In the eight years I served on President Barack Obama’s Middle East team, I found no issue more impervious to solutions. Sometimes the crisis would fester on a low burn. Other times, like this week, it would burst forth in a violent spike.
Many factors contribute to Gaza’s plight. But any honest accounting must start with Hamas, the terrorist organization that has ruled Gaza since 2007, following Israel’s 2005 withdrawal. Hamas prioritizes its ideologically driven hatred of Israel over the well-being of its people. The group has squandered huge sums of money — some of it diverted from humanitarian aid — to smuggle and build rockets to fire at Israel. But now Israel can intercept them. More recently, Hamas has invested heavily in tunnels under the border with Israel to enable terrorist attacks. But Israel now has technology to detect and destroy this threat.
With no asset left to challenge Israel or demonstrate its relevance, and no answers to Gaza’s humanitarian disaster, Hamas has cynically resorted to throwing its own people into harm’s way, urging unarmed civilians to rush the border fence, while embedding armed terrorists among them. Some 60 Palestinians — some engaged in violence, others unarmed protesters — were killed by Israeli forces in the chaotic scenes on Monday.
Israel faces the challenge of doing everything possible to minimize civilian casualties while fighting a terrorist organization that embeds itself in a civilian population. The U.S. military has struggled with similar dilemmas in our campaigns against al-Qaeda, the Taliban and the Islamic State. Hamas is indifferent to — in fact, welcomes — the civilian deaths it uses for propaganda purposes. But democratic societies can never be uncaring when civilians — especially children — are killed and injured.
The people of Gaza deserve better from the international community, as well. The jarring split-screen images of violence in Gaza and the ceremony at the U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem this week were a reminder that American leadership to address the Gaza crisis remains critical.
A vital rule of U.S. diplomacy should be: “Do no harm.” I support the establishment of the U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem, Israel’s capital. Its placement in West Jerusalem does no harm to prospects for a two-state solution. But the administration made two important mistakes.
First, in announcing the recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and the embassy transfer, President Trump failed to place those moves in the broader context of U.S. efforts to end the conflict in a two-state solution, in which Palestinians could also realize their ambitions for a capital in East Jerusalem as part of a unified city. With that clarity, it would have been easier for Palestinians to absorb a decision they did not like.
Second, May 14 was the wrong date to dedicate the new embassy. It was just before one of the most emotional days in the Palestinian calendar: what Palestinians call Nakba Day, the anniversary of Israel’s establishment, which led to the displacement of Palestinians from their land; and the beginning of Ramadan. The embassy ceremony could have been held two weeks earlier or two weeks later, providing separation from, rather than fueling, the tensions surrounding these events.
More broadly, the United States must re-energize international and regional efforts to end the violence and address humanitarian suffering in Gaza. None of it can be fully solved until Hamas is displaced. But more can be done.
First, the United States and Egypt should work to de-escalate the current crisis. Cairo should pressure Hamas to end the border clashes, and Washington should encourage Israel to provide maximum space for peaceful Palestinian protest.
Second, the United States must lead our Arab and European partners to renew the flow of major humanitarian aid to Gaza, which has fallen off in recent years. Hamas is no help here either, having urged rioters to torch the crossing point through which much of this aid flows.
Israel, Egypt and the Palestinian Authority must all facilitate this aid flow. The United States is hamstrung by the current fissure in relations with the Palestinian Authority over the embassy decision, which must be bridged.
Finally, desperate times call for out-of-the-box thinking. Israeli Minister of Transportation and Intelligence Yisrael Katz backs a creative proposal to build an artificial island off the Gaza coast, equipped with an airport and seaport, and connected to the mainland by a causeway. This project could facilitate massive inflows of goods and aid, and freedom of movement for Gaza residents, while enabling inspections to ensure weapons and terrorists do not enter the territory. It has languished in the Israeli cabinet.
Let’s not let this Gaza crisis go to waste.
Read more here: