the cease-fire, and then a more lasting agreement. The most optimistic scenario has the cease-fires morphing into negotiations for the two-state solution with all major players on board.

The formula for the early cease-fires is really quite simple to grasp-no Hamas rockets and forays into Israel, no retaliatory strikes by Israel. If history has a lesson for us, the best that can be hoped for is a breathing space of a few years before Hamas once again starts launching rockets at Israel. Even a few years of breathing space would be quite an accomplishment given the fragility of the situation. For their part, Hamas will seek an end to the naval blockade of Gaza and international funds for rebuilding the damage done. The latter, or at least pledges for funds, will be easier for Hamas to achieve than a total lifting of the blockade, given the history of their bringing in, by sea, weapons, especially from Iran. But an expansion of the list of acceptable goods is reachable.

All of this depends on the 72-hour cease-fire holding. And then dominoing into ever more durable extensions. A big “if.”

The big elephants in the room are Israel’s willingness to cease construction on settlements in the West Bank, and then the Palestinians holding a relatively free and open election with Hamas going along with the will of the people, even if they fail to win. Mighty big elephants, indeed, but not beyond the realm of possibility. First, we have to make it through the first 72-hour period. Something that we have only to go back one week to realize cannot be taken as a given.

Some liberals are aghast at the prospects of such delicate negotiations being practically in the hands of the hawks: Netanyahu’s Likud party in Israel and Hamas on the Palestinian side.

Pragmatic liberals will take some solace in the historical facts that peace agreements negotiated by hawks often are the most durable. The reason is quite simple; when the critics do the negotiating, much of the post-negotiations criticisms become preempted. Thus, it took a cold-war hawk, Richard Nixon, to travel to and open relations with Communist China. The Treaty of Ghent that ended the disastrous war of 1812 was accepted in the United States, primarily because Henry Clay, the most vociferous of the critics, was sent to Ghent as part of the negotiating team. Conversely, an all dovish delegation sent by Woodrow Wilson to Versailles produced an agreement that failed to gain approval by the U.S. Senate. Hawk, Henry Cabot Lodge’s absence from the Peace delegation, assured his strong criticism of the negotiated agreement. Thus the United States never ratified the Versailles Treaty, hence never joined the League of Nations and that body was weakened to the point of being unable to deal effectively with the Nazi uprising in Germany or their invasions of Poland and Czechoslovakia.

Therefore, while at first glance, having negotiations involving Hamas and Likud might seem like a dead fish in the water, difficult though it may be for them to come to agreement, any viable solution will require them on board. Ariel Sharon was the hawk of hawks, yet he made more progress on a peaceful solution than did his dovish predecessor, Shimon Peres. But we jump ahead of ourselves. First we have to make it through the first 72 hours and then extend the cease-fire.

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