Most of us were bitterly frustrated that the Hamas terrorist regime was not removed in the course of Operation Protective Edge. Although defeated, it remains in power and unless there is a diplomatic breakthrough, we must be prepared for the likelihood of a future conflict.
Despite this, the reality is that the Israel Defense Forces performed superbly and achieved the declared objectives. It successfully neutralized the immediate threats by destroying the tunnels and dramatically eroded the ability of Hamas to launch sophisticated missiles. Hamas failed to realize any of its demands and was ultimately forced to accept the terms of the cease-fire as initially proposed by Egypt at the outset which they had consistently rejected.
Israel can also be proud of the proven success of the Iron Dome, the miraculous Israeli technological creation which undoubtedly saved countless lives.
In this context, those Israeli politicians and commentators who lament that we lost the war are not merely denigrating the achievements of the IDF and undermining the morale of the nation, they are also providing Hamas with credibility in their pathetic efforts to portray themselves as the victors.
Prime Minister Netanyahu and Minister of Defense Moshe Ya’alon, recognizing the political and military limitations of a small country, demonstrated determined leadership by resisting public demands for an all-out invasion of Gaza from demagogic and irresponsible Security Cabinet Ministers. They realized that had we proceeded to “crush Hamas” with a full scale land invasion and occupation, in addition to major casualties, the outcome would undoubtedly have resulted in a US-led demand for us to withdraw under humiliating circumstances, which would indeed have provided Hamas with a propaganda victory.
Regrettably, instead of acting as an ally, the Obama Administration behaved shamelessly during the conflict and all but abandoned us on the diplomatic front. It treated Israel with moral equivalence to the Hamas terrorist regime, sought to displace Egypt as a mediator with pro-Hamas Qatar and Turkey, and even delayed delivery of arms in the middle of a war. Had Obama not led the distorted charge that Israel was acting disproportionately, the political outcome could have been dramatically different.
The tension with the Obama administration is not based on conflicting personalities. President Obama’s Third World outlook and his warmth towards the Moslem Brotherhood are the basis for his contempt of Israel. He understates U.S confrontations with Russia and rogue states, yet becomes outraged when the Israeli government approves housing construction in east Jerusalem or within the major settlement blocs.
However, the US remains our crucial ally, supporting us militarily and politically shielding us from a hostile world which would otherwise impose sanctions against us. Over the next two years, we must do our utmost to minimize friction and reinforce our standing with the American people and Congress on a bipartisan level.
The most critical message Israel has absorbed from this conflict is that for the time being, the practical implementation of a two state policy is off the agenda. Under the present circumstances, it is delusionary to suggest that the Palestinian Authority under Abbas is a peace partner.
Set aside the duplicity, corruption and incitement of the PA. Ignore the fact that Abbas is threatening to charge Israel with war crimes at the International Criminal Court and refuses to repudiate his union with the genocidal Hamas who are committed to our destruction.
In the absence of an Israeli military presence, Hamas would already be in control of the West Bank. Furthermore, all opinion polls confirm that if a democratic election was held today, the vast majority of Palestinians would unquestionably elect a Hamas leadership. Under such circumstances, a Palestinian state would effectively mean the transformation of the entire West Bank into Hamastan and the subsequent exposure of all of Israel, including the major cities and airport, to the range of mortar fire and low range primitive rockets (which cannot be intercepted by Iron Dome). Hamas, supported by Iran, would thus be provided with ample opportunity to build tunnels and create mayhem even in Tel Aviv. Under such circumstances, it would be nothing less than suicidal for Israel to agree to a Palestinian state.
With the additional factor of the region’s rapid descent into barbarism and the meltdown of national borders, Israel cannot contemplate the 1949 armistice lines as the basis for borders. It is imperative that Israel retain defensible borders and be assured that a Palestinian state remain demilitarized. Any suggestion of an external international force to ensure our security must be instantaneously dismissed. The disintegration of UN forces in Syria when confronted with Islamic terrorists demonstrates why we can never contemplate subordinating our security to third parties.
That does not imply the long-term abandonment of a two state solution. We cannot retain our identity as a Jewish democratic state if we absorbed millions of additional Arabs. We must remain committed to achieving a separation as an ultimate goal and until that time, should encourage greater autonomy and enhance the living standards of the Palestinians.
Our leaders should now suspend their domestic squabbles and speak with one voice to the world, reiterating that a quick fix is impossible and that a Palestinian state will only be created when Israel’s security can be guaranteed. The Americans and Europeans must be persuaded that this approach is based solely on security concerns, not political or territorial goals.
It is therefore unhelpful when Opposition Leader, Yitzhak Herzog, Finance Minister Yair Lapid and Minister for Justice Tzipi Livni continue chanting their absurd mantra that in the aftermath of Protective Edge, Israel’s international standing is dependent on Netanyahu seeking to negotiate a two state solution with Abbas.
In this context, we must now confront the devastating political fallout created by our chaotic settlement policies. We have every moral and legal right to construct additional homes in the Gush Etzion bloc. However, the timing of the announcement of new construction in the area, clearly motivated by short-term domestic political considerations, was utterly irresponsible and compounded by infantile assertions that it was a response to terrorism.
Ironically, despite all the hullabaloo, the statistics indicate that only 500 units were constructed in east Jerusalem and the settlement blocs.
The time has come for us to state our policy unequivocally. Other than natural growth, we will only permit construction inside the major settlement blocs and Jewish east Jerusalem – which all parties are fully aware shall remain part of Israel in any future settlement. We should stress that this conforms with assurances extended by President Bush to Prime Minister Sharon, pledged as an incentive to encourage the Israeli withdrawal from Gaza, in which Bush undertook that in any future negotiated settlement, the U.S would endorse Israel’s sovereignty of those areas which had undergone major demographic growth.
We now face daunting diplomatic challenges which will determine whether we will be faced with another round of aggression from Hamas in the not-too-distant future. Our objective must be to defang Hamas or at least ensure that it is denied the opportunity of replenishing its armaments.
In this context, the lack of support for Hamas from the Arab world was quite remarkable. There were more pro-Hamas demonstrations in Europe than in moderate Arab countries.
Whilst this may reflect an alignment between Israel and some moderate Muslim countries, we should be under no illusions. We should not anticipate any long-term alliance with Saudi Arabia, whose exported brand of Wahhabism was the incubator for Al Qaeda and ISIS.
Egypt has been saturated over the years with anti-Semitism, but there could be a long term identity of interest with Israel, based on Egypt’s loathing of the Moslem Brotherhood (of which Hamas is an offshoot) and its desire to deny regional leadership to Qatar and Turkey.
The barbaric cruelty of ISIS and the prospect of thousands of Jihadi fanatics returning to their homes in Europe has dramatically heightened perceptions of the Islamic global threat. Yet the US State Department was the first to dissociate itself from Prime Minister Netanyahu’s bracketing of Hamas with these barbarians.
Amazingly the Europeans and belatedly even the Americans are – currently at least – proposing that Gaza must be demilitarized for the blockade to be lifted. There is scant likelihood that this will succeed, but if Egypt remains determined to bring an end to the Hamas/Moslem Brotherhood regime in Gaza, we may be pleasantly surprised for this could represent a major boost in our efforts to make genuine progress in eliminating the terrorist threat on our borders and moving towards a peace settlement. However, we must remind ourselves that the primary existential threat facing us is neither Hamas nor Jihadi terrorism but a nuclear Iran.
Isi Leibler may be contacted at [email protected]
This column was originally published in the Jerusalem Post and Israel Hayom