The violence will continue for as long as the root causes of conflict remain

Creating a durable peace between Hamas and Israel means breaking the status quo, write Rory Miller and Mattia Toaldo.

The destruction in Gaza will be repeated unless the status quo between Israel and Hamas can be replaced with a different way of interacting. Photo: Mahmud Hams / AFP
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After days of difficult negotiations, Hamas and Israel finally agreed a long-term truce at the end of August. In the early part of the confrontation, US secretary of state John Kerry told reporters that he was working hard to find a way to “restore the status quo ante with respect to a ceasefire”, before adding that what was really required was to “find a different way forward”.

Mr Kerry is, of course, correct. Suffering, violence and political stalemate have defined the status quo between Israel and Hamas for far too long. There have been four wars since 2006, each of which was concluded by a ceasefire agreement, a lull in tensions and a return to fighting within two years.

But how do external parties like the Arab League, the US government and the EU go about breaking the unsustainable status quo?

They will need to play a key role in rebuilding Gaza. But the real challenge is how to contribute to the reconstruction in Gaza in a way that shifts the dynamics that created this conflict in the first place and that takes into account the fact that the crisis in Gaza is a part of the larger problem.

Outside parties, however well meaning, have tended to sustain the status quo in between bouts of fighting, in the hope that the cycle of violence won’t return. The reality is that in the absence of any concrete prospects for a durable peace, a resumption of fighting will always be just around the corner.

Acknowledging this will help implement a paradigm shift in how external actors deal with two key aspects of the Palestinian issue.

First, support for the institution-building project of the Palestinian Authority should be reassessed. Prime Minister Salam Fayyad’s resignation in 2013 shattered the assumptions underpinning the strategy of external parties. From the time he came to power in 2007, they supported his programme of state-building under the assumption that US-brokered bilateral negotiations between Israel and the PLO, though stalled, would lead to a final status agreement that would give birth to an independent Palestine.

They were wrong. In the absence of any move towards peace, institution-building under occupation has shown its limitations, both politically and economically. Replicating this approach in the upcoming reconstruction of Gaza makes bad use of financial aid and does little to contribute to a future peace.

Institution-building will need to take into account the impact the current paradigm has on Palestinian political and civil society. It will need to include the means to empower Palestinians and encourage national cohesion in the face of the fragmentation produced both by restrictions on the freedom of movement and the split between Fatah and Hamas.

Second, external actors will have to discuss how best to alter the cost-benefit calculation of the Israeli occupation.

This demands a re-evaluation of the terms of engagement with Israel. This does not necessarily mean that external actors should endorse a “boycott”. There is little political will for this at the highest levels of government in the US. That said, there must be much less of a tendency to turn a blind eye to violations for the sake of trade ties.

None of these reforms will improve the prospects for peace and Palestinian statehood in the immediate future. But they will lead to a gradual altering of the status quo and create a more positive dynamic.

This in turn will contribute to what remains the ultimate goal of all but the most extreme external parties to the Israel-Palestine conflict: a viable, independent and sovereign Palestinian state living side by side with Israel.

Dr Rory Miller is a professor of government at the Georgetown School of Foreign Service in Qatar. Dr Mattia Toaldo is a policy fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations in London