Israel victory
Israel victory iStock

A vital element in achieving a victory over a bellicose opponent is convincing them that they have more to gain by giving up their hostility and aggression than by continuing.

For many years, the State of Israel has tried the “carrots and sticks” approach to the Palestinians with varying degrees of success. However, the major problem with Israel’s strategy was in its inconsistency.

Far too often, Israel would respond to violence and aggression with a carrot hoping that this would lessen the level. The attitude of far too many in the defense establishment was that tightening measures would just make the Palestinians more likely to engage in violence, and therefore few, if any, punitive steps should be considered unless absolutely necessary.

In fact, far too often, the opposite was true. This is what led to the Qatari suitcases of cash and the continued release of all taxes Israel collects for the Palestinian Authority despite the government being mandated to hold off the amount the Palestinian leadership gives to the families of terrorists in its “Pay for Slay” program.

Even when there was political will and strategy, it rarely developed into meaningful action.

In 2016, Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman unveiled a very specific policy toward Palestinians based on the “carrot and stick” model – harsher punishment for families and villages from which terrorists originate and economic benefits for those areas that have not produced terrorists.

“We will implement a differential policy in Judea and Samaria,” Liberman said back then. “Its purpose is to continue to give benefits to those who desire co-existence with us and make life difficult for those who seek to harm Jews. Aanyone who is prepared for co-existence will prosper, while those who opt for terrorism will lose.”

Unfortunately, like many Defense Ministers before and since, Liberman learned that the dire warnings from some in the security establishment overruled his strategy and little came of it.

However, recent news suggests that the new government led by Prime Minister Naftali Bennett might be changing the rules of the game.

In recent days, Israel had seen an influx of incendiary balloons which once again wrought blazes and havoc in southern Israel, especially in areas close to the Gaza Strip. In response, Israel cut the Gaza Strip’s fishing zone in half, from 12 nautical miles to six, which had been as many as 15 nautical miles before Operation Guardians of the Wall.

Hamas threatened a return to heightened violence if the restrictions were not removed, but the Israeli Government held firm and instead of an increase in violence, the incendiary balloons ceased.

After a number of days, the restriction ended, and the previous fishing zone was returned to its fullest.

“Following a security assessment and with approval from the political echelon, it was decided to expand the Gaza Strip fishing zone from six to 12 nautical miles, starting Monday morning,” the IDF’s Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT) said in a statement, adding that this and other steps at easing life for residents of the strip were conditional on continued quiet.

This might seem a small episode in the greater scheme of things and perhaps a one-off. Nonetheless, it could also point to something new.

“Israel is interested in calm and has no interest in harming Gaza residents, but violence… will be met with a strong response,” Prime Minister Bennett said in a recent Cabinet meeting.

In other words, Israel is using the policy of carrots and sticks, and Hamas are responding to the new strategy.

Now is the time for the policy to be explained publicly, both to Israelis and more importantly the Palestinians, both in Gaza and Judea and Samaria.

It needs to be expanded to include the Palestinian Authority and the organizations and militants connected to it.

Finally, and most vitally, it needs to be made consistent, sending a clear message to Palestinians that they pay a price when they misbehave.

Even if it will take some time to digest, the Israeli Government must show that this will now become the clear, coherent and consistent policy.

It should speak to the Palestinian leaders, but also the people to convince them that they stand to lose much by becoming involved in violent rejectionism. They must also see their leaders suffer if they misbehave.

It is a slower path to victory, but one that should not be disregarded. It is a way to end the conflict simply by providing options to each Palestinian that they can continue to suffer as they have done during their over 100-year war against Israel, or they can gain by coming into accommodation with the reality and existence of the Jewish State.

This can lead to an end of the conflict, peace and prosperity for both peoples.

As the party which continues the conflict and has not countenanced its end, the ball is in their court. The choice should be made clear by Israel.

The writer is director of the Middle East Forum

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