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The two operations have important lessons for Israel and her friends. For one thing, it turns out that it’s possible to live relatively securely, even in a dangerous neighborhood and alongside a sworn enemy, so long as you keep your powder dry and know when to use it — and when to stop. It may be that Israel will have to repeat Pillar of Defense periodically, as long as Hamas sees value in putting its people through hell. What Israel can do is make sure Hamas understands the benefits of keeping the truce and the price of breaking it.
For another, it’s important to remember that strength and firepower, though vital, aren’t everything. Nor is it enough that your actions are justified. They must be seen to be justified. If you lose your legitimacy as a result of your actions — however justified they might seem to you — that legitimacy doesn’t just disappear into the ether. It switches over to the other side.
Finally, there’s this basic truth of Israeli security doctrine: territory isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Israel didn’t end the hell of Sderot’s bombardment by moving it further away from Gaza and putting more settlements in between. It ended the bombing by giving Hamas compelling reasons to stop.
The same rules hold for the West Bank, with two crucial differences. For one thing, the Palestinian leadership in the West Bank is neither anarchist nor suicidal. It’s learned to keep the peace without having to get hit over the head periodically. It can see the benefits without needing constantly to be reminded of the price. And it’s realistic enough to know that if things go wrong, Israel will exact that price.
For another thing, it’s much harder for Israel to give the West Bank Palestinians the positive inducements necessary for a stable peace — dignity, real sovereignty and a contiguous, viable state. That would require acknowledging their right to their fair share of the land. Too many Israelis are convinced it’s Israel’s. If there’s an inducement to make them want to share, nobody’s found it yet.
Contact J.J. Goldberg at firstname.lastname@example.org