Alex Sinclair
Haaretz (Opinion)
January 19, 2009 - 1:00am

During its three-week offensive on Hamas, Israel has used a great big stick on the Palestinians of Gaza. Most Israelis, myself included, have supported our right to use that stick, pained as we are at the suffering we have inflicted on many innocent Palestinians.

But when the core narrative of the situation was "We got out of Gaza; you continued to attack us" - which, despite Israel's continued blockades and targeted assassinations, remains the basic truth of the Gaza story over the past 3 years - then we were justified in taking action to prevent these attacks.

Israel is very good at using sticks. It's the carrots where we mess up.

It's just no good continually beating up the Palestinians. Yes, they were in the wrong. Yes, they elected an evil and disgraceful leadership. Yes, they once more didn't miss the opportunity to miss the opportunity. Yes, this war is justified. Yes, yes, and yes.

But killing lots of Palestinians is not going to magically turn them into Zionists. When the war is over, they will still be there. Our neighbors. We will still need to live next door to them. We will still need to come to a modus vivendi.

There will never be a way out of this conflict until we offer the Palestinians some carrots: hope and belief. The sheer despair and hopelessness of many well-meaning Palestinians, in both Gaza and the West Bank, bodes ill for anyone who cares about Middle East peace. They just don?t believe it?s possible any more.

Here are some carrots that Israel needs to offer the Palestinians, even as we continue to deal with Gaza via the stick.

1. Israel needs to start work on the safe passage between Gaza and the West Bank.

It's a disgrace that we haven't built it yet, 16 years after Oslo. There's no security risk for Israel here: it would go through our territory, so we could police it and prevent smuggling through it without a problem.

There are plenty of simple ways to build this safe passage - a road or bridge with raised walls and a border control checkpoint at either end doesn't take too much imagination.

Commentators in the West call Gaza an "open-air prison". That may be demagogy, but there is something to it: I can't imagine what it's like to be confined to an area the size of Gaza.

If there's ever going to be peace, Gazans are going to have to be able to spend the day in the West Bank visiting their families. We can build a secure way of enabling that with absolutely no risk to Israel. Why on earth should we not do that?

To those who fear that this would lead to Gazans smuggling themselves into Israel: well, we have a nearly-complete border called the security fence. If that stops ping West Bank terrorists getting into Israel, then it will also stop Gazan terrorists getting into Israel via the West Bank.

If we were to start work on a safe passage tomorrow, even as we bomb Gaza, it would truly send the message that our argument is with Hamas, not with the Palestinian people.

2. Israel needs to come to an agreement with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on borders. We can do this tomorrow as well.

Really, every kid in the street knows that the borders are going to end up being the pre-1967 lines with some minor adjustments and land swaps.

The arguments are over exactly where the territorial exchanges are going to be. Surely there is nothing like the prospect of the entire region going up in flames to focus the minds for an afternoon or two and get those border maps done? And no, dear reader, I am not being naïve: the real naïveté is thinking that peace is possible without that basic redrawing of borders.

3. Israel needs to make a gesture on the fate of Jerusalem. Yes, we all know deep down that in the end, whether we like it or not, we are going to have to share Jerusalem. East Jerusalem is a different country, and most Israelis never go there. It's not ours. It's not us. And that's okay.

Borders in Jerusalem will be complicated - we should remember that at Camp David, Bill Clinton was said to have pored over precise maps of individual streets, roads, and alleyways - but one day, the state of Palestine will have East Jerusalem as its capital. Let's make the magnanimous gesture and have a joint ceremony when we break ground on the Palestinian parliament together with Abbas.

We can do these three things without harming Israeli security one iota, and we can do these three things while we are justifiably seeking to destroy Hamas.

Right now, most Palestinians think that we don't care about peace with them, and we are just out to kill them. I don't blame them for thinking that. But we can still turn things around for our future. We can show Palestinians that we will not tolerate their attacks on us, but that at the same time, we are prepared to work with them if they show their willingness to live with us.

This is not a lily-livered lefty dream. I'm not saying put away the stick. I'm not saying don?t defend ourselves. I'm not saying tolerate missiles in Gaza. But unless we get those carrots out fast, the window of opportunity for peace is going to slam shut and collapse on us all.


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