As of now, most Israelis, including his long-standing opponents, endorse Prime Minister Netanyahu’s leadership during Operation Protective Edge. From the outset he displayed determination but avoided demagoguery or generating unrealistic expectations. He refused to be pressured into a full invasion of Gaza, which in addition to even greater casualties would probably have culminated in global sanctions, forcing us to withdraw and thus providing Hamas with “victory”. But the jury is still out and should Hamas continue launching missiles, Israel will not engage in a war of attrition and may still be forced to launch a full invasion of Gaza.
The IDF inflicted enormous damage on Hamas, demolishing the major attack tunnels and destroying two thirds of its missile infrastructure. Indications are that the vast majority of Gaza inhabitants blame Hamas for the terrible devastation and casualties they endured. Alas, yet again Israel has been pulverized in the battle for public opinion. Despite a clear cut case and highly articulate spokesmen, logic and reason were subsumed with the emotional impact of the global media sympathetic to Hamas by depicting – out of context and sometimes even totally fabricated – footage of heartbreaking and devastating war casualties and loss of innocent lives. The media mostly failed to point out that Hamas deliberately employed children as human shields and located their command posts and missile launching sites inside or adjacent to schools, mosques and UN centers. Israel was endlessly condemned for responding disproportionately to Hamas aggression, unleashing an outflow of hatred and a tsunami of global anti-Semitism reminiscent of the Middle Ages when Jews were demonized as the source for all the natural disasters facing mankind.
Any objective assessment of the IDF behavior would confirm that there has never been a military conflict in which such extraordinary efforts were taken to minimize civilian casualties. It would be a salutary exercise to compare Israel’s efforts to avoid collateral damage amongst innocent civilians to those of the US whilst it bombed ISIS in Iraq.
There are already murmurings from hostile anti-Israeli human rights and left wing groups to extend the demonization to demands that Israeli leaders be tried for war crimes. Many cowardly Western governments are likely to endorse or, at best, abstain from such a manifestly immoral initiative.
The initial Egyptian proposals, requiring a cessation of hostilities without preconditions, remain the only sane option currently available to Hamas and the ultimate outcome of the conflict will be determined by negotiations.
The curtailment of Hamas aggression could only be achieved if the US and Western countries – backed by the Egyptians who revile Hamas as an extension of the Moslem Brotherhood – steadfastly supported the initial European demand for the disarmament of Hamas and monitoring of its future imports and funding to prevent the creation of new tunnels or replenishment of the missile stockpiles.
Indeed, if implemented, we could even visualize a major tilt in the political landscape in which the traditional hostility and hatred of Israel in significant sectors of the Arab world is superseded by alliances to confront the common threat of the radical Islamic movements.
But we should not hold our breath that this scenario will eventuate. It is already being undermined by the repeated calls from the US and the Europeans to give control of Gaza to the Palestinian Authority headed by Mahmoud Abbas, and encourage him to create a Palestinian state as soon as possible.
This places Israel in an impossible position. Despite the conflict, Abbas has failed to dismantle the PA merger with the genocidal Hamas. It would be catastrophic for Israel to ignore the principal lesson of this conflict by failing to appreciate the perils that we would confront were we to withdraw the IDF and accept a Palestinian state based on the indefensible 1949 armistice lines. The dire consequences could include terrorists operating from within our heartland, closure of Ben Gurion airport and extension of tunnels even into Tel Aviv.
The majority of Israelis has no wish to rule over Palestinians and yearn to disengage from them. But for a country which faces existential threats and cannot afford to lose a single war, Israel’s security needs are paramount. The Israeli government cannot, as of now, gamble on a Palestinian state without total demilitarization and defensible borders.
Of course we prefer Mahmoud Abbas who makes soothing remarks about peace rather than Khaled Mashaal or Mohammed Dief who openly exhort their followers to murder us.
But we should not delude ourselves. Aside from a few statements, Abbas has never been a partner for peace. As a matter of strategy he has temporarily set aside “armed conflict” and substituted it with diplomacy, for which he has benefited considerably in the global arena. His tactic is to make no concessions whilst demanding unilateral concessions – in order to dismantle Israel in stages.
His end goal parallels that of Hamas. But instead of calling for our destruction he concentrates on the “non-negotiable” right of return to Israel of descendants of Arab refugees, which would spell an end to Jewish sovereignty.
Incitement against Israel saturates the PA controlled media, the mosques and schools where children from an early age are brainwashed with the culture of death in which martyrdom is sanctified as the greatest spiritual objective. This is reflected in state-sponsored salaries to terrorists in jail with generous pensions to families; city squares, institutions and even football clubs are named after killers of women and children; mass murderers released from Israel received as heroes with many proudly describing their monstrous acts on TV.
This toxic culture, initially inculcated amongst the people by Arafat and maintained by Abbas, has created such a climate of hatred that any Palestinian leader seeking an accommodation with Israel would be in danger of assassination.
Moreover, despite initially opposing the inclusion of the pro-Hamas Qatar and Turkey as mediators, Abbas soon joined the chorus defending Hamas and adopted all its demands against Israel. He failed to denounce Hamas for breaching the ceasefires and launching rockets against Israel. During the conflict, Abbas met with Hamas chief Khaled Mashaal in Qatar and issued a joint statement, calling for an end to Israeli “aggression”. The PA accused Israel of initiating the war, engaging in genocide and provided notice of its intention to initiate war crimes indictments against Israeli leadership at the International Court of Justice and the UN Human Rights Commission.
Under such circumstances, Israel is caught between a rock and a hard place. Netanyahu has effectively agreed to ease Gaza border restrictions on condition that demilitarization and genuine supervision of border posts is introduced. But the solution cannot be based on handing over control of Gaza to the PA – a partner to Hamas.
The Egyptians, US and Europeans must supervise this procedure. After the abysmal failure of the UN to restrict Hezbollah in Lebanon, it would be inconceivable for Israel to accept the proposal for a UN peacekeeping force to take responsibility for monitoring imports and preventing the rearming of Hamas.
On the other hand, it would represent the harbinger of a new era if we could be convinced that a PA takeover would be paralleled by a scheme similar to the Syrian process of removing chemical weapons in which Egypt and a reliable international monitoring body ensured that imports to Gaza are monitored and that Hamas is ultimately demilitarized.
Only under such conditions, Israel could achieve a genuine long term “quiet” which could also extend to a positive relationship with Egypt and the moderate Arab states.
But, as of now, Israel faces concerted pressure from the US and the Europeans to make massive concessions to Abbas – without any meaningful provisions for security and compliance. There is a failure to recognize that Abbas and the PA represent a problem rather than the solution and that were it not for the corruption and incompetence of the PA, in the absence of an IDF presence Hamas or extremists within Fatah would by now have taken control of the region.
Regrettably, the Obama administration – which could influence Western countries to pressure Hamas – repeatedly condemns its ally for the “indefensible” and “totally unacceptable manner” in which it was defending itself. In contrast, President Obama merely referred to Hamas launching thousands of rockets against Israeli civilians as “extraordinarily irresponsible”. He continues urging Netanyahu to have faith in Abbas despite his union with Hamas and support for their objectives. This week he told New York Times columnist Tom Friedman that he considered Netanyahu’s popularity and strength, which he contrasted to Abbas who is weak and held in low esteem by his people, as a principal factor inhibiting peace.
Hopefully, the ongoing favorable support from the American public and a bipartisan Congress may stem or even reverse this negative approach. It is now urgent for AIPAC to accelerate action and publicly vent its concerns about the US government’s policies and launch a campaign, in conjunction with other supporters of Israel, to ensure that the US now demonstrates its repeated undertakings that “it has Israel’s back”.
This could be a crucial turning point in the Arab-Israeli conflict. If not defanged, Hamas could still snatch victory from the jaws of defeat and oblige Israel to gird itself for the next round – and at a time to be determined by the barbarians at their gates.
The writer may be contacted at email@example.com.
This column was originally publishged in the Jerusalem Post and Israel Hayom