07/09/2014 02:47 pm ET Updated Sep 08, 2014

5 Steps U.S. Can Take to Help Restore Israel/Gaza Ceasefire

JACK GUEZ via Getty Images

Eventually, there will be a ceasefire in Gaza. The real question is not if, but when. Another crucial question is how many Palestinian and Israeli lives will be lost, and how much destruction will be wrought before the bombings and rocket launches stop by way of a negotiated ceasefire.

The relevant question for those of us among the 5 percent of the world's population with U.S. citizenship is: What will the people and policymakers in the United States do to help stop the killing in Israel/Palestine?

I have been asked different versions of this question in Bethlehem's Manger Square, in a Palestinian shepherd's cave in the south Hebron Hills, and while protesting with Israelis against a previous assault on Gaza in Yitzhak Rabin Square in Tel Aviv.

I was asked this question by my Palestinian host when he drove me past 'tent cities' in Gaza City, where families slept under tarps atop the rubble of their homes pulverized by Israeli air strikes and bulldozers.

I was asked this question during my visit to Sderot, where Israeli peace activist Nomika Zion recounted to me times when sirens would sound off 60 times a day to warn of incoming rockets from Gaza. Then she would struggle to sleep at night when her walls would shake from Israel's bombardment of Gaza -- less than one mile away.

5 Steps U.S. Can Take to Support a Lasting Ceasefire Now

When I lived in the Middle East, Palestinians and Israelis would repeatedly emphasize to me just how crucial the role of the United States is in the occupation and the conflict. They were shocked to hear my accounts of most Americans being ignorant to their tax dollars going to help subsidize Israel's occupation of the Palestinian territories.

Washington can, however, play a positive role in de-escalating the violence in Israel/Palestine. The United States can take the following steps to press for an immediate ceasefire between Israel and Gaza:

  • 1. Work with Egypt to Secure a Ceasefire: Already there are press reports that the Egyptian government is working to restore a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas. Washington can use its leverage with Tel Aviv, as well as Cairo, to help hash out an immediate and comprehensive ceasefire, as the U.S. did during the Israeli/Gaza escalation in 2012.
  • 2. Engage Hamas: Securing a ceasefire will require either direct or indirect engagement with Hamas. The U.S.-led talks between the Israeli government and Palestinian authority collapsed in part because there was little to no attempt to engage Hamas. Israel has negotiated with Hamas countless times before to secure ceasefires, and more recently, to secure the release of the Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit who was held captive by Hamas. For years, former Israeli security officials have called for talks with Hamas.
  • 3. Build on 2012 Ceasefire Text: A ceasefire agreement de-escalated the violence on all sides in 2012, when Israel was on the verge of launching another ground invasion into Gaza. The ceasefire agreement from 2012 can still serve as a blueprint for reaching a ceasefire today.
  • 4. Commit U.S. Diplomacy to Upholding Ceasefire: While the ceasefire text in 2012 was successful in immediately de-escalating tensions, it ultimately didn't last, in part because it wasn't enough to have Egypt charged with ensuring all sides complied with the terms of the ceasefire.
  • The last provision of the 2012 ceasefire text committed "Egypt as the sponsor" of this ceasefire agreement to "follow up" in case either party reneges on its commitments.

    To state -- or rather understate -- the obvious, Washington has limited influence on Palestinian militant groups like Hamas and Islamic Jihad. However, the Obama administration can influence Israel, and can commit to 'following up' if Israel breaches the terms of another ceasefire agreement.

  • 5. Press to End the Blockade: In the 2012 ceasefire negotiations, the Israeli government, for the first time, publicly committed to make progress toward lifting the blockade. The Israeli agreement agreed to work towards 'opening the crossings and facilitating the movement of people and transfer of goods.' In addition, it agreed to refrain from 'restricting residents' freedom of movement and targeting residents in border areas.
  • Israel committed to implement these measures to ease the blockade 24 hours from the start of the ceasefire. However, a year and a half after the agreement, little progress has been made toward lifting the blockade. The majority of Palestinians in Gaza continue to live in crushing poverty because of Israel's restrictions on allowing Gaza to import construction materials to rebuild its bombed out neighborhoods, to export its products to the outside world, or to leave the Strip. This desperate situation has strengthened the appeal of extremist groups launching rockets from Gaza into Israel.

    In the immediate aftermath of Israel's attack on Gaza in 2009, President Obama expressed support for lifting the blockade on Gaza, stating: "As part of a lasting cease-fire, Gaza's border crossings should be open to allow the flow of aid and commerce."

    It's time for President Obama to renew his commitment to press Israel to lift the blockade on Gaza to help ensure that this time a ceasefire in Gaza and Israel will last.

    Wake Up Call for Peace

    This devastating escalation of violence could serve as a wake up call to not only Israelis and Palestinians, but also to people and policymakers in the United States to work vigorously toward an end to Israel's military occupation and the beginning of a just and lasting peace for all.

    You can urge President Obama and your members of Congress to press for a ceasefire in Israel and the Palestinian territories, to demonstrate that there is a U.S. constituency for Israeli-Palestinian peace.