Skip to main content

A smart way out of the Gaza confrontation

By Michael Oren
July 14, 2014 -- Updated 1659 GMT (0059 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Michael Oren: Mideast crisis presents opportunity for creative diplomacy
  • He says model for a solution should be the removal of chemical weapons from Syria
  • Oren: U.S. inspectors could oversee removal of Hamas rocket stockpiles
  • He says international aid could repair Gaza's economy, and Israel could ease blockade

Editor's note: Michael B. Oren is the Abba Eban chair in international diplomacy at the Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliya, Israel, and an ambassador-in-residence at the Atlantic Council. He was formerly Israel's ambassador to the United States. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.

(CNN) -- Great baseball players know every pitch is an opportunity. As with fastballs, international crises also present opportunities. And the current clash between Israel and Gaza offers several potential game-changers.

Over the course of the past six days, Hamas gunmen, along with other militant groups, have fired nearly 800 rockets at Israeli cities and towns. The Israeli air force, in response, has conducted some 1,200 sorties against Hamas targets and -- despite warning civilians of impending attacks -- inflicted civilian casualties.

Now, the Israeli army is poised to enter Gaza and uproot Hamas by force. Destruction is expected to be at least as extensive as in the previous rounds of fighting between Hamas and Israel. Thousands are liable to be displaced; civilian casualties will mount. Still, with nearly its entire population under rocket fire, Israel will have no choice but to invade.

Michael Oren
Michael Oren

The obvious solution is a cease-fire similar to ones mediated by Egypt in 2008 and 2012 and co-sponsored by the United States. Such a cease-fire would end the shooting but would not hold for long. An unconditional cease-fire would enable Hamas to rearm and reignite the conflict at a time of its choosing.

Egypt, moreover, is now focused on its domestic challenges and reluctant to become embroiled in regional conflicts. And American foreign policy has been weakened by its failure in the peace process and its resistance to intervening in the Syrian and Iraqi civil wars.

What's the endgame?

Worsening matters, the Egyptian government of Gen. Abdul Fattah al-Sisi has had a strained relationship with the U.S. government that frowned on his undemocratic rise to power. In baseball terms, the crisis in Gaza seems to be a fastball too blistering to hit.

Israel launches new air strikes on Gaza
Israeli strike hits home for handicapped
McCain: Israeli 'restraint' is admirable
Source: Israel raids missile site in Gaza

Yet, the very threat of full-scale fighting can serve to motivate the combatants to seek a way out. Promised a new beginning in their relations with Washington, the Egyptians can be induced to once again mediate between Hamas and Israel. And America can reclaim its traditional leadership. A simultaneous cease-fire can be achieved, but that would only be the first in a multistaged diplomatic process.

The next stage would apply the formula with which the United States and Russia successfully removed chemical weapons from Syria. American inspectors can locate Hamas' rocket stockpiles and ship them abroad for destruction.

At the same time, the people of Gaza would receive the international aid needed to repair the war damage and energize their economy, which has been failing for years. Finally, once the rockets are eliminated, Israel can ease the maritime blockade of Gaza. The Palestinians will be spared further hardship and Hamas deprived of one of its chief pretexts for attacking Israel.

The crisis also presents an opportunity to strengthen Palestinian moderates. American and Canadian-trained police officers loyal to the West Bank Palestinian Authority can be stationed at the border crossings from Israel into Gaza. Similarly, these security personnel can be deployed at the Gaza border crossings that Egypt formerly closed but would now reopen.

Opinion: How Iron Dome missile defense buys time for Israel

Ideally, the Palestinian Authority would replace Hamas rule over Gaza. It is doubtful whether that goal could be achieved swiftly and without prolonged violence. Yet a new status quo can be created that is more stable and less prone to breakdown.

Effectively demilitarized, with a stimulated economy and an expanded role for Palestinians committed to the peace process, Gaza can cease being the cause of repeated conflict. The Obama administration could point to a significant diplomatic victory, Egypt could reassert its regional leadership and Israel and the Palestinian Authority could create a context for restarting the peace process.

Israelis and Palestinians are indeed confronting a complex and dangerous situation. But as every slugger knows, the faster the pitch, the further the ball will fly off the bat. For all of the pain and trauma it has caused so far, the crisis in Gaza offers all the parties a chance to hit deep, perhaps even a diplomatic home run.

Fearing daughter's border wedding

Read CNNOpinion's new Flipboard magazine

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Michael Oren.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
July 29, 2014 -- Updated 1650 GMT (0050 HKT)
LZ Granderson says the cyber-standing ovation given to Robyn Lawley, an Australian plus-size model who posted unretouched photos, shows how crazy Americans' notions of beauty have become
July 28, 2014 -- Updated 1156 GMT (1956 HKT)
A crisis like the Gaza conflict or the surge of immigrants can be an opportunity for a lame duck president, writes Julian Zelizer
July 26, 2014 -- Updated 1822 GMT (0222 HKT)
Carol Costello says the league's light punishment sent the message that it didn't consider domestic violence a serious offense
July 28, 2014 -- Updated 1251 GMT (2051 HKT)
Danny Cevallos says saggy pants aren't the kind of fashion statement protected by the First Amendment.
July 28, 2014 -- Updated 1852 GMT (0252 HKT)
Margaret Hoover says some GOP legislators support a state's right to allow same-sex marriage and the right of churches, synagogues and mosques not to perform the sacrament
July 28, 2014 -- Updated 1831 GMT (0231 HKT)
Megan McCracken and Jennifer Moreno say it's unacceptable for states to experiment with new execution procedures without full disclosure
July 28, 2014 -- Updated 1850 GMT (0250 HKT)
Priya Satia says today's drones for bombardment and surveillance have their roots in the deadly history of Western aerial control of the Middle East that began in World War One
July 28, 2014 -- Updated 1635 GMT (0035 HKT)
Jeff Yang says it's great to see the comics make an effort at diversifying the halls of justice
July 26, 2014 -- Updated 1555 GMT (2355 HKT)
Rick Francona says the reported artillery firing from Russian territory is a sign Vladimir Putin has escalated the Ukraine battle
July 27, 2014 -- Updated 1822 GMT (0222 HKT)
Paul Callan says the fact that appeals delay the death penalty doesn't make it an unconstitutional punishment, as one judge ruled
July 24, 2014 -- Updated 2225 GMT (0625 HKT)
Pilot Robert Mark says it's been tough for the airline industry after the plane crashes in Ukraine and Taiwan.
July 25, 2014 -- Updated 1510 GMT (2310 HKT)
Jennifer DeVoe laments efforts to end subsidies that allow working Americans to finally afford health insurance.
July 26, 2014 -- Updated 1533 GMT (2333 HKT)
Ruti Teitel says assigning a costly and humiliating "collective guilt" to Germany after WWI would end up teaching the global community hard lessons about who to blame for war crimes
July 25, 2014 -- Updated 1245 GMT (2045 HKT)
John Sutter responds to criticism of his column on the ethics of eating dog.
July 25, 2014 -- Updated 1302 GMT (2102 HKT)
Frida Ghitis says it's tempting to ignore North Korea's antics as bluster but the cruel regime is dangerous.
July 25, 2014 -- Updated 1850 GMT (0250 HKT)
To the question "Is Putin evil?" Alexander Motyl says he is evil enough for condemnation by people of good will.
July 24, 2014 -- Updated 1803 GMT (0203 HKT)
Laurie Garrett: Poor governance, ignorance, hysteria worsen the Ebola epidemic in Sierra Leone, Guinea, Liberia.
July 24, 2014 -- Updated 1349 GMT (2149 HKT)
Patrick Cronin and Kelley Sayler say the world is seeing nonstate groups such as Ukraine's rebels wielding more power to do harm than ever before
July 23, 2014 -- Updated 2205 GMT (0605 HKT)
Ukraine ambassador Olexander Motsyk places blame for the MH17 tragedy squarely at the door of Russia
July 24, 2014 -- Updated 1142 GMT (1942 HKT)
Mark Kramer says Russia and its proxies have a history of shooting down civilian aircraft, often with few repercussions
July 24, 2014 -- Updated 1853 GMT (0253 HKT)
Les Abend says, with rockets flying over Tel Aviv and missiles shooting down MH17 over Ukraine, a commercial pilot's pre-flight checklist just got much more complicated
July 24, 2014 -- Updated 1317 GMT (2117 HKT)
Mark Kramer says Russia and its proxies have a history of shooting down civilian aircraft, often with few repercussions
July 24, 2014 -- Updated 1637 GMT (0037 HKT)
Gerard Jacobs says grieving families and nations need the comfort of traditional rituals to honor the remains of loved ones, particularly in a mass disaster
July 24, 2014 -- Updated 1413 GMT (2213 HKT)
The idea is difficult to stomach, but John Sutter writes that eating dog is morally equivalent to eating pig, another intelligent animal. If Americans oppose it, they should question their own eating habits as well.
July 23, 2014 -- Updated 1630 GMT (0030 HKT)
Bill van Esveld says under the laws of war, civilians who do not join in the fight are always to be protected. An International Criminal Court could rule on whether Israeli airstrikes and Hamas rocketing are war crimes.
July 23, 2014 -- Updated 1408 GMT (2208 HKT)
Gordon Brown says the kidnapped Nigerian girls have been in captivity for 100 days, but the world has not forgotten them.
ADVERTISEMENT