Jul 2nd 2014

A Tragedy Should Not Beget Another

by Alon Ben-Meir

A noted journalist and author, Dr. Alon Ben-Meir is professor of international relations and Middle East studies at the Center for Global Affairs at New York University. Ben-Meir holds a masters degree in philosophy and a doctorate in international relations from Oxford University. His exceptional knowledge and insight, the result of more than 20 years of direct involvement in foreign affairs, with a focus on the Middle East, has allowed Dr. Ben-Meir to offer a uniquely invaluable perspective on the nature of world terrorism, conflict resolution and international negotiations. Fluent in Arabic and Hebrew, Ben-Meir's frequent travels to the Middle East and meetings with highly placed officials and academics in many Middle Eastern countries including Egypt, Israel, Jordan, the Palestinian territories, Syria and Turkey provide him with an exceptionally nuanced level of awareness and insight into the developments surrounding breaking news. Ben-Meir often articulates

There are no words that can adequately condemn the tragic death of the three Israeli teenagers, Naftali, Gilad and Eyal, who have become the latest victims of the long and bloody Israeli-Palestinian struggle. The abduction of any person, be that for exacting ransom or for the purpose of a prisoner exchange, must be vehemently opposed and condemned in the strongest words. To summarily execute the three kidnapped innocent boys, however, is beastly and transcends the most awful crime that one can commit against another.

The unfathomable murders should now hopefully serve only the opposite of what the criminal perpetrators intended. If they meant to inflict tremendous pain and agony on all Israelis, and especially the families of the victims, they have succeeded, but they also have miserably failed as they set back the prospect of a solution to the agonizing conflict from which many Palestinians young and old will dreadfully suffer.

The lives of these brave teenagers that were mercilessly cut short must not be in vain. They must be the catalyst for peace and not the cause that perpetuates the self-consuming conflict that will only poison another generation of Israelis and Palestinians.

Prime Minister Netanyahu has blamed Hamas for the atrocious murders without producing as yet any compelling evidence. The mere fact, however, that Hamas’ leadership extolled the abductions and subsequently condoned the cold-blooded killing strongly suggests that Hamas’ leadership is incapable of changing its stripes.

Following the establishment of the unity government I advocated that the Israeli government should give Hamas a chance to prove that it has finally subscribed, albeit indirectly, to a negotiated settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

It is now obvious, and to my chagrin, that Hamas joining the unity government was designed only to strengthen its foothold in the West Bank and benefit economically from the merger.

That said, I am convinced that Hamas’ leadership does not represent the vast majority of the Palestinians in Gaza who are captives of these ruthless leaders and are fed up with their unending precarious status quo.

Although Hamas’ leaders deny culpability in the horrific murders, and even if their claim proves to be true, Hamas has forfeited any chance to redeem itself while subjecting the Palestinians in Gaza to greater suffering and despondency.

Meanwhile Hamas’ leadership has severely undermined Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, who genuinely seeks a negotiated peace agreement to bring an end to the seven decades-old debilitating conflict.

Those in and outside the Israeli government who are calling for massive retaliation to indiscriminately punish the Palestinians, including the Economy and Defense Ministers Naftali Bennett and Moshe Ya’alon respectively, have lost their bearing as they seek revenge and retribution. They are clearly shortsighted because they seem to have no idea where the escalation of violence could lead to.

Capturing and punishing the culprits behind the murders is one thing, but destroying the prospect of a peace agreement is as harmful to the Israelis as to the Palestinians. Uncompromising Israeli and Palestinian zealots are only paving the way for more tragedies on both sides, which sadly has already led to the death of at least six Palestinian youth.

The Netanyahu government is clearly split over the scope of the Israeli retaliatory measures and what the ultimate objective is. Obviously deliberating in such a painful and emotionally charged atmosphere often leaves little room for rational discourse.

That said, there are still wise men and women in the Israeli government, including Finance Minister Yair Lapid and Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, who for good reason counsel restraint.

They, like many other Israelis, know that there is no escaping the reality of Israeli-Palestinian coexistence in one form or another. Every action or reaction taken today will have a lasting impact, either deeply damaging or benefiting their bilateral relations.

The ultimate gain belongs to those Israelis and Palestinians who share the vision of peaceful coexistence and remain focused on the larger picture regardless of how awful the current circumstances are.

Every crisis, regardless of its magnitude, presents an opportunity for a new breakthrough. The US’ call for restraint while consoling the Israelis and sharing their grief is certainly the right first step. But more is needed to be done by the US to prevent the fallout from a major violent conflagration.

Given the sweeping turmoil throughout the region and the danger that every state in the area faces, another major Israeli-Palestinian flareup will only play into the hands of the jihadists, especially the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) who would exploit every opening to promote their menacing agenda, which will pose a direct danger to Israel, Jordan and the Palestinians.

President Obama must spare no effort to calm the situation first by immediately dispatching Secretary of State John Kerry to the region and make a personal appeal to the Israeli government and the PA to do everything in their power to preserve their security cooperation.

He should also urge them to further strengthen their collaboration and defy those who are bent on destroying the last vestiges of peaceful negotiations now or in the not-too-distant future.

President Abbas in particular needs all the support and help he can get to hold onto his position and remain the voice of reason. No other leader but the US President can give Abbas the helping hands he now desperately needs.

The President should also invite both Netanyahu and Abbas to the White House and remind them of the perils of not achieving peace and ask them to publicly reaffirm their commitment to resume negotiations in earnest.

The Israeli and Palestinian public needs to see the two leaders working hand in hand toward that end and that the tragic events have only strengthened their resolve.

No Israeli or Palestinian child should die in a conflict that could have been resolved decades ago. They deserve and have the right to live in peace and a promising future. The precious loss of life of Naftali, Gilad and Eyal should not be in vain–may their victimhood be the catalyst for peace.

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