Since Hamas initiated the latest round of fighting in Gaza, Israel’s critics have been hard-pressed to criticize the country’s need to defend its people against a barrage of hundreds of rockets fired by terrorists. But that hasn’t stopped some of them from trying to use the conflict to claim that the only solution is to further empower the Islamist terrorist group that rules over Gaza with an iron hand. That’s the prescription for a new U.S. foreign policy coming from the Daily Beast’s Peter Beinart. Beinart thinks what America and Israel need to do is try and use a cease-fire agreement to co-opt the Islamists into backing a new peace process, along with their Fatah rivals of the Palestinian Authority, as well as to promote Palestinian democracy.
It is an article of faith on the left that the two-state solution, rather than Israeli military efforts, is the only answer to Palestinian terrorism. But though most Israelis, including the government of Benjamin Netanyahu, have accepted the idea in principle, the repeated refusal of even the so-called moderate Palestinians to negotiate have rendered the idea moot for the foreseeable future. But as unrealistic as calls for Israel to do something to boost the PA are at this moment, to imagine, as Beinart does, that Hamas can be co-opted into such a process by Western recognition demonstrates an astonishing lack of understanding of the situation.
Beinart is right when he characterizes the Israeli counter-offensive as merely a short-term solution rather than a long-term strategy. Many Israelis regard Operation Pillar of Defense in much the same way they saw the 2008 campaign called Cast Lead: as nothing more than a periodic effort to hamper Hamas’s military capability. The 2005 decision to withdraw from Gaza was a security disaster, but few Israelis want any part of governing the strip again. All they want is for it to be prevented from threatening their country, and to that end they back a regular “grass cutting” in Gaza that will make it harder for Hamas to terrorize millions of Israelis the way they have in the last week.
This Israeli consensus frustrates foreign observers like Beinart who insist they can solve a problem that citizens of the Jewish state see as having been proven to be intractable by 20 years of failed peace processing. They also understand that, contrary to Beinart, the last thing Hamas wants is either peace with Israel under any circumstances or democracy for the Palestinians.
Far from being tempted to bolster Abbas, the current Hamas campaign is intended to boost their own standing among Palestinians at Fatah’s expense. Moreover, Hamas’s leadership believes the support it has gotten from Egypt and Turkey renders Abbas obsolete. In a sense, they are right. Far from highlighting the need for a Palestinian state, the current fighting is a reminder that one already exists in Gaza and its leaders believe the Palestinian people prefer to be sacrificed on the altar of unending war with Israel than good government or peace.
Ending the West’s efforts to isolate Hamas won’t revive the two-state solution. What it would do is to legitimize a brutal, dictatorial Islamist regime in Gaza and encourage Hamas to think that they can eventually seize the West Bank as well.
Should his friends in the Obama administration heed Beinart’s point of view and the United States reward Hamas in this fashion, it wouldn’t just strengthen Hamas’s ability to withstand future Israeli counter attacks. It would also kill whatever slim hopes exist for democratization of the corrupt and violent Palestinian political culture.
Beinart concludes his piece by trotting out one of the oldest lamest arguments of those trying to revive hopes for peace with Israel’s foes. It is the old quote about the need to make peace with enemies, not your friends. But if there is anything Israelis have learned in the 20 years since Oslo, it is that you make peace with enemies who are willing to live in peace and give up the hope of your destruction, not enemies who merely wish to gain concessions prior to restarting the conflict on more advantageous terms. That’s the mistake Israel made with Yasir Arafat. It won’t make the same one with the Islamists of Hamas.
The fact that there is no long-term political solution available to Israel as it copes with a terrorist state on its doorstep is frustrating. But pundits like Beinart and the Obama administration need to be reminded that the choice facing Israel isn’t between peace and talking to Hamas. It’s between survival and death.