Recent developments in the horrific Hamas-Israeli conflict make it clear that progress toward peaceful accommodation is impossible with this terrorist gang. At least it’s clear for all whose minds are not clouded by pre-conceived notions of right-and-wrong in the region.
Once again, and regrettably, the 1.8 million Palestinians living in the Gaza Strip are in the quicksand of victimhood, with the way out blocked by their so-called leaders’ futile attachment to a return to a pre-1948 status, acceptance of which is suicidal for Israel.
The goal of Hamas, as it is for Islamists, including the Muslim Brotherhood, Islamic Jihad, and ISIS, is one Palestine from the Jordan to the Mediterranean, which means no Israel. The best it is prepared to offer is a temporary truce, known in Arabic as hudna.
Why would Israel agree to a temporary truce with a group committed to its destruction? As of the end of August, hostilities have ceased, but if the past is any guarantee, it is more a temporary reprieve than the beginning of a permanent accommodation.
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Yes, the toll of death and destruction was massive in the coastal enclave. It was also devastating for Israel, with life being made impossible for thousands who live in the border area and face almost daily barrages of crude rockets. They may not always hit their intented targets, but when your child is struck by mortar or a crude rocket, the terror and suffering are real, be it in Gaza or Nahal Oz.
At the start of the conflict, Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal, who lives safely in five-star hotels in Qatar, stated Hamas operatives had nothing to do with the kidnapping and subsequent murder of three Israeli teenagers in the West Bank, though he added he approved of it.
Hamas’ involvement was the basis for Israeli security forces rounding up Hamas militants in the West Bank, including those released in the Gilad Shalit trade-off. This kicked off the barrage of rockets from Gaza, the subsequent escalation, and the war that has lasted 50 days.
Fact: Exiled Hamas leader Saleh al-Arourir told Muslim scholars in Istanbul last month that Hamas’ military force, the al-Qassem Brigades, carried out the “heroic operation” of kidnapping Israelis, hoping to use them as a bargaining chip to gain the release of Palestinian detainees. The abductors may have panicked and shot their intended hostages. When Israel responded forcibly to their rocket attacks, a follow-up to years of the same, a full-scale battle and its horrific consequences resulted. Palestinian officials said that by late August, 2,123 Gaza residents, most of them civilians, had been killed, including 490 children, since July 8 when Israel launched its offensive to curb rocket fire on its territory. The Israeli death toll stood at 64 soldiers and six civilians. Thousands of Gazans and Israelis have been displaced, since life in the farming settlements bordering the strip and towns within reach of Hamas’ rockets range has become unlivable. The economic and psychological cost on both sides is beyond calculation.
Tension ramped up as a result of the Israeli-Egyptian blockade of Gaza, imposed in 2007 after Hamas won an election against a corrupt Fatah regime. Then, after a battle with its Fatah opponents, Hamas took over security, sparking a rift with the Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas. Pro-Palestinian groups claimed the blockade is preventing much-needed cement and other basic goods from reaching Gaza so it can build housing, schools and hospitals. But instead of working for peace, Hamas prepared for war.
Fact: Hamas has used smuggling routes both to collect millions of dollars in taxes and smuggle in cement, sophisticated weapons, including anti-tank and long-range missiles that can reach Tel Aviv. Much of its cement was used to fortify a network of dozens of tunnels, where it stored and deployed these weapons. It used the tunnels to conceal and protect fighters, and enable cross-border attacks against border settlements in Israel. One of the goals of the Israeli operation was to neutralize this new menace.
Much of public opinion here and around the world, shocked by well-publicized images of civilian death and suffering in Gaza, has taken the easy route of siding with the apparent victims. Much of this opinion chooses to ignore the fact that this reckless adventure and the needless human sacrifices on both sides can be blamed squarely on Hamas and its intractable desire to destroy Israel, if not now, then in ten or 30 years after a hudna. Unfortunately, the hatred and suffering it caused will not increase support for a two-state solution. It remains the best hope for a lasting peace, based on Israel recognizing a Palestinian state in Gaza and the West Bank on the basis of the 1967 borders. The only positive result of this conflict for Hamas is that this war, which it provoked with incessant rocket barrages against civilian targets and the inevitable response from Israel, delivers another serious blow to the peace process. Whatever happens now, this battle makes the chances of progress on that front even more remote. In that sense, Hamas wins a Pyrrhic victory, one in which the cost is so high that it is tantamount to a defeat. It also strengthens Benjamin Netanyahu’s deeply ingrained belief that the continued occupation of territory captured in the 1967 war is not the central issue in the conflict, but that the hard line is the only way.