Operation "Protective Edge" in the Gaza Strip is slowly approaching its end. The IDF has started to withdraw its forces from the Gaza Strip after the goals, set by the Israeli government, were successfully accomplished. The Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, announced that Israel will keep all options on the table without having a conclusive agreement supported by Hamas. This is unlikely to happen since getting back to the pre-July 18th ground invasion will put Netanyahu in an impossible political situation.
In the days leading up to the ground invasion, Netanyahu was still hoping that quiet on Hamas's side (i.e. no rockets on Israeli towns and villages) would be answered with quiet on the Israeli side. In other words, he was hoping for a continuation of the status quo. However, at this point, this is no longer possible since Netanyahu will find it very hard to explain to the Israeli people that the country just lost 64 soldiers and 3 civilians simply for the sake of returning to the status quo. Indeed, the ground operation managed to remove the threat of the offensive tunnels, but if Hamas's rockets continue to be launched from time to time, removing the tunnels will quickly be forgotten and the people of Israel would demand alternative and better answers.
Therefore, Netanyahu has no choice but to pursue some sort of an agreement. In order for it to be effective, the agreement should allow both sides to exemplify significant achievements. This situation has opened the door for new opportunities. The best outcome for Israel is to have Mahmud Abbas (Abu Mazen) back in control of all Palestinian Authority (PA) territories including the Gaza Strip. Here's why: during the operation, we witnessed the creation of a new regional moderate alignment between Egypt, Saudi Arabia, PA, Jordan, some of the Gulf States and Israel. This alignment can open the door to creating a new reality in Gaza- and Netanyahu is the one who holds the key to this door. This will require him to make one major brave decision and immediately announce that he is willing to seriously discuss the principles of the Arab Peace Initiative, presented at the Arab League Summit in 2002.
There are three main reasons why Netanyahu, for Israel's sake, must do this. First, it will allow the regional moderate states to come together and present a united front supporting a two-state solution with Abbas as the only recognized and relevant Palestinian leader. This could also guarantee that the funds needed to rebuild the Gaza Strip are funneled through moderate powers and not through Iran or its proxies.
Second, it would be very hard for Hamas to fight against such a united front, and it would be forced into cooperating with this initiative, especially if its two main sponsors, Qatar and Turkey, join it (and they will since the international support for this would be enormous).
Third, when Protective Edge is finally over, Israel will be facing unprecedented international condemnation and pressure. The massive destruction in Gaza has been viewed in every living room around the world. Israel will be facing another UN Human Rights investigation similarly (or worse) than the 2009 Goldstone Committee. Israeli officers will be prosecuted almost everywhere they go, and Israeli tourists will be afraid to speak Hebrew on European streets. Netanyahu can change the paradigm once he announces that he is choosing peace.
Moreover, the Israeli government should also recognize the Palestinian Unity government, which would allow Abbas to truly represent all Palestinians during the upcoming peace discussions. This would give Hamas a respectful excuse to get off its high horse, which would strengthen Palestinian support for Abbas across the board. Israel was wrong not to recognize the unity government a couple of months ago; it is now given a chance to correct it.
Netanyahu is yet to prove that he can make brave decisions and instead tends to hold on to the seemingly endless status-quo. Now, he must change his attitude and take the initiative since if he does not, other regional players will force him to accept a different solution -- one that is significantly less favorable to Israel. Netanyahu should choose to be active, to become the leader he aspires to become and seize the opportunity to present to the world a peace-chasing Israel.
There is no doubt that Netanyahu will confront much criticism and resentment within his party and his coalition government, but a true leader must ignore the nuisance created by ranting politicians engaged in petty politics, and do the right thing. He could possibly reach out to the Labor party and invite its leader Isaac (Buji) Herzog into the coalition, if needed. The opportunity to take action is now; it may not be available in a few days. Netanyahu must act quickly. Will he?