Netanyahu Surprises at 10th Annual Herzliya Conference

The day after Fayyad’s speech, Maj.-Gen. (res.) Amos Gilad, director of policy and political-military affairs and the Defense Ministry's former coordinator for the administered territories, expressed to me his admiration for the courage Fayyad showed in traveling to the center of Israel to discuss Palestinian aspirations. In his 14th floor office in the Ministry of Defense in Tel Aviv, Gilad also praised Fayyad for presiding over an unprecedented improvement in the Palestinian security forces. Coupled with Israeli security forces achievements, it’s now possible, Gilad noted, for Palestinians to travel from Hebron in the south of the West Bank to Nablus and Jenin in the north without encountering a single Israeli roadblock.

But in the end, said Gilad, Fayyad’s speech evaded the fundamental obstacle: “As long as Hamastan exists, there can be no peace.” And for the moment, the Palestinian Authority has no answer to Hamastan, or the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip.

To be sure, things have gone badly for Hamas since they defeated Fatah in June 2007 and seized control of Gaza. The crossings to Israel mainly serve to allow humanitarian supplies in. Gaza’s economy is in tatters. Israel inflicted substantial losses on Hamas fighters last year in Operation Cast Lead. And Hamas has failed to obtain international recognition.

Still, argues Gilad, the Palestinian Authority is not remotely capable of reestablishing government in Gaza. Yet the Palestinian Authority, he observed, will never sign a comprehensive agreement that does not include Gaza. The problem for political negotiations is that nobody has any reasonable ideas about how to bring Gaza under Palestinian Authority control anytime soon without in the process exposing Israel to Hamas rockets that the Israeli defense establishment now believes can reach Tel Aviv.  And that is entirely unacceptable to Israel.

Nor is that the only major problem. Gilad pointed out that from his office window we could in the distance see the hills of the West Bank. Even a few rockets or mortars launched from there by Hamas terrorists on Israel’s commercial and population center in Tel Aviv, he said, could shut down Ben Gurion International Airport and paralyze the nation. To prevent such attacks, the Israeli defense establishment believes that, even with the impressive progress that Fayyad has made in standing up Palestinian security forces, Israel will need to maintain a significant military presence in the West Bank for many years to come.  Under these circumstances, however, no comprehensive political agreement is conceivable because an Israeli military presence in the West Bank is entirely unacceptable to the Palestinians.

Gilad’s analysis is sobering but not disheartening. Notwithstanding the elusiveness of peace, there is much to be done. Israelis and Palestinians needn’t choose between top-down political negotiations and bottom-up development programs. Both should be pursued -- but with eyes wide open. To reduce the elusiveness of peace it is necessary to shed the illusions of peace.