Now we are confused. For years, we were told that if Israel does not make “painful concessions” to the “moderate” Palestinian government run by Fatah, an “extremist” Hamas government will replace it — and that will be much worse. Then, Israel withdrew from Gaza, uprooting thousands of Jewish families and giving up actual land, with a promise of more to come. Reversal of Logic #1: Israel conceded painfully, then Hamas took power anyway, and within a fairly brief time turned Gaza into the very hell everyone had predicted.
So how bad is this for Israeli citizens trying to live their own lives? Unclear, in light of Reversal of Logic #2: According to reports by both the watchdog group Betzelem as well as Israel’s own Shin Bet security apparatus, despite the rise of Hamas, 2007 was the quietest year in terror since who knows when. Both Palestinian and Israeli deaths are way down. Civilian deaths on the Palestinian side dropped by half compared to 2006. Sure, Hamas and Jihad are launching rockets at Sderot and Ashkelon on a daily basis, but they are not too effective. At the same time, those terror attacks that do take place—such as the murder of two Israeli hikers near Hebron a week ago Friday—are as often carried out by members of Fatah as by the Islamists.
How do we account for the taming of the Hamas beast? Here’s a thought: Israel’s ability to fight terror is, like it or not, inversely proporti onal to the amount of international pressure, especially American pressure, put on Israel to restrain itself. The election of Hamas horrified the West, and Israel got a green light to defend itself. Israel stepped up operations, especially precision ones such as that which took out the Jihad’s military chief in Gaza last month, making the running of terror cells much more difficult. Unable to send suicide bombers across the border into Israel, Hamas and Jihad resorted to terrorizing by lobbing homemade flying IEDs into the town of Sderot — horrible for those who have to endure it, yet a far cry from the bus-bombings of a few years ago. Clarity about the enemy, it seems, is a key to effective self-defense.
And what about Fatah? Same logic, only in reverse. Because it is seen as moderate and the partner for peace, Israel has far less freedom to take out its terror groups, which continue every day to organize attacks on Israelis, just as they did under Arafat. It is true that Fatah under Abu Mazen’s leadership takes public positions that are significantly more measured than are those of Hamas. Yet as the IDF operation in Nablus over the last few days proves, their record in fostering terrorists in their midst is little better than Hamas. And it is unclear whether they have any more political freedom to stop the “resistance” in the West Bank than does Hamas to stop it in Gaza.
A senior defense official told Haaretz that the IDF’s success in 2007 is “as close as possible to a victory over terror.” Maybe that’s an exaggeration. But let’s hope 2008 is even worse for these organizations, and even better for Israelis and Palestinians looking for a future without fear.