Commentary Magazine


Communal Solidarity is an Illusion

Jonathan, let me push back against your post. Communal solidarity in Israel — or any democracy — is often ephemeral at best and an illusion at worst. Certainly, it seems the families whose loved ones were murdered by those whom Netanyahu released today are shattering any Israeli communal solidarity. The only groups benefiting from communal solidarity today are Hamas and the Palestinians, more broadly. Just as Hezbollah did after Israel’s unilateral withdrawal from Lebanon, Hamas can now claim to have defeated Israel. For Hamas, the recruitment value will be worth hundreds of millions of dollars. The lesson Iran, Turkey, Egypt, and Hamas’ other supporters will now learn is Israel is weak and terrorist actions can succeed at a lower cost to them than diplomacy.

According to a column in Haaretz, Israel has freed 13,509 prisoners in order to win the release of a total of 16 soldiers. Some, like the author of that column, see compassion and trust fulfilled to Israelis. I seldom have the opportunity to go to Israel; during the past six years, I have spent a total of three days in the Jewish state. During the same period, I have spent several months collectively in Arab countries and other majority Muslim countries like Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Turkey. It’s for this reason I firmly believe no matter what Israelis tell themselves about the justice of their deal, no one outside of Israel in Arab states or the broader Islamic world believes it.

If Israel really wants to feel something akin to communal solidarity, it needs a national victory, not a prisoner swap. It must be able to celebrate not the release of one hostage, but a true and definitive counter-terror victory. It’s a myth put forward by European diplomats and American peace studies programs that parity and self-esteem are requirements for peace. Peace is seldom made between equals, but rather when one sides forces the unilateral surrender of the other side. Now that Shalit is safe, Prime Minister Netanyahu should truly take on Hamas the second the group violates Israel’s border–be it by rocket, tunnel, or man. And he should not stop until the group begs for mercy and is forced to choose between its own survival and any terms Israel chooses to offer. Alas, it does not appear that Netanyahu’s support for the prisoner swap is part of any cohesive or coherent Israeli policy.

Netanyahu has affirmed Hamas’ cost-benefit calculations; Hamas sees a net gain from its terror operations. Until Netanyahu makes every Hamas leader and Palestinian recognize the costs of their actions are far too great for them to bear, Israel will continue to suffer death by a thousand cuts.