That’s the worst sentence to write: Hamas wins. The people of the Gaza Strip lose. The people of Israel lose. The State of Israel remains to be seen, but for now, it loses, as well. To deal in realities, Hamas has won, and the implications carry forward.
The resignation of Israel’s Defense Minister, Avigdor Liberman, is, at once, political and an appropriate response to Israel’s inability to wrest the security initiative back from Hamas. Hamas chooses when to begin violent activity, when to escalate it, when to ask for a ceasefire and when to violate the ceasefire it requested.
Israel is in a reactive position in each case.
In the West Bank territory, the Israel Defense Forces retain freedom of security operation in coordination, or not, with the Palestinian Authority (PA). That works for both sides — the IDF protects Mahmoud Abbas and his government, for better or worse, and is able to exercise some control over radical organizations and the importation of weapons.
In Gaza, on the other hand, when Israel completed its “disengagement” (unilateral withdrawal) in 2005 — going so far as to exhume the dead – the big questions were, “How will Israel protect itself from Gaza without being in Gaza?” and “How will Israel prevent the importation of weapons into Gaza without being on the Egyptian and the Mediterranean borders of Gaza?”
Believing the answer was its partnership with the PA, Israel was unprepared for the short, vicious civil war in 2007 between Hamas and Fatah that left Hamas in charge there.
Rocket wars against Israel ensued in 2008–2009, 2012 and 2014, before the latest barrage. These often have been keyed to the ongoing Hamas-Fatah feud.
Hamas has been orchestrating arson attacks on Israel since March in the wake of a failed Hamas-Fatah reconciliation attempt. Balloons and kites with incendiary devices have been launched routinely into Israel. Bombs have fallen on kindergartens. Explosives have burned farms and nature preserves, and killed animals, creating “an ecological disaster.”
There have been weekly carcinogenic tire-burning parties along the Gaza-Israel border, sending billows of acrid smoke that provide cover for terrorists to try to breach the fence, enter Israel and attack Israelis. Most of the Palestinian casualties have been Hamas operatives, but occasionally Hamas behavior results in the tragic death of a Palestinian child– for which it blames Israel.
The latest escalation – 400–plus rockets and missiles aimed at civilian homes and killing two people – has been hung on a botched Israeli intel operation inside Gaza. That may be the proximate cause, but it cannot be divorced from the most recent machinations between the two feuding Palestinian parties. In September, while Egypt was working as a mediator, Israeli analyst Elior Levy wrote:
The renewed rift between Fatah and Hamas increases the likelihood that Egypt will soon give up and announce the failure of its efforts, which will lead Hamas to escalate the violence against Israel in order to divert the pressure from the street against Israel — a development which can deteriorate into a major military engagement.
And so it did.
Here President Trump’s willingness to throw out the old “peace process” paradigm is important, if not curative. The whole notion of Israeli-Palestinian “peace,” begun with the Oslo Accords in 1993, was predicated on the idea that the core of Israel’s security problem was that Palestinian Arabs had no self-government. Israel couldn’t be an accepted member of the Middle East community until the Palestinians could govern themselves the way the Jews governed themselves. The Accords were flawed in two ways:
- First, the core of Israel’s security problem has always been the failure of the Arab States to recognize the legitimacy and permanence of Israel in the region. The language of UN Resolution 242 makes that clear.
- Second, there was and is no evidence that the Palestinian Arabs under the banner of the PLO or its constituent parts ever had any intention of accepting the formulation in Resolution 242 that provided Israel with “secure and recognized boundaries free from threats or acts of force.”
The opposite. The PLO Charter, the fundamental Palestinian document to which Hamas and Fatah claim fealty, asserts that the establishment of Israel is “entirely illegal” (Article 19). That “armed struggle is the only way to liberate Palestine. Thus, it is the overall strategy, not merely a tactical phase” (Article 9). “The liberation of Palestine … aims at the elimination of Zionism in Palestine” (Article 15).
The U.S. administration has been working to bring the Arab States to 1949; that is to say, after they failed to erase Israel at its birth. That is to say, accepting that Israel is a legitimate, permanent part of the region. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s public visit to Oman and the Omani Foreign Minister telling a security conference in Bahrain, “The Torah emerged in the Middle East, and the prophets of the Israelites were from the Middle East.”
In Islamic history, there were Jews, even in Medina, who are part of that. The playing of Israel’s national anthem in Abu Dhabi and Israel’s female Minister of Culture and Sportvisiting its Grand Mosque are part of that.
These gestures — as much stemming from Sunni Arab fear of Shiite Iran as they are a sudden desire to set history right – increase Palestinian angst. This angst often leads to rockets, stabbing attacks, and other Hamas or Fatah-driven attempts to change the regional and international discourse back to them.