Those who want to learn from history can get a whole education from recent events in Gaza. The Hamas
government or their allies or a splinter faction or someone, dug a tunnel into Israel in order to kidnap Israeli soldiers
. By luck, Israel found out about the tunnel and destroyed it, triggering rocket and mortar fire into Sderot and Ashkelon
. These were not just little Qassam rockets, but professional Grad - upgraded Katyushas, falling in Ashkelon. Israel responded by firing at the "militants" launching the rockets. Next, IDF killed four "militants" about to plant a bomb near the Kissufim crossing.
While all this show was going on, and not by coincidence, the Quartet held a meeting upholding the Annapolis "process
." At the same time, a group of European MPs landed in Gaza to show their support for the genocidal Hamas. Mr Ismail Hanniyeh, the "good cop" told them the Hamas would make a truce with Israel if Israel withdrew to the 1967 lines.
Presumably the truce would look like the current lull and would be kept in the same way. Hanniyeh forgot to tell the MPs that the deal would include Right of Return for Palestinian refugees, which would destroy the state of Israel as a Jewish homeland. Moreover, the "bad cop," Mahmoud Zahar, promptly announced that no such truce was currently on offer, a retraction that got less publicity.
Israeli PM Olmert told IDF troops that a clash in Gaza was "unavoidable"
. Since the clash is ongoing that hardly required the prophetic vision of Isaiah, but it is likely that Ehud Olmert
meant a more major clash might ensue.
What can we learn from this confused babel? A number of points emerge which characterize most relations with the Palestinians since 1994, and in particular those with the late Mr. Yasser Arafat
's government and the Hamas government in Gaza. Treaties and agreements are written on sand
- The lull in Gaza, like the Oslo Accords with Mr Arafat, is proving to be a fiction, but the Israeli government doesn't understand that yet, and neither does the world. Slow Death
- A frog can be boiled to death gradually, raising the temperature a small increment each time. He will never notice. Agreements with Palestinians never die, they just fade away, one rocket at a time, one Molotov cocktail at a time, one kidnapping at a time. Suppose the IDF had not uncovered the tunnel, and the Palestinians had kidnapped an Israeli soldier. Wouldn't that have been a reason to declare the truce null and void? The fact that the IDF discovered the tunnel has no bearing on the intent of the perpetrators. At each stage, Israel
acquiesces in the new level of violence and plays by the rules of the other side, because it seems to have no choice. Deniability
- Like Mr Arafat, Mr. Haniyeh has set up a vast apparatus of indirection and deniability. Every Palestinian group, immediately on its formation, splits up into three or four other groups, which can be claimed as "independent factions" that are "out of control" - even though they are all one and the same. It was not Fatah
that carried out all those "militant" attacks in the 70s, it was Black September. It was not Hamas that kidnapped Gilad Shalit, we were told, but Jayish al Islam, a splinter of the very Popular Resistance Committees
. Later of course, it turns out that it was Fatah behind Black September all the time, and that the Izz al-din al Qassam
Brigades of the Hamas were responsible for the kidnapping of Shalit, and that all these people can change their hats and say they are part of the Popular Resistance Committees or the Abu Rish brigade or the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades
whenever necessary. A "militant" by any other name blows up just as loudly. And if in fact, Hamas claims responsibility for an attack, there is always the "good cop - bad cop" fiction - Haniyeh wants peace, Zahar doesn't want peace and Meshal is a "moderate" in between them. Negotiation events always draw 'militant' attacks
- Every critical event in the Israeli-Palestinian Palestinian peace process was marked by a spike in
'militant" activity. The Oslo accords
brought the first suicide bombing in Mehola in 1993 even before they were signed. The Oslo Interim agreement and the 1996 Israeli elections brought a rash of bus bombings. The negotiations in 2000 brought the Second Intifada
. There is never any way to decide if the
'resistance' attacks, are due to real opposition by factions opposed to the Palestinian government, or if the factions and the government are really the same folks with different hats, and the attacks are a way of pressuring Israel and the sponsors of the peace process. American diplomats live in virtual reality
- While the "tunnel riots" were occurring in Israel a decade ago, Dennis Ross was busy urging Israel to make concessions. Arabs were yelling "itbach al yahoud" (kill the Jews) and American officials were talking about a peace process. Republican or Democrat, that never changes. While the rockets were falling in Ashkelon, Secretary of State Rice was insisting that Annapolis is vital and vibrant
. Darn right. In Ashkelon, the rockets caused a lot of vibrations. Bad Press
- In this case, it is absolutely clear. This time, Israel got it right. Evidently, no Palestinian Arab civilians were hurt. Thankfully, no IDF soldiers died either. About 10 Palestinian "militants" were killed in all. But even in this case, the headlines in much of the world's press state "Israel kills Palestinian fighters" or "Israel kills Palestinians" and the announcements and statistics put out by NGOs and others will all say something like "Israel killed Mr Jihad itbach al Yahud, 28, a Palestinian citizen." As there were no Israeli casualties, the "disproportionate response" is bound to draw flak. The allies could never have won World War II if the headlines had stated, "Russians kill hundreds of thousands of German citizens in Stalingrad." Fortunately for the world, the Belgian courts could not declare General Zhukov to be a war criminal in World War II. America could not fight crime, if the headlines had announced, "FBI Assassinates resistance leader John Dillinger." "Occupation Forces Assassinate resistance leaders Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow." International support for Israel eroded
- Over many years, Yasser Arafat had built the image of the PLO
as a "liberation organization." It was at least within comprehension that "progressive" groups and Europeans and third world people and even some Israelis would be sympathetic to their cause. The Hamas, however, are such egregiously reactionary villains, that one could not imagine that they would garner support from anyone but a madman. Never mind that they want to wipe out Israel, a "cause" that draws the sympathy of many "progressive" Europeans. They are murdering Christians and the very same Fatah and PLO who were the idols of the third world and the "progressives." Nonetheless, EU parliament members and other witless folks have rallied 'round the cause of the poor, supposedly besieged Hamas, fueling the fraudulent press campaign. The longer the issue is unresolved, as with the so called Second Intifada, the further support for Israel will be eroded. Palestinian Intransigence
- Mahmoud Abbas has been adamant about not budging an inch on any issue
, and anyhow he doesn't control the Palestinian government. Abbas told Palestinians
"We rejected Israeli proposals that stipulated making concessions including on Jerusalem and the refugees," he said.
"We either get all six points - Jerusalem, settlements, borders, refugees, water and security - or nothing at all," Abbas said.
The Palestinian leader added that he had made his position clear during a meeting Sunday with the Quartet of Middle East peace mediators - the United States, European Union, United Nations and Russia - in Egypt.
Abbas has learned nothing and forgotten nothing: Our way or the highway. Yet after he voiced these sentiments to the Quartet, the meeting concluded with festive announcements: "A good time was had by all." Remember please, that this is not the voice of the Hamas, but of the "moderate" Mahmoud Abbas. Abbas hardly controls his own West Bank territory. The Palestinian Authority is dependent for survival on Western aid. Everyone knows that the conditions he poses are unacceptable to Israel, because they would mean at least political suicide for any government, and very possibly national suicide for Israel. Yet no Western leader will criticize Abbas for being "inflexible."
So we can see, in a few days action, a repetition in miniature of almost all the feature of the entire Israeli-Palestinian "peace process:" agreements are not honored, gradual escalation - salami tactics, bad press, international support for "militants," Palestinian mixed signals but actual intransigence, and unrealistic and one-sided diplomatic activity by the West. Israeli incompetence no doubt has a role in all this too. It is probably the same with almost any little slice of time that we take.
At the worst possible time, the Israeli government, a transition government, faces a critical choice. If a clash with Hamas is inevitable, then frankly there is no time like the present. A few months from now, Hamas will be that much stronger. A new US government, probably less sympathetic to Israeli military operations than the present one, will be installed. Hamas may well take over the West Bank as well. By incremental escalation, Israel would be subjected to constant rocket barrages on all its borders, against which we have no defense except eviction of the Hamas by force, a move that would be blocked by the Obama administration as it was evidently blocked by the now lame duck Bush administration, which continues to laud the "vibrant" peace process. At any time in the escalation, our friends can ask "Why now?" "What is different from yesterday? Yesterday there were 10 rockets, and today there are 20. Yesterday 5 died, and today 6 died. What is the real difference?" The threshold keeps moving.
There will never be a "good" time for fighting Hamas. The worst time would be after they surprise Israel with a mass kidnapping or a huge rocket attack that can't be ignored by anyone. We would be unprepared and disorganized, and the government and army would be likely to botch the reaction as they did in the Second Lebanon War and the Yom Kippur War. Any Israeli military operation is going to provoke massive rocket fire from Gaza. The next strike in Ashkelon may draw blood, but in principle, the Palestinian response may be no different from this last one. Evidently "nonviolent Palestinian resistance" simply means that they have bad aim. As the months go by, the rockets get bigger and better. The aim is improving too. It will be years before we have any defense against Qassam rockets and mortars. Very likely it will prove to be ineffective, or else it will be irrelevant because the "militants" will have moved on to artillery or other weapons. If we can eliminate Hamas, now is the time to do it. Six months ago was much better.
Politics is no panacea. No matter who is in office, they will be faced with the same trade-offs and the same constraints. Benjamin Netanyahu will make brave pronouncements. If words had the value of ordnance, he would have finished off Mr Arafat and the Palestinian Authority in 1997. But Arafat didn't go away. Netanyahu responded to the cries of "Itbach al Yahud" with the Hebron withdrawal agreement and the Wye agreement. Ariel Sharon also took office with grandiose rhetoric about fighting
terror militancy. He carried out the disengagement. "From here," he said, "it doesn't look the same as it did from there."
If on the other hand, it is concluded that wiping out Hamas is too risky or too bloody an option, then an urgent bipartisan policy review is required, to chart a new Israeli policy before it is too late. Whatever we are doing now is not working. We can't wait until elections in February to fix it. They won't fix it.
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