Commentary Magazine


Topic: Gaza

Israel Now Criticized for Wanting Peace

Because there are only so many complaints that can be lodged at Israel (thought the well does seem bottomless at times), it was perhaps inevitable that the criticism of the Jewish state would produce some strange narratives. Those who feel compelled to oppose whatever Israel is doing at any given time are going to have to latch on, occasionally, to counterintuitive accusations. And a recent critique of Israeli policy fits that bill.

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Because there are only so many complaints that can be lodged at Israel (thought the well does seem bottomless at times), it was perhaps inevitable that the criticism of the Jewish state would produce some strange narratives. Those who feel compelled to oppose whatever Israel is doing at any given time are going to have to latch on, occasionally, to counterintuitive accusations. And a recent critique of Israeli policy fits that bill.

Portraying Israel as the warlike aggressor gets increasingly ridiculous, as Hamas initiates each round of violence with indiscriminate rocket attacks against civilians in much of the country, including Israel’s major port city, its capital, and the area near its major international airport. Additionally, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has exhibited restraint, attempting to stave off the need for a limited ground incursion, which has now commenced, with repeated attempts at a truce. And that, apparently, is the new objection to Israel’s actions.

BuzzFeed’s Sheera Frenkel reports on two consecutive efforts by Israel to get Hamas to “yes” in talks for a truce:

“There were talks, and they were a step in the right direction, but to declare that a cease-fire agreement was reached is premature,” said one Palestinian official currently in Cairo on the delegation. “Hamas has made it clear that their demands have not yet been met, and there are further discussions to be held.” This appeared to echo previous concerns when a cease-fire deal was announced by Israel on Tuesday, despite claims from Hamas that it had not been consulted and would not have accepted the offer.

Chief among the demands of Hamas, he said, was that Egypt open its Rafah crossing with Gaza, and Israel ease the naval blockade of Gaza.

“We do not understand the reports currently in the media, they are misleading,” said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity as the group had agreed not to speak to media until a cease-fire was officially announced. He added that it was his suspicion that someone from the Israeli delegation leaked information to the BBC, in the hopes that announcing a cease-fire deal would pressure Hamas into agreeing to the offer already on the table.

Israel tried to get a ceasefire–not just a temporary humanitarian ceasefire, but a cessation of the current round of violence–on Tuesday, but couldn’t get Hamas to sign on. They tried again, and the Palestinians accused Israel of leaking news of an agreement in order to pressure Hamas to accept the truce. The Israelis, in other words, stand accused of being too aggressively peace-minded.

There was a similar complaint, though concerning a different era, in the July 12 edition of the Economist. The magazine ran a book review on Ahron Bregman’s latest history of the post-1967 conflict. According to the review, Bregman–who served in the Israel Defense Forces during its first Lebanon war and subsequently left Israel “unhappy about the country’s policy towards the Palestinians,” according to the Economist–accuses then Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak of manipulating the U.S. and Yasser Arafat into the peace process. From the review:

In 1999 Israel’s prime minister, Ehud Barak, lured Mr Clinton, Mr Bregman suggests, into one failed summit after another, providing Mr Barak with enough cover to allow him to claim that Israel had no partner for peace.

After persuading Mr Clinton to tempt President Assad to Geneva in March 2000 with the promise of ground-breaking proposals, says the author, Mr Barak back-pedalled on an earlier Israeli promise of a full withdrawal. Hours before the summit was due to start, Mr Barak insisted that Israel should keep a sliver of land, 400 metres wide, on the edge of the Sea of Galilee. Mr Assad withdrew.

Four months later Mr Barak persuaded Mr Clinton to try again, cajoling a wary Yasser Arafat to negotiate a final settlement at Camp David.

Yet Barak didn’t walk away from the deal on the table; Arafat did. Bregman seems to paint Barak as a serial flake, ending the prospect of peace with Syria and “cajoling” Arafat to a peace summit in order that Barak’s grand gamble would fail, forever tarnishing his legacy and beginning the end of his career as a potential premier and heralding the descent of his Labor Party into near-irrelevance.

No one looks very intelligent claiming that Israel is run by warmongers. So the new plan is to condemn Israel for its enthusiasm for peace negotiations. Israelis have long known that whatever they do, they’ll be criticized for it, and this appears to be just the latest iteration of Israel’s opponents’ fundamental hypocrisy.

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Israel’s Critics Wage War on Reality

It tells you all you need to know about Hamas that its biggest victory to date against Israel–one that is no doubt being celebrated in the fortified bunkers that house its leadership–was the death of four young Palestinian boys on a Gaza City beach on Wednesday. The boys were apparently killed by an Israeli bomb or missile.

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It tells you all you need to know about Hamas that its biggest victory to date against Israel–one that is no doubt being celebrated in the fortified bunkers that house its leadership–was the death of four young Palestinian boys on a Gaza City beach on Wednesday. The boys were apparently killed by an Israeli bomb or missile.

Needless to say, the Israel Defense Forces do not deliberately target children–any more than do the armed forces of the United States or other civilized powers. That is both morally abhorrent and strategically stupid: What possible purpose can be served in killing children? But while deeply harmful and counterproductive for Israel, this inadvertent strike was a big win for Hamas. It produced the most coveted of victories in modern warfare: a front-page picture, taken by the storied New York Times photographer Tyler Hicks, of one dead boy lying on the Gaza sand and another being carried in a man’s arms.

There is no surer or better way for Hamas to make its propaganda point, which is the only point of this entire exercise from its standpoint. Hamas, like other terrorist groups, knows it cannot win a military victory against a much more powerful enemy, but it can win a public-relations victory by fostering the illusion that Israel is the aggressor and the Palestinians its victims.

Such an image is as powerful as it is misleading. All informed observers know the facts.

They know that Israel accepted a cease-fire to end this conflict while Hamas rejected it.

They know that Israel gave up all of the Gaza Strip to the Palestinians in 2005 in the hope that peace would break out but that the result has only been an unending series of attacks on Israel that no nation could possibly tolerate.

They know that the IDF is careful to keep civilian casualties to a minimum but this is hard to do because Hamas deliberately places its headquarters and rocket-launching sites in the midst of civilian neighborhoods in the knowledge that this will either deter Israeli strikes or, if Israeli strikes occur nevertheless, they will result in collateral damage which Palestinian propagandists can use against Israel.

They know, finally, that it is Hamas, not Israel, that indiscriminately targets civilians by firing hundreds of rockets into Israel seemingly at random.

Israel is, in some ways, a victim of its own success because its Iron Dome anti-rocket system has shot down so many of the Hamas rockets that only one Israeli has been killed in the entire war–and he was a victim of a mortar shell, not a rocket. In the battle of victims, Israel is losing–there are more dead Palestinians than dead Israelis. But that does not make the Hamas cause just, any more than the fact that, in World War II, the U.S. armed forces inflicted a lot more casualties on Germany and Japan than they themselves suffered made the cause of the Nazis and Japanese militarists a just one.

Those are the incontrovertible facts. But what are facts before the power of an image?

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Are Israel’s Enemies Losing Ground in the PR War?

There is something different about the reaction to the latest Israel-Gaza conflict. The level of anger, the amount of hate, the fury being directed against Israel by protesters seems more unhinged, more ferocious, and, one is tempted to say, more disproportionate than ever before. But perhaps as a result something else is happening. One senses that a growing number of commentators and observers are seeing Israel’s detractors with new eyes. Both Hamas and its apologists are coming under real criticism unlike during either of the previous Gaza conflicts. It is possible that those who demonize Israel are beginning to expose themselves for what they are and with that comes the possibility of that movement becoming increasingly consigned to the fringes.

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There is something different about the reaction to the latest Israel-Gaza conflict. The level of anger, the amount of hate, the fury being directed against Israel by protesters seems more unhinged, more ferocious, and, one is tempted to say, more disproportionate than ever before. But perhaps as a result something else is happening. One senses that a growing number of commentators and observers are seeing Israel’s detractors with new eyes. Both Hamas and its apologists are coming under real criticism unlike during either of the previous Gaza conflicts. It is possible that those who demonize Israel are beginning to expose themselves for what they are and with that comes the possibility of that movement becoming increasingly consigned to the fringes.

The backlash against Israel has been almost incomprehensible. Those attending a pro-Israel demonstration in Los Angeles were violently set upon by armed Palestinian supporters leading to a police officer firing his gun in an apparent effort to regain control over the situation. In Boston a pro-Israel activist was attacked by a woman screaming “Jewish go to hell!” In London a mob gathered outside the Israeli embassy, brandishing placards proclaiming a “Palestinian Holocaust” to be underway and accusing Israel’s prime minister of being “Hitler’s clone.” By the following morning a Jewish family home in that city was daubed with swastikas and days later a Jewish lady was randomly assaulted by demonstrators. Similarly, violent protests erupted in several German cities and in Antwerp the crowd openly chanted “slaughter the Jews.” But the most shocking scenes took place in Paris, where one synagogue was firebombed, while another came under siege from an angry mob that trapped Jewish worshipers inside the building for several hours.

What has made these events all the more outrageous is the utter disconnect between the levels of rage and the actual events that anti-Israel campaigners purport to be so enraged by. Not only did Hamas force this conflict with an unprovoked barrage of rockets targeting Israeli civilians, and not only has Hamas ignored all efforts for a ceasefire, but the casualty figures in Gaza are still dramatically lower than in all comparable conflicts and they have also remained far lower than during the first Israel-Gaza war in 2009. It should be clear to any honest observer that despite Hamas’s use of human shields, Israel is going to extraordinary lengths to avoid civilians wherever possible. Hamas on the other hand is indiscriminately targeting Israel’s civilians with a large and highly sophisticated arsenal supplied by Iran. Seventy percent of Israel’s population is within reach of Hamas’s long range Fajr-5 missiles and the terror group is equipped with anti-tank mortars and even unmanned drones.

What is all the more galling is that onlookers who never seemed visibly troubled by far more horrendous conflicts in the region, and who would never have turned out to protest the casualty figures of their own governments’ military interventions, have obsessively condemned Israel at every turn. And the rhetoric from those doing the condemning has become wildly visceral, with the most appalling comparisons between the Jewish state and Nazi Germany, coupled with the equally sickening #HitlerWasRight hashtag.

Yet behavior this extreme can’t go unnoticed indefinitely. It has long been suggested, and not without justification, that the media bears a great deal of responsibility for provoking much of these anti-Israel sentiments. The British media has been particularly notorious in the past and indeed during this latest round of hostilities much of the reporting has been just as misleading. However, alongside this dishonest reporting there has been a growing chorus of voices speaking in opposition to the prevailing anti-Israel sentiment.

At the Telegraph, in response to the latest frenzy of Israel bashing, several writers have spoken-up, with a particularly strong piece by Dan Hodges reminding readers that history demonstrates why Israel cannot afford weakness. At the Spectator Rod Liddle authored a post bluntly titled “Will the BBC Accept that Hamas Wants to Kill Lots of Jews?” And Hugo Rifkind, also of the Spectator, went with “If Britain Was Being Shelled, as Israel Now is, How Would We Respond?” Even the left-leaning Independent ran a piece asking why no one cares about Palestinians starved by Assad. But perhaps the most blistering attack on the anti-Israel crowed came from Brendon O’Neil with his outspoken editorial: “There’s Something Very Ugly in This Rage Against Israel: the line between anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism gets thinner every day.”

The point is that–despite how hostile the British media has typically been to Israel–if these writers can come to see the campaign against Israel for what it is, then ultimately any reasonable person, confronted with the reality of this phenomenon, should be capable of seeing the inherent bigotry of this hateful movement. And a similar shift could well emerge at the diplomatic level too. The way in which the Canadian Foreign Minister John Baird recently slammed the UN human rights commissioner for her disingenuous words against Israel’s military operation, or the fact that Australia’s Ambassador Dave Sharma took to twitter to highlight the reality of Hamas rockets, is all a far cry from the atmosphere in 2009.

None of this is to suggest that some grand awakening has taken place. The New York Times and Guardian aren’t changing tune. But as the campaign against Israel becomes ever more extreme and violent, there is a chance for the fair-minded to see things anew.

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A Maoist in Gaza

Despite the flurry of reports from Gaza today, very few news outlets picked up on Hamas’s declaration that it had closed the Erez border crossing into Israel, citing “Israeli shelling” as the reason for doing so. The move, reported AFP, left stranded a group of Palestinians who had arrived at Erez early in the morning, “some of whom were scheduled to enter Israel for cancer treatment.”

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Despite the flurry of reports from Gaza today, very few news outlets picked up on Hamas’s declaration that it had closed the Erez border crossing into Israel, citing “Israeli shelling” as the reason for doing so. The move, reported AFP, left stranded a group of Palestinians who had arrived at Erez early in the morning, “some of whom were scheduled to enter Israel for cancer treatment.”

Sadly, these patients may have to wait a while before attempting the journey again, as Hamas subsequently announced that the border crossing will remain closed until it receives an “international guarantee that the crossing, and the route between the two sides of the crossing, will not be bombed by Israel.” In the interim, their other option is to ascertain whether Mads Gilbert, a Norwegian doctor currently in Gaza City, is willing to take time out of his busy media schedule to assist them.

Over the last couple of days, Gilbert has become an unofficial spokesman for the Hamas regime, giving interviews like this one in which he accused Israel of “deliberately” targeting civilians, “particularly women and children.” Pro-Palestinian activists on social media platforms have been eagerly reporting Gilbert’s every move, lauding him with such terms as “hero” and “great humanitarian.” Among Gilbert’s admirers is Chris Gunness, the spokesman for UNRWA, the UN agency devoted exclusively to Palestinian refugees, who repeatedly tweeted the doctor’s email address and cell phone number, describing him as a “brilliant interviewee” on the “impact of the conflict on civilians.”

One does not, however, have to dig very deep to discover that the halo effect around Gilbert masks some very disturbing affiliations. To begin with, Gilbert is an active member of Norway’s Red Party, a Maoist organization formed in 2007, which begs the question as to how someone who perpetuates the ideology of a tyrant who murdered 45 million of his own people over four years can be described as a “humanitarian.” Nor does Gilbert have a track record of helping anyone other than the Palestinians; as the journalist Benjamin Weinthal revealed on Twitter, his emails and phone calls to Gilbert asking the doctor why he wasn’t treating victims of the slaughter in Syria were met with silence.

Gilbert’s reputation is derived not from his medical work, but from his frequent verbal assaults on Israel and the United States, which stretch back to the early 1980s, when he became active in Palestinian solidarity work. As the Israeli watchdog NGO Monitor pointed out in a statement urging media organizations to treat Gilbert’s comments on Gaza with extreme caution, a few days after the al-Qaeda atrocities of September 11, 2001, Gilbert gave an interview to the Norwegian daily Dagbladet in which he stated, “The oppressed also have a moral right to attack the USA with any weapon they can come up with.” Chairman Mao himself couldn’t have put it better.

None of this has eroded Gilbert’s celebrity; arguably, it’s enhanced it. When he and his colleague Erik Fosse visited Gaza during Israel’s Operation Cast Lead in 2008-09, their expenses were covered by a Norwegian NGO that is funded by the Norwegian government. While the two doctors were in Gaza, spending an inordinate amount of time talking to journalists about Israeli “war crimes,” they received a phone call from no less than Jens Stoltenberg–then Norway’s prime minister, now the incoming secretary-general of NATO–who assured them that “all of Norway is behind you.” A subsequent book about their experiences in Gaza was praised by Norway’s Foreign Ministry, which said that conveying their impressions was “not their duty, but their responsibility,” given that in such dire situations, “civilians become voiceless.”

No wonder, then, that Gilbert now feels licensed to elevate the political goals of his current Gaza mission above any medical considerations. Speaking to a reverential Amy Goodman on the left-wing Democracy Now! show, Gilbert went so far as to say, “As a medical doctor, my appeal is don’t send bandages, don’t send syringes, don’t send medical teams. The most important medical thing you can do now is to force Israel to stop the bombing and lift the siege of Gaza.”

As Operation Protective Edge enters its second week, we can expect Gilbert to make ever more outlandish statements the longer he remains in Gaza. But that won’t stop media organizations from trumpeting Gilbert’s medical credentials–as did Britain’s Channel 4 News, which billed him as “a Norwegian volunteer surgeon at Shifa Hospital in Gaza,” thereby encouraging its audience to take the good doctor at his word–while ignoring the fact that he is an integral element of the Hamas propaganda network.

But that, ironically, is what underlies Gilbert’s appeal. He tells Europeans what they want to hear: that Israel has made Gaza into a prison camp, and that nothing is more noble than the Palestinian determination to resist. Once you succeed in getting that message across, what does it matter whether Hamas rejects a ceasefire, or invites a firm Israeli response by sending even more missiles over the border?

As tempting as it is to dismiss Gilbert as a crazy Norwegian Maoist in Gaza, the reality is that he is using his media appearances to stoke the libel of the century: namely, that Israel, in the words of the Palestinian Authority’s foreign minister Riyad al-Maliki, is engaged in “a genocide against the Palestinian people in all territories.”

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The ‘Unsustainable Status Quo’ and Gaza

Speaking yesterday at the White House Iftar dinner yesterday, President Obama reiterated his support for a peace agreement that would end what he called the “unsustainable status quo” between Israel and the Palestinians. But while his support for peace is appropriate, his inability to connect the dots between the fighting in Gaza and his hopes demonstrates anew the administration’s tone-deaf approach to the Middle East.

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Speaking yesterday at the White House Iftar dinner yesterday, President Obama reiterated his support for a peace agreement that would end what he called the “unsustainable status quo” between Israel and the Palestinians. But while his support for peace is appropriate, his inability to connect the dots between the fighting in Gaza and his hopes demonstrates anew the administration’s tone-deaf approach to the Middle East.

The president deserves credit for making it clear that the United States supports Israel’s right to self-defense against what he rightly termed “inexcusable attacks” by Hamas rockets from Gaza. That he did so at a dinner for American Muslims is doubly welcome. But it is discouraging to see that the administration’s mindset about Middle East diplomacy is unaffected by events on the ground.

President Obama is right in the sense that resolving the situation requires more than just a cease-fire. But the knee-jerk impulse to try to revive talks between the Israelis and the Palestinian Authority as a response to the crisis reflects a profound lack of understanding about why peace has eluded the region up until now.

Israelis rightly think that any cease-fire with Hamas must do something more than simply allow the terrorist group to remain in place ruling Gaza as an independent state in all but name with a rocket arsenal that can be employed any time the Islamists feel like starting another round of fighting. But the president appears uninterested in either diplomacy or support for action that would oust Hamas or strip it of its weapons. Instead, he is focused on another attempt to forge an agreement between the Israelis and the Palestinian Authority.

The PA and its leader Mahmoud Abbas preferred to conclude a unity agreement with Hamas this spring instead of sticking to peace negotiations with Israel. But that didn’t impact Obama’s glowing view of Abbas or cause him to cut aid to the PA even though the law requires him to cease the flow of U.S. taxpayer dollars to any entity in cahoots with terrorists. Rather than Abbas influencing Hamas to embrace peace as the Americans hoped, he has become a helpless bystander as his partners dragged the region back into war via terrorism and rocket fire aimed at Israel’s cities.

That should have signaled to the U.S. that its faith in Abbas as a reliable partner for peace with Israel was misplaced. But the flare-up of Hamas terror in the form of the kidnapping of three Jewish teenagers last month and the subsequent barrage of hundreds of rockets on Israeli citizens should do more than spur U.S. efforts to broker a cease-fire or to revive peace talks. Hamas’s ability to revert to violence any time it wants is doing grave damage to support for a two-state solution inside Israel. If a cease-fire leaves them in place, it could kill it altogether.

Most Israelis, including many who support Prime Minister Netanyahu’s government, support a two-state solution in principle as the best way out of the conflict. But, unlike most Americans, they have been paying attention to recent events and what they portend for a deal that would require Israel to withdraw from the West Bank, something that it already tried in Gaza. While the assumption is that a pact with Abbas creating a Palestinian state in the West Bank, and presumably a share of Jerusalem, would include security guarantees, the Palestinians are not interested in any diminishment of their future sovereignty and Israelis have good reason not to trust that the U.S. would vigorously enforce any deal.

More to the point, as Hamas continually reminds us, the conflict is about the “occupation.” But when Palestinians use that word, they are referring to Israel within its June 1967 borders, not the West Bank or Gaza, which isn’t occupied anyway.

What the Israelis have learned is that when they withdraw from territory, it becomes a base for terror and there’s little they can do about it even if they are prepared to use massive military force. The world doesn’t permit Israel to seek to oust Hamas or to go in and take out their rocket launchers and it would treat an independent West Bank in the same way. The only problem is that a terror state in the West Bank would be far more dangerous for Israel than even Gaza is today. As Prime Minister Netanyahu said on Friday, a withdrawal, with or without U.S. security guarantees that would probably be meaningless, would create 20 Gazas on their eastern border.

Thus, the invocation of the phrase about an “unsustainable status quo” is likely to ring hollow in Israeli ears. They don’t like the status quo but they also know that the Palestinians have repeatedly rejected an end to the conflict or recognition of the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders are drawn. Unless he is prepared to back action that would rid the region of Hamas and its allies, the president’s anodyne hopes for peace are meaningless. Replacing an admittedly unsustainable status quo with a new reality that would be even more dangerous is not an option for Israel and would do little good for Palestinians, who would suffer from the carnage that their leaders create. So long as the Islamists are allowed to launch rockets at Israel any time they like, the two-state solution is a pipe dream.

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Hamas’s No to Peace, Not Just Cease-Fire

For the last week, supporters of the Palestinians have been railing at Israel for its response to rocket attacks from Gaza. The plight of ordinary Palestinians in this latest round of fighting has stirred the sympathy of the world. But when given a chance to put an end to the shooting, Hamas wanted no part of a cease-fire.

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For the last week, supporters of the Palestinians have been railing at Israel for its response to rocket attacks from Gaza. The plight of ordinary Palestinians in this latest round of fighting has stirred the sympathy of the world. But when given a chance to put an end to the shooting, Hamas wanted no part of a cease-fire.

Israel’s acceptance of the Egyptian proposal for a cease-fire was controversial. Many Israelis and some members of Prime Minister Netanyahu’s Cabinet thought it was foolish to stop the counter-strikes on Gaza while Hamas was still in possession of a stockpile of what is believed to be several thousand missiles. But in the hope of ending this confrontation and preventing more loss of life, the Israelis agreed to stop attacking Hamas positions and armaments in Gaza.

But Hamas wanted no part of a cease-fire that would have left them with plenty of rockets left to shoot at Israel and would have ended the ordeal that Gaza Palestinians are enduring as the Islamist group uses the strip’s population as human shields. Moreover, a cease-fire now would have eliminated any chance that Israel would have invaded the strip to do what many in Israel believe is their government’s obligation to finish with Hamas once and for all and remove the possibility that this tragic standoff will be repeated in a couple of years.

Why did they say no?

The first thing that must be acknowledged is that saving the lives of the people of Gaza is the last thing on the minds of Hamas’s leaders.

As I wrote over the weekend, many observers complain that Israelis have bomb shelters (as well as the Iron Dome missile defense system) to run to when attacked, but Palestinians have nowhere to go. But in fact, Hamas’s leaders, fighters, and their arsenal are kept safe in the warren of bunkers and tunnels that honeycomb the strip. The bomb shelters there are for the bombs, not civilians. So while many Palestinians were hoping for a respite, Hamas thinks it can hold out indefinitely, shooting at Israel. Indeed, it scored its first “success” in the battle today by killing an Israeli with a mortar shell near the Erez Crossing into Gaza.

Just as important is the fact that Hamas’s goal in the fighting is not, as they falsely claimed, to protect Palestinians or to merely retaliate for Israeli “aggression” against the strip they withdrew from in 2005. Rather, it is to force concessions from both Israel and Egypt that would strengthen their grip on power in Gaza as well as give them an advantage vis-à-vis their Fatah rivals/partners in the Palestinian Authority.

Hamas wants Israel to release terrorists that were rounded up in the West Bank during their efforts to find the three kidnapped teenagers who were eventually found murdered by some of the group’s operatives. Forcing Israel to allow these people to walk free—some of whom were originally released from prison as part of the ransom to free kidnapped soldier Gilad Shalit despite the fact that they had committed murder—would be a major propaganda coup for the terrorist movement.

The Islamists also want to parlay sympathy for the suffering Palestinians of Gaza into leverage that would force the government of Egypt to open up the smuggling tunnels as well as to give it more leeway to operate in the border area. That would strengthen its struggling economy as well as give Hamas a massive cash infusion. It would also open up the supply lines to Iran that have been closed by the Egyptian military after the coup that toppled Hamas’s Muslim Brotherhood allies last summer and ease the way for Iran to replenish their arsenal of rockets and other weapons.

Outside observers who see the struggle as part of a “cycle of violence” or who buy into the narrative in which it is seen as a blood feud in which both sides are culpable forget that a cessation of hostilities doesn’t suit Hamas’s strategic vision. It must be re-emphasized that Hamas’s goal remains Israel’s destruction and the forced exile and/or slaughter of its people. To achieve that end there is no limit to the privations and suffering to which they are prepared to subject their own people.

All this means that in seeking a solution to the immediate problem in Gaza, the last thing the U.S. should be doing now is trying to reward Hamas for its cynical decision to exploit recent tensions and to start another round of rocket warfare against Israel. At worst, Hamas should not be appeased with anything more than a cease-fire that leaves them in place but with no easy way to get more rockets to shoot at Israel. But if Secretary of State John Kerry really wants to do something to advance the cause of Middle East peace he cares so much about, he should be demanding that Hamas disarm. Nothing short of demilitarizing Gaza will ensure the safety of its people or give a chance for renewed peace negotiations. If the U.S. supports any concessions to Hamas, it will be bear some of the blame for the next round of bloody violence that will inevitably follow a new cease-fire.

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U.S. Objective Should Be to Disarm Hamas

The United States has been a largely helpless spectator as the fighting between Israel and Hamas has continued this week. But rather than merely calling for restraint or trying to cajole Egypt into resuming its traditional role as broker between the two parties, Washington should be attempting to get at the heart of the problem: forcing the terrorists in Gaza to disarm.

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The United States has been a largely helpless spectator as the fighting between Israel and Hamas has continued this week. But rather than merely calling for restraint or trying to cajole Egypt into resuming its traditional role as broker between the two parties, Washington should be attempting to get at the heart of the problem: forcing the terrorists in Gaza to disarm.

Secretary of State John Kerry is reportedly on his way to Cairo to persuade the military government there to play a more active role in diplomacy. However, Egyptian President Abdel Fatah el-Sisi takes almost as dim a view of the Obama administration as he does of Hamas, an ally of the Muslim Brotherhood that he has been suppressing.

Sisi’s cooperation is crucial to ending the fighting quickly since in addition to demanding the release of terrorists by Israel, the Islamists want the border crossings from Gaza into Egypt opened. They also would like the Egyptians to facilitate the transfer of cash from Qatar and other foreign backers of Hamas. If Kerry’s message to Egypt is for Cairo to bend to Hamas’s wishes, it’s not clear whether Sisi will listen. But as much as Sisi accommodating Hamas in some way may seem the easy way out, it is doubtful that the Egyptian is so foolish as to think a rapprochement with Hamas will do his country or the cause of regional stability much good in the long run. Nor should Kerry be advocating such a policy.

The problem here is not whether Kerry helps construct another temporary fix that will merely set the region up for another round of rocket terrorism from Hamas the next time it wants to extract concessions from Israel or Egypt. Rather, the most constructive position that the U.S. could take would be for it to offer extensive help for Gaza but only if Hamas gets out of the terror business.

Just as the U.S. sought, with European and ultimately Russian assistance, for the Assad regime in Syria to be forced to give up its chemical weapons, so, too, now Washington should be working hard to force Hamas to give up its rocket arsenal.

To be sure, that may be something of a pipe dream. Hamas is at its very core a terrorist organization committed to violence and to use any tactics to achieve its goal of destroying Israel. But it must be understood that as much as the current conflict is driven by Hamas’s intransigent refusal to end the war on the Jewish state, its ability to go on fighting that war has been enabled by past decisions by the U.S. and Egypt to tolerate its hold on Gaza and to allow a status quo in which the Islamist group was allowed to not only stay in power but also to amass the arms with which it could seek to threaten the peace of the region.

Though Hamas is routinely depicted as being under terrible economic and military pressure, as Avi Isacharoff writes in the Times of Israel, it is quite content with its current position. Hamas’s leaders and their weapons stockpile are safe and sound in their bunkers and tunnels deep under Gaza’s civilian population centers. Their firing of rockets at Israel has boosted their popularity among a Palestinian people that is still fixated on their hatred of Jews and Zionism. And the rising toll of Palestinian civilians killed as the result of Israeli efforts to suppress the rocket fire has led to more sympathy for Hamas. Nor are they particularly daunted by the prospect of an Israeli ground operation in Gaza since they think it is unlikely to capture their key strongholds and bunkers and will only make Israel’s international position even more untenable and cause casualties on both sides to spike.

Thus, Hamas may feel like it can go on shooting at Israel indefinitely until Egypt or Israel gives up and makes a concession that will enable Hamas to declare victory, something that would also give it more leverage over their erstwhile Fatah partners in the Palestinian government. So while a cease-fire would be the best thing for civilians on both sides, it would be a catastrophe were the U.S. to be working toward a deal that would grant Hamas such a triumph.

As historian and former Israeli ambassador to the U.S. Michael Oren wrote yesterday on CNN.com, the U.S. objective should be a deal that will call for Israel to lift its maritime blockade of Gaza and a massive infusion of foreign aid in exchange for the surrender of all of Hamas’s rocket arsenal and the return of control of the strip to the Palestinian Authority.

Without the demilitarization of Gaza and the end of its status as an independent Palestinian state in all but name—but one ruled by Islamist tyrants—there is no chance for peace for Gaza or the West Bank in the foreseeable future. Kerry, who devoted much of the last year to a futile and actually counter-productive round of peace talks that set in motion the series of events that led to the current fighting, must try and see beyond the immediate problems and realize that if the parties are not to be doomed to endless repetitions of this drama, the status quo in Gaza must be upended. If, instead, he signs on to yet another cease-fire proposal that will leave Hamas and its rockets in place, it will mean more than a guarantee of more fighting in the future. It will also ensure that any future peace efforts will be just as pointless as the ones Kerry just conducted. Rather than pressuring Egypt to help Hamas, Kerry should be marshaling international opinion behind a solution that will disarm the terrorists and give peace a chance.

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Europe’s Jews: Unwanted, Dead or Alive

When the historian and founding president of Brandeis Abram Sachar wrote a history of the Jewish journey from the death camps to the establishment of the State of Israel, he called it The Redemption of the Unwanted. I’ve always found the term to be depressingly appropriate, both as a profound statement on the flipside of the Jews being the “chosen people” and as an insight into postwar Jewry.

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When the historian and founding president of Brandeis Abram Sachar wrote a history of the Jewish journey from the death camps to the establishment of the State of Israel, he called it The Redemption of the Unwanted. I’ve always found the term to be depressingly appropriate, both as a profound statement on the flipside of the Jews being the “chosen people” and as an insight into postwar Jewry.

Though the Holocaust was over, anti-Semitism was not. And while some Jews bravely chose to rebuild from the rubble–they were rebuilding not just European Jewry but Europe itself, though their European brethren would never concede as much–the Jewish people had understood their status. They were not fleeting victims or convenient scapegoats (or at least not only those things); they were unwanted, dead or alive.

That’s how it must have felt in the days, months, and years after the war. But now that decades have come and gone, should they still feel that way? Europe’s answer, repeated over the weekend, seems to be a clear yes. The main story of Sunday’s bubbling over of European anti-Semitism was the anti-Jewish rioting–perhaps attempted pogrom is a better term–at a Paris synagogue, in which Jews were trapped until evening by anti-Semitic protesters who “tried to force their way into a Paris synagogue Sunday with bats and chairs, then fought with security officers who blocked their way, according to police and a witness.”

The worst part is the sense of inevitability of the violence. Business Insider’s report on the incident has to include one of the most absurd qualifiers you’ll ever read in such a case. Here’s their opening sentence: “French interior minister Manuel Valls condemned ‘with the greatest force’ attacks on two Paris synagogues Sunday by pro-Palestinian protesters who broke away from an otherwise peaceful demonstration.”

It was an “otherwise peaceful demonstration”–you know, besides the attempted pogrom. (Other than that, Mrs. Lincoln….) And surely it is to be appreciated that the French government condemns pogroms. But is it ungrateful to point out that condemning the regular violence against Jews in France is just maybe not enough–not nearly? French Jews are voting with their feet because they feel unwanted, and they feel unwanted because the French state either can’t do anything about France’s horrendous anti-Semitism–a second synagogue was firebombed in Paris yesterday–or it won’t. Either way, the message is clear.

France was not the only location of European anti-Semitism yesterday. And though it may have been minor in comparison–and though there were anti-Semitic outbursts outside Europe too–the symbolism of one of the other incidents must have been truly terrifying. It was in Germany, and here is what happened, according to the AP:

German police allowed an anti-Israel protester to climb inside a police car and shout slogans including “child murderer Israel” and “Allahu akbar!” — Arabic for “God is Great!” — through a police megaphone, a spokeswoman for Frankfurt’s police said Sunday.

Police let the protester use the megaphone during a Free Gaza demonstration Saturday because he had offered to calm down a protest that had turned violent, spokeswoman Virginie Wegner told The Associated Press.

“We as police had come up spontaneously with this unusual method and he abused it — we didn’t expect that,” Wegner said, adding that police were investigating the incident. “Police are neutral during protests.”

Instead of calming things down, the protester — whose identity was not revealed — shouted anti-Israel slogans in German and Arabic in downtown Frankfurt. A video that went viral shows a crowd following the police car, cheering and repeating the chants.

I doubt the Jews of Germany will soon forget hearing anti-Jewish slogans shouted from a police megaphone–in 2014. There are a couple of things wrong with the Frankfurt police’s response. Obviously, letting a protester into the police car to access the megaphone was a boneheaded mistake. But then Wegner defends the police by saying, first, “we didn’t expect that,” and then saying “Police are neutral during protests.”

Well, maybe they should have expected it, and hopefully will from now on. As for their neutrality, it is clearly neutrality in theory not in practice, and it is not doing law and order any favors.

Pogroms in Paris, thuggish intimidation in Germany: does European Jewry have a future? It’s a question we keep asking, though I suspect we keep asking it because we don’t like the apparent answer–like the kid who keeps shaking and re-shaking the magic eight ball until the right prediction comes up. Clarity might be more helpful, which the anti-Semitic incidents do provide. Europe’s anti-Semites could not be clearer: their hatred of Jews has nothing to do with Israeli self-defense. It’s just a convenient excuse to target the unwanted.

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For Israel, a Little Disengagement Can Go a Very Long Way

It was news in 2006 when Hezbollah was hitting Haifa with rockets from Lebanon: Israel’s third largest city was now suddenly in reach of the Iranian terror proxy. Today, Haifa is being struck by rockets once again. But this time they are not coming from the northern border, but rather from far to Israel’s south in Gaza. Indeed, the warning sirens have even been heard in Nahariya to the north of Haifa. Almost the entirety of Israel is within reach of rockets from the small Gaza enclave.

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It was news in 2006 when Hezbollah was hitting Haifa with rockets from Lebanon: Israel’s third largest city was now suddenly in reach of the Iranian terror proxy. Today, Haifa is being struck by rockets once again. But this time they are not coming from the northern border, but rather from far to Israel’s south in Gaza. Indeed, the warning sirens have even been heard in Nahariya to the north of Haifa. Almost the entirety of Israel is within reach of rockets from the small Gaza enclave.

Prior to Israel’s 2005 evacuation from Gaza, when that move was being debated in the Knesset, several of Israel’s parliamentarians scoffed at the idea that retreat from Gaza would bring further rocket fire or greater insecurity. Rather, they insisted that this move was essential for bringing safety to the communities bordering Gaza. At the time Kadima MK Meir Shitrit scoffed “There is an argument according to which there will be a threat … a threat on the Negev communities, I have never before heard such a ridiculous argument.” Similarly, Meretz’s Ran Cohen declared “The disengagement is good for security. The right-wing people stood here and talked about kassams flying from here to there. I’m telling you … if we don’t get out of the Gaza strip in two or three years, maybe after one year, the range will reach Ashkelon!” How grateful most Israelis would be if Hamas rockets had only gotten as far as Ashkelon. As it is, more than seventy percent of the country is now under Hamas’s rocket barrage.

Yet, as much as disengagement from Gaza has been a security disaster for Israel, it is not at all clear what a feasible strategy for success might look like.

The prospect of permanently redeploying the IDF in the strip and sending Israel’s sons to police the backstreets of Gaza’s slums is virtually unthinkable. Equally, an attempt to overthrow Hamas and reinstate the Fatah-led Palestinian Authority there could also quickly unravel. Another alternative might be to permanently station Israel’s military along Gaza’s Philadelphi Corridor on the Egyptian border, so giving Israel greater ability to prevent the smuggling of weaponry into the strip. That, however, would mean that Israel would become solely responsible for Gaza’s borders, whereas at least as things currently stand the military blockade of Gaza is given added legitimacy by the fact that the Egyptians also help maintain it; not that one would know this from the popular discourse on the subject.

This question of legitimacy is no small matter for Israel in its handling of the threat from Gaza. A permanent Israeli presence in Gaza could easily become the source of much international condemnation. But that has to be contrasted with the existing scenario where, in addition to the necessity a constant military blockade of Gaza, there is a pattern of intensive conflicts breaking out every two or three years. These see a high casualty rate—albeit far lower than the figures for other similar conflicts—and that in turn causes a level of hysterical condemnation from parts of the media, the UN, and the streets of Europe, that greatly undermines Israel’s international standing.

It is with all this in mind that Israelis turn their gaze to low lying Samarian hills of the West Bank that overlook Israel’s densely populated central region, where the country’s international airport and the bulk of its energy infrastructure is situated. If a small-scale disengagement from Gaza can bring almost the entire country within range of Hamas rockets, then what might withdrawal from the West Bank bring? As Prime Minister Netanyahu noted on Friday, the West Bank could quickly become 20 Gazas. Even with the Iron Dome missile defense system, at present Israelis find themselves scurrying in and out of bomb shelters every few hours. How long can people realistically live like that? Besides, with every Iron Dome interception of a cheaply made kassam rocket costing tens of thousands of dollars, a war of attrition could quickly become completely unsustainable for the Israelis.

Preventing infiltration by militants attempting to breach Gaza’s border with Israel has proven a difficult and resource consuming task. The winding West Bank border is far longer and much closer to large population centers than the Gazan border is. And given that Iranian supplied anti-tank missiles have been fired at civilian traffic from Gaza, it is quite conceivable that similar attacks could emanate from a Palestinian controlled West Bank. After all, with the sheer volume of weaponry that has made its way beneath Gaza’s border with Egypt, it is highly likely that far more could cross undetected over the far lengthier Jordanian border with the West Bank.

Netanyahu’s words on Friday about not relinquishing control of territory west of the Jordan River will likely make sense to a growing number of Israelis. A little disengagement from Gaza has put almost the entire country within reach of Hamas rockets; what might a dramatically larger disengagement from the West Bank lead to?

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Palestinian Delusions Fuel Conflict

As the current round of fighting between Hamas and Israel concludes its first week today, no resolution is in sight. Israel’s government has made it clear that its goal is nothing more than “sustainable quiet” from Gaza but Hamas sees no reason to stop since the suffering they have created on both sides of the border has worked to their advantage. The reason for this has nothing to do with military technology and everything to do with the peculiar culture of Palestinian politics.

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As the current round of fighting between Hamas and Israel concludes its first week today, no resolution is in sight. Israel’s government has made it clear that its goal is nothing more than “sustainable quiet” from Gaza but Hamas sees no reason to stop since the suffering they have created on both sides of the border has worked to their advantage. The reason for this has nothing to do with military technology and everything to do with the peculiar culture of Palestinian politics.

To an objective observer this makes no sense. Hamas set events in motion last month when some of its operatives kidnapped and murdered three Israeli teenagers and then escalated the conflict by shooting several hundred rockets into the Jewish state from its Gaza stronghold. The result of these actions would all seem to undermine Hamas’s credibility vis-à-vis its Fatah rivals.

The rocket offensive has clearly failed on a military level. To shoot hundreds of rockets at cities for a week and to fail to score one hit or kill a single person—and killing civilians is exactly the goal of Hamas’s effort—can’t be represented as anything but a flop. At the same time, Hamas has not demonstrated any ability to deter or defend against Israeli precision attacks on Hamas targets.

All this would seem to add up to a perfect formula for a quick cease-fire. The Israelis want to end the attacks from Gaza and its government has no appetite for a ground invasion. Hamas could just declare a victory of sorts and preserve what is left of their arsenal since replacing their stocks of Iranian rockets won’t be so easy this time due to the closure of the border with Egypt. But there appears to be no sign of the “sustainable quiet” Israel craves of even a temporary cease-fire. The reason for that is that Hamas believes it is winning.

How so? The answer comes from the people of Gaza. They have born the brunt of Israeli counterattacks while the leaders and fighters of Hamas and their weapons stockpile remains safe in shelters underneath the strip. But the sight of rockets being launched into Israel by the hundreds has bolstered the Islamist group’s political stock. They know that Hamas TV claims of Israeli casualties are lies. But nonetheless, the idea that Jews in Tel Aviv are being forced to take shelter even if the rockets never find their targets is a big boost to their morale.

Scratch beneath the surface and actually read or listen to the comments of Gazans and you see why Hamas’s popularity always goes up whenever there is fighting.

It’s not because the Israelis are being particularly awful to the Palestinians. People in Gaza know that Hamas is begging for Israeli retaliation and understand why the rockets are being launched from neighborhoods packed with civilians or in the vicinity of schools, mosques, and hospitals. They know that if instead of facing an opponent like the IDF that strives to minimize civilian casualties they were up against an adversary as ruthless as Hamas, the price they would pay for the attempt to terrorize the Israeli people would be far higher. After all, the Assad regime and its Islamist opponents have managed to slaughter more than 160,000 Syrians in the last three years and few in the West have even raised an eyebrow about that, let alone be motivated to action to stop that war.

The Palestinians have embraced the suffering that Hamas has brought upon them because they think being set up to be killed is their part in the war against the Jewish state. Read this quote from Al-Ahkbar:

Undefeated, the 43 year-old man told Al-Akhbar “this is the price that we have to pay; Haifa cannot be shelled and the Resistance men cannot sneak into Ashkelon to clash with the occupation soldiers if we do not present martyrs and casualties… all our wounds do not matter it if they can shorten the distance to Palestine.”

When Palestinians speak of Hamas actions they refer to it as “resistance against the occupation.” But by that they are not referring to any occupation of Gaza. Israel evacuated every single soldier, settlement, and civilian from Gaza in 2005. Nor are they talking about the West Bank. When they speak of “occupation” they are referring to pre-June 1967 Israel. They genuinely think of their war with Israel as an anti-colonial struggle in which the “colonists”—the Jews—will someday be forced to leave or die, as Hamas’s charter promises. Indeed, the conceit of that piece in Al-Akhbar is that even if bomb shelters were available to Palestinians (and as I wrote last night, they exist but they’re used for Hamas and their bombs, not civilians), they wouldn’t use them because they see their spilled blood as a contribution to the cause of reversing the verdict of 1948, i.e. the “Palestine” that the Gaza man is talking about.

The problem with attempts to understand this conflict is that all too much effort is spent on unraveling the minutiae of recent events and almost none is directed at trying to understand the motivations of Hamas and its supporters. If Palestinian statehood as part of a two-state solution were their goal, they could have realized it 15 years ago. Palestinian leaders, including the allegedly moderate Mahmoud Abbas, have rejected four such offers in that time. Instead, they have mindlessly preferred to refuse to recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders are drawn and to insist on the so-called “right of return” for the descendants of the 1948 refugees (even though nearly as many Jews were expelled or fled their homes in the Arab and Muslim world after the same events) that is a prescription for the end of Israel.

Hamas makes no secret of its goal: the elimination of the Jewish state and the expulsion or murder of its people. Their rockets won’t get them closer to that objective. Nor will the spilled blood of Palestinians in Gaza. But it is the refusal of the Palestinian people to put aside the delusion that this is a desirable or achievable purpose that fuels Hamas’s popularity and perpetuates the conflict. Whether or not there is a cease-fire this week, it won’t really end until the Palestinians and their foreign supporters concede that history won’t be reversed and get on with the business of building their own lives in a world in which Israel’s existence is permanent.

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Why Gaza Doesn’t Have Bomb Shelters

One of the key talking points by apologists for Hamas in the current conflict is that it isn’t fair that Israelis under fire have bomb shelters while Palestinians in Gaza don’t have any. Among other factors, the lack of shelters accounts in part for the differences in casualty figures between the two peoples. But somehow none of the talking heads on TV ever ask why there are no bomb shelters in Gaza.

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One of the key talking points by apologists for Hamas in the current conflict is that it isn’t fair that Israelis under fire have bomb shelters while Palestinians in Gaza don’t have any. Among other factors, the lack of shelters accounts in part for the differences in casualty figures between the two peoples. But somehow none of the talking heads on TV ever ask why there are no bomb shelters in Gaza.

There’s no question that Hamas is outgunned by Israel. The Islamist terror group that still rules over Gaza has thousands of rockets, but Palestinians eager to cheer news of Israeli casualties have been disappointed as the Iron Dome anti-missile defense system has knocked down most of the rockets shot over the border from Gaza at Israeli cities in the hope that carnage will result. But even though Israel has gone to unprecedented lengths to avoid killing Palestinian civilians as it attacks the missile launch sites and Hamas command centers and ammunition storage areas that are embedded in packed neighborhood and especially in or around schools, mosques, and clinics, some civilians have died. Given that the Israelis have pounded the Islamists with nearly a thousand strikes this week, the approximately 150 Palestinian fatalities is actually pretty low. But still, fewer Palestinians would have died had there been places for them to seek refuge during the fighting.

The assumption is that the Hamas-run strip is too poor to afford building shelters and safe rooms for its civilians, a point that adds to the impression that the Palestinians are helpless victims who deserve the sympathy if not the help of the world in fending off Israel’s assault on Hamas’s arsenal.

But the assumption is utterly false. Gaza’s tyrants have plenty of money and material to build shelters. And they have built plenty of them. They’re just not for the people of Gaza.

As is well known, Gaza is honeycombed with underground structures from one end of the strip to the other. This doesn’t only refer to the more than 1,400 tunnels that have connected Gaza to Egypt through which all sorts of things—including rockets, ammunition, building materials as well as consumer goods–came into the strip until the military government in Cairo stopped the traffic. The chief problem facing the Israel Defense Forces in this campaign is the same one they faced in 2008 and 2012 when they previously tried to temporarily silence the rocket fire. Hamas’s leaders and fighters are kept safe in a warren of shelters build deep underneath Gaza. There is also plenty of room there for its supply of thousands of rockets and other armaments. Moreover, they are also connected by tunnels that crisscross the length of that independent Palestinian state in all but name ruled by Hamas. Indeed, when you consider the vast square footage devoted to these structures, there may well be far more shelter space per square mile in Gaza than anyplace in Israel.

If these structures were opened up to the civilians of Gaza, there is little doubt that would lower the casualty figures. Indeed, if the leaders of Gaza and their armed cadres emerged from their safe havens under the ground and let the civilians take cover there they could then show some real courage. But lowering casualties isn’t part of Hamas’s action plan that is predicated on sacrificing as many of their own people as possible in order to generate foreign sympathy. Instead, they cower behind the civilians, shooting missiles next to schools, storing ammunition in mosques (as today’s explosion in Gaza illustrated) and, as I previously noted, are actually urging civilians to act as human shields against Israeli fire on Hamas strongholds. Indeed, they have enlisted the people of Gaza as part of their misinformation campaign in which they attempt to conceal the presence of missile launching or masked, armed Hamas fighters in civilian neighborhoods.

But I have a question for the Palestinians and their foreign cheerleaders. What if, instead of devoting all of their resources and cash to an effort to turn Gaza into an armed fortress, bristling with thousands of rockets and honeycombed with tunnels and shelters where only Hamas members and their dangerous toys are allowed, the people of Gaza had leaders who had devoted their efforts to improving the lot of the Palestinian people since they took over the strip after Israel’s complete withdrawal in 2005? What if instead of importing missiles and other arms from Iran, Hamas had decided to try to turn their tiny principality into a haven of free enterprise instead of an Islamist tyranny built on hate and which survives on the charity of Israel (yes, Israel, which every day—including when there is fighting going on—sends trucks laden with food and medicine into Gaza to prevent the humanitarian crisis that the Palestinians claim has been happening there from occurring) and the West?

Hamas has sown the wind with its cynical decision to start a war against Israel and the people of Gaza are reaping the whirlwind. Gaza doesn’t have bomb shelters. What it does have is a ruling terrorist movement that uses civilians as human shields. By tolerating such a government and by cheering when their Islamist rulers provoke Israeli counter-attacks by shooting rockets at Israeli civilians, the people of Gaza cannot entirely blame the Jewish state or the world for their fate. But whatever we may think about their decision to accept this situation, the lack of bomb shelters in Gaza should not argue against Israel defending its people.

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Does Obama Want 20 More Gazas?

Speaking today, Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu vowed not to cease Israel’s military operations against Hamas terrorists until his country’s people are “assured of quiet” as they coped with a weeklong rocket barrage from Gaza. But in explaining his position, he raised an important question that transcends the immediate confrontation: does the U.S. really expect Israel to tolerate a situation in which this battle will be duplicated on the West Bank?

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Speaking today, Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu vowed not to cease Israel’s military operations against Hamas terrorists until his country’s people are “assured of quiet” as they coped with a weeklong rocket barrage from Gaza. But in explaining his position, he raised an important question that transcends the immediate confrontation: does the U.S. really expect Israel to tolerate a situation in which this battle will be duplicated on the West Bank?

Though the United States has expressed its support for Israel’s right of self-defense against a ceaseless rain of rockets aimed at its civilian population, the Obama administration remains resolute in refusing to draw any conclusions from these events.

As I noted earlier this week, the administration began the week by issuing a scathing denunciation of Israel’s government delivered by a top White House staffer in person at an Israeli forum. Even as the Islamist group’s rockets were landing all over the Jewish state, Philip Gordon, the White House coordinator for the Middle East praised Hamas’s Fatah partners in the Palestinian unity government and blasted Israel’s leaders for the lack of peace. He urged Israel to give up the West Bank as part of a two-state solution that would end the conflict.

As it happens, most Israelis agree that this would be the best option. But the reason why there isn’t much support for Washington’s suggestions is directly related to this week’s events. As Netanyahu stated, Israel’s current no-win situation vis-à-vis Hamas in Gaza is the result of a decision to take America’s advice about the value of territorial withdrawal. In 2005, then Prime Minister Ariel Sharon pulled every last Israeli soldier, civilian, and settlement out of the strip in a vain effort to make progress toward peace. While few Israelis have any desire to retake Gaza, they understand that Hamas is creating what is, for all intents and purposes, an independent Palestinian state in all but name.

In Gaza, Hamas has not only created a terrorist fortress where they can hide behind a large civilian population. It has dug itself innumerable tunnels where it stores armaments such as the missiles it shoots at Israeli cities as well as more than 1,200 more crisscrossing the border with Egypt.

As Hamas has proved this week, Israel’s attempts to limit the damage that the group can cause are complicated by their ability to increase the range of their rockets while also depending on the Jewish state’s reluctance to engage in an all-out war with its attendant suffering to root out the terrorist threat. But most Israelis assume that sooner or later, Hamas will stop shooting and they can get back to their normal lives.

But unless a sea change in Palestinian opinion happens that would make it possible for their leaders to accept an end to the conflict and a recognition of the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders are drawn, it’s difficult to imagine how any Israeli government could possibly agree to the American request that it replicate the Gaza experiment in the far larger and more strategically located West Bank.

Speaking for President Obama, Gordon said that Israel is wrong to deny Palestinians sovereignty over the West Bank as well as security and dignity. But the problem here is not Israeli reluctance to give up territory. They have done it before and, if given any reasonable assurance that it will not come back to haunt them, may do it again. Yet somehow no one in the administration thinks that what happened in Gaza after an Israeli withdrawal should inform their opinion of what would follow if they were to give up control of security in the West Bank. As Netanyahu rightly said, there is every possibility that, despite the administration’s faith in Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas’s dedication to peace, all such a withdrawal would mean is the creation of 20 more Gazas.

Israel’s critics see Netanyahu’s repeat of his pledge that he would not give up security control of the territory west of the Jordan River as intransigence. But it is a position that has majority support in Israel because, whether they like Netanyahu or support the settlements, they have seen what happens when Israel gives up territory to Palestinian groups that are still pledged to the destruction of the Jewish state or entrust their security to others.

More than any settlement or any statement by Netanyahu or even the clear reluctance of Abbas to sign a peace deal despite the blandishments of Obama, the rockets from Gaza are killing hopes of achieving a two-state solution in the foreseeable future. Gaza is not just a daunting military problem for Israelis or a challenge to those who wish to see the Palestinians live in peace without being pushed into destructive wars by Islamist leaders who are bent on fomenting more violence and opposing any progress toward reconciliation. It is a preview of what an independent Palestinian state would be. The rockets and the refusal to devote Palestinian resources to any effort but perpetuating the conflict is a guarantee that peace isn’t possible in the near or perhaps even the long term.

Though most Israelis long for peace and would pay dearly for it, the next time Obama chooses to reiterate his demand for an Israeli withdrawal, he should think about what happened this week. The citizens of the Jewish state will never allow the creation of another Gaza, let alone 20 more.

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Obama’s Mixed Middle East Messages

President Obama called Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu and offered to help mediate a cease-fire with Hamas that was accompanied by a statement of support for Israel’s right to self-defense. But Israel is not jumping at the proposal. And, as much as Israelis would love for the rocket attacks from Gaza to stop, that reluctance is well founded.

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President Obama called Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu and offered to help mediate a cease-fire with Hamas that was accompanied by a statement of support for Israel’s right to self-defense. But Israel is not jumping at the proposal. And, as much as Israelis would love for the rocket attacks from Gaza to stop, that reluctance is well founded.

It’s still not clear if the Israeli ground operation that many have suggested is inevitable will actually take place. In a rare press conference held today, Netanyahu played his cards pretty close to his vest, merely saying that he will continue Israeli operations against Hamas terrorist bases in Gaza “until all quiet is restored to Israeli citizens.” But the assumption is that while the characteristically cautious Netanyahu is deeply reluctant to send troops into Gaza—a move that would likely cause casualties on both sides to spike—he also knows that merely letting Hamas stop shooting and then declare victory is not in Israel’s interest either.

Though Gaza is being pounded hard by strikes aimed at silencing the rocket attacks that have rained down by their hundreds on Israel in the last week without causing a single fatality, Hamas may well emerge as the victor in this exchange if it is allowed to exit the conflict with its rocket arsenal and infrastructure intact. More importantly, if, thanks to U.S. diplomacy, Hamas is allowed to remain inside the Palestinian Authority government and strengthened by its stance defying Israel, then the result will make it even less likely that PA leader Mahmoud Abbas will ever summon the will to break with the Islamists and make peace with the Jewish state.

The irony here is that even though Hamas is clearly losing the military battle in this contest of Israeli air power and missile defense against the terrorist rocket launchers, it believes it is winning the political battle. In its isolation after the fall of the Muslim Brotherhood government in Egypt and the sealing of the Gaza smuggling tunnels by the new military regime in Cairo, causing a severe cash-flow problem, Hamas was forced to embrace unity with Abbas’s Fatah. That exposed them to criticism from Palestinians who said they had given up the struggle against Israel but also offered the group a chance to strengthen its organization in the West Bank.

In the wake of the kidnapping and murder of three Israeli teenagers by Hamas operatives, Israel rounded up many of the group’s members on the West Bank. Hamas then stepped up the missile fire from Gaza that had never really stopped completely even after the latest cease-fire brokered by Egypt and the U.S. in 2012. But by starting what appears to be a new war, the Islamists have regained their credibility among Palestinians as the address for violence against Israelis, a quality that has always served as the principal credential for any party seeking their support.

That means Hamas gains ground—at least in a political sense—vis-à-vis Fatah no matter whether the Israelis invade Gaza. If the Israelis don’t strike back on the ground and a cease-fire leaves Hamas’s infrastructure and arsenal intact, it can claim victory. But even if the Israelis do attack and take out much of their armaments, they can also claim that they stood up to the Israelis and strengthened their claim of being a better exponent of Palestinian nationalism than Fatah in an environment that will have become more radicalized.

Where does the United States fit into this?

The problem with the president’s expressions of support for Israel is that they have also been accompanied not only by calls for “restraint”—which are rightly interpreted as a not-so-subtle demand that the Jewish state’s armed forces stand down—but by continuing ambivalence about Hamas’s presence in the PA government. Just this week Obama praised Abbas, who embraced Hamas as his partner in April, while pointedly snubbing Netanyahu. The U.S. has refused to cut aid to the PA even though U.S. law demands that it be shut down due to the Fatah alliance with Hamas.

While the Palestinians don’t need encouragement from the U.S. to cause them to embrace radical positions that make peace impossible, the mixed messages from Washington, including today’s offer of mediation with a group that even Obama’s State Department still classifies as a terror group, heightens Israel’s sense of isolation and makes it harder for the Jewish state to deter Hamas terror.

Deterrence is the key word here since the Israelis understandably have no appetite to a return to control of Gaza or even of toppling Hamas since they worry about which radical group would replace it. However, the goal of making it more difficult for Hamas to launch strikes such as the ones that have paralyzed Israeli life the past few days remains.

The Obama administration has strengthened security ties with Israel and been generous with military aid, a point that has re-emphasized the importance of the Iron Dome system. But it has accompanied that help with constant criticism and diplomatic maneuvering that has made it clear that Netanyahu cannot count on Washington’s support if he seeks to significantly weaken Hamas in Gaza.

Moreover, so long as the administration refuses to pressure Abbas to cut ties with Hamas, it is impossible to expect the so-called moderates of Fatah—whose members have joined in the launching of rockets from Gaza at civilian targets in Israel—to reject the Islamists or their determination to keep the conflict simmering. Indeed, it is a given that any cease-fire with Hamas will be followed by renewed American calls for Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank and other concessions. Rewarding Hamas for terror won’t convince either side to take risks for peace. In exchange for real peace, most Israelis would be willing to make painful sacrifices. But the latest bout of terrorism and the barrage of hundreds of rockets aimed at Israeli cities understandably make most citizens of the Jewish state reluctant to replicate the independent Palestinian state in all but name that exists in Gaza in the West Bank.

Palestinians can be forgiven for thinking Obama’s mixed messages give them no reason to make their own hard decisions about embracing peace.

Israelis can also draw conclusions from America’s ambivalent attitude toward Hamas. While it’s not clear that any Israeli strike on Gaza will restore a sense of deterrence, Netanyahu would be wise not to base a decision about his country’s security on any assumptions about how to retain the good will of the Obama administration. Either way, they are very much on their own.

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Hamas’s Human Shield War

Hamas terrorists continued shooting rockets at Israel today as air raid sirens sounded all over the country including in Jerusalem. But the international media’s focus on the conflict continues to be the rising toll of Palestinian civilian casualties. Yet, as with previous conflicts, not much attention is being paid to the way Hamas uses Palestinians as human shields.

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Hamas terrorists continued shooting rockets at Israel today as air raid sirens sounded all over the country including in Jerusalem. But the international media’s focus on the conflict continues to be the rising toll of Palestinian civilian casualties. Yet, as with previous conflicts, not much attention is being paid to the way Hamas uses Palestinians as human shields.

As I noted yesterday, even the New York Times found it necessary to report that the Israel Defense Forces are issuing warnings to Palestinians living in and around Hamas missile launchers and operations center in Gaza. But having decided to escalate another round of violence by launching hundreds of rockets into Israel, the Islamist group is still hoping to use the presence of Palestinian civilians around legitimate military targets as a weapon against the Jewish state.

In the past, this merely meant putting missile launchers next to schools, hospitals, and mosques as well among civilian homes in the densely populated strip. But as Israel has stepped up its efforts to try and spare civilians even as it seeks to silence the terrorist fire, Hamas has also increased its efforts to ensure that as many inhabitants of Gaza as possible are hurt in the fighting.

As Memri.org reports, speaking on Tuesday on Hamas’s Al Asqua-TV in Gaza, the group’s spokesperson Sami Abu Zuhri urged the population of the strip to refuse to heed warnings and to use their bodies to shield Hamas facilities:

This attests to the character of our noble, Jihad-fighting people, who defend their rights and their homes with their bare chests and their blood. The policy of people confronting the Israeli warplanes with their bare chests in order to protect their homes has proven effective against the occupation. Also, this policy reflects the character of our brave, courageous people. We in Hamas call upon our people to adopt this policy, in order to protect the Palestinian homes.

The talk of defending “Palestinian homes” with “bare chests” is an allusion to the fact that instead of evacuating buildings after IDF warnings, Palestinians have instead surged into them in an effort to either deter the attack or to incur the maximum casualties from the attack.

The cynicism of this tactic is transparent but even though Hamas is making no secret of its intentions, the news reports about the conflict remain centered on the “disproportionate” force used by Israel and the contrast between Palestinian and Israeli casualty figures.

It is true that Hamas’s weaponry is no match for the sophisticated Israeli missile defense system that has, with U.S. help, been created to shield civilians from rocket fire from Gaza. Since, as the media continue to remind us, Palestinians have no “Iron Dome” system to protect them against Israeli counter-attacks, it is assumed that the war between Israel and Hamas is not a fair fight. In this manner, Hamas, cheered on by the so-called “moderate” Palestinians like Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas who accused Israel of “genocide” in its attacks on Gaza, reinforces the idea that it is a “David” fighting the Jewish “Goliath.”

That Israel faces challenges in what is a classic case of asymmetrical warfare is a given in this conflict. The Palestinians have perpetuated this war by continually refusing to make peace and recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders are drawn. They are also attempting to manipulate Western opinion into believing their version of the conflict in which they falsely portray Israel as a “colonial” power occupying another people’s land rather than admitting that the dispute is part of an existential struggle aimed at wiping out the one Jewish state on the planet. The lopsided casualty figures bolster these specious talking points.

But it cannot be emphasized too much that Palestinian intent plays a much greater role in the casualties than technology. Hamas situates its weapons and fighters next to or among civilians not just because Gaza is crowded but because it is hoping that Israel will kill as many of their own people as possible. It indiscriminately fires rockets at Israeli population centers in part to kill as many Jews as possible though it has, to date, failed in that effort. But it is just as important to them to generate the Israeli counter-attacks that inevitably lead to Palestinian civilian deaths even if those numbers are inflated because many of those killed are actually Hamas terrorists.

In a war of perceptions, Hamas’s human shield tactics have given its leaders a winning strategy even if the result is tragedy for their own people. But the problem with those who draw superficial conclusions from the casualty figures is not just that they don’t understand what Hamas is doing to inflict as much pain on their own people as they can. It’s that these numbers obscure the basic point of the conflict. Hamas is not seeking to end the occupation of Gaza or the West Bank or to force Israel to draw its borders differently. Hamas’ purpose is to destroy Israel and kill its people. When they speak of “resistance” it is not an effort to push back against particular Israeli policies but a refusal to accept the permanence of the return of the Jews to their land. The misleading blood feud narrative adopted by the media in response to the carnage may seem even-handed. But there should be no mistake about the fact that the human shields of Gaza are merely a ploy aimed at diverting the world from the truth about Palestinian intentions.

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Morality and Self-Defense in Gaza

Today’s New York Times brings us a remarkable insight into the behavior of the Israel Defense Forces. As southern and central Israel were subjected to a relentless barrage of rockets from Hamas-run Gaza, the IDF sought to knock out the launchers and the bases from which they originated. But, as the Times reports, unlike Hamas and its other Palestinian allies, the Israelis are giving warnings to many of those they are trying to hit.

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Today’s New York Times brings us a remarkable insight into the behavior of the Israel Defense Forces. As southern and central Israel were subjected to a relentless barrage of rockets from Hamas-run Gaza, the IDF sought to knock out the launchers and the bases from which they originated. But, as the Times reports, unlike Hamas and its other Palestinian allies, the Israelis are giving warnings to many of those they are trying to hit.

The Israeli practice of calling up people whose homes have been used as Hamas bases or centers of missile production to tell them that a rocket or shell is about to hit them was used in the 2008-09 counter-offensive against Gazan terrorists. Its use is now being stepped up as Israel continues to try to silence the Hamas rockets. But the idea of a country defending its borders and population against terrorist assault by politely asking the people living in and around a legitimate military target to evacuate the place before it is demolished is virtually unprecedented in the history of warfare.

The Israelis are doing it for a number of reasons. One is that the IDF’s code of conduct has always promoted the concept of avoiding civilian casualties whenever possible. The other is that the Palestinians have deliberately sought to provoke Israeli counterattacks that would cause civilian deaths that could then be used to discredit the Jewish state.

But the problem with the practice is twofold.

One is that often the Palestinians don’t heed the warnings. In the case of one building in Khan Younis that Hamas had been using to fire rockets from or otherwise conduct operations, the warnings—a cell phone call and then a flare fired at the roof—came in time for everyone inside the place to flee. Those inside understood what was going on but rather than evacuate the target, local Palestinians decided to gather around the house to form a human shield for the Hamas operations with some even going to the roof of the doomed building. Seven people were killed despite the attempt by the Israelis to demolish the enemy hideout without taking any lives.

The other problem with this method is that if the goal of the tactic is to avoid international criticism, it doesn’t work. Hamas is deliberately firing missiles into heavily populated cities in the hope that some will get through Israel’s missile defenses and injure as many civilians as possible. In response, Israel tries to target Hamas fighters who hide among civilians. But no matter how hard the Israelis try to fight a “clean” war, they still wind up getting attacked by human-rights groups who hold them to a standard that would prohibit virtually any form of self-defense against the terrorists.

While morality and warfare are incompatible almost by definition, Israel has always tried to reconcile the two with mixed success. The only way to win wars is to kill the enemy and make it difficult if not impossible for them to continue fighting. That means removing the means of supply and production of weapons for the opponent. But in the asymmetrical warfare into which the Palestinians have forced Israel, an international community that has little sympathy for the Jewish state’s dilemma has branded the normal means of fighting a war as atrocities.

The standing rebuke to Israel is that its counter-attacks against Hamas targets in Gaza produce more casualties than the Palestinian barrage exacts from Israel. That is as true in the current fight as it was in the past as more than two dozen Palestinians have been killed in the recent exchanges while there have been no Israeli fatalities despite the hundreds of missiles whose purpose was to kill as many Jews as possible. Israeli counter-attacks are always called disproportionate though the last thing the Palestinians would want is for the IDF to respond in kind with attacks that, like those of Hamas, aim to kill civilians.

The notion that Israel needs to apologize for the inaccuracy of Hamas rockets or the success of the Iron dome anti-missile defense system is absurd. But not as absurd as the notion that Israel need apologize for the fact that its strikes on Hamas targets have sometimes exacted a lethal price on the terrorists and those, whether young or old, who were, as in the case with the Khan Younis building, foolish enough to stay in a place that was an obvious military target.

But the discussion about morality in the conflict with Hamas is ultimately pointless. For those who wrongly characterize the fighting going on in the Middle East as merely part of a blood feud between two crazed antagonists, it’s easy to dismiss Israeli efforts to spare the lives of its foes as either inadequate or insignificant in the context of the conduct of an immoral war on the Palestinian people. But to adopt such facile moral relativism is to misunderstand the conflict.

The difference between Hamas and the IDF isn’t merely a matter of technology. It’s that Hamas’s goal is the destruction of the Jewish state and the annihilation of its people. Israel’s goal is to survive and to eventually force the Palestinians to make peace. For those who share the Palestinian belief that the Jewish presence in the country is the real cause of the war, IDF tactics, no matter how fastidious, are irrelevant. By the same token, they consider any form of Palestinian “resistance” to be legitimate even if that means tacit approval for terror such as the kidnapping and murder of three Israeli teenagers last month or the indiscriminate firing of missiles on cities.

One can only applaud the tactics employed by the Israelis to avoid needless deaths. Yet even those involved with this noble effort must understand that the most moral thing they can do is to end the terrorist threat to Israeli civilians. Destroying Hamas’s ability to wage another campaign of terrorist warfare is also the most moral thing to do from the perspective of saving Palestinian lives. The people of Gaza will only be safe once the Hamas tyrants who have ruthlessly exploited their suffering are removed from power and stripped of their ability to plunge the region into conflict. Until that is accomplished, any further effort devoted to the discussion about morality and the Gaza conflict is a waste of time.

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The Media’s Make-Believe Bibi

One of the lessons of the past week’s unrest in Israel, one would think, is the importance of news outlets getting their stories right before leveling explosive accusations. In the case of reviewing events that have already happened, that becomes much easier. So it’s all the more disconcerting that the editorial board of the New York Times chose to pronounce its collective judgment on the recent murders without, apparently, consulting even its own newspaper. If the editors of the New York Times don’t read the New York Times, the paper is in worse shape than we thought.

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One of the lessons of the past week’s unrest in Israel, one would think, is the importance of news outlets getting their stories right before leveling explosive accusations. In the case of reviewing events that have already happened, that becomes much easier. So it’s all the more disconcerting that the editorial board of the New York Times chose to pronounce its collective judgment on the recent murders without, apparently, consulting even its own newspaper. If the editors of the New York Times don’t read the New York Times, the paper is in worse shape than we thought.

But someone has to read the Times, and that someone turns out to be CAMERA’s Tamar Sternthal. In the Times of Israel today, Sternthal calls attention to a dramatic–and demonstrably false–series of claims made by the Times’s editors:

Subtitled “Can Israeli and Palestinian Leaders End the Revenge Attacks?”, the editorial ought to have been particularly precise in reporting the leaders’ respective words and deeds. And, yet, the author/s grossly erred: “On Sunday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel, after days of near silence, condemned that killing and promised that anyone found guilty would ‘face the full weight of the law.’”

Netanyahu did not remain silent for days concerning the murder of Muhammad Abu Khdeir. The Israeli prime minister spoke out against the killing of Abu Kheir (sic) from July 2, the very same day of the murder.  As The Times’ own Isabel Kershner reported: “On Wednesday, after the body of the Palestinian teenager was found in the woods, the prime minister called on Israelis to obey the law, and asked investigators to quickly look into what he called ‘the abominable murder.’”

Netanyahu again denounced the murder Thursday, July 3 at the home of American Ambassador Daniel Shapiro during the July 4th celebration.

In criticizing the anti-Arab incitement that followed the deaths of the three kidnapped Israeli teens, the Times writes that “some Israelis gave in to their worst prejudices.” The editorial includes Netanyahu in this: “Even Mr. Netanyahu referenced an Israeli poem that reads: ‘Vengeance for the blood of a small child, Satan has not yet created.’”

Sternthal points out that the Times editorialists are slandering Israel here; the poem means the exact opposite of what the Times says:

Thus, The Times’ cites Netanyahu’s recitation of a line from Chaim Nachman Bialik’s poem “The Slaughter” as an indication that, he, like the crowds chanting “Death to Arabs” also gave in to his “worst prejudices.” In fact, Bialik’s lines, and Netanyahu’s quotation of them, are widely understood as a call for heavenly justice and a rejection of human vengeance for the killing of a small child.

Why would the Times fabricate such an explosive accusation, especially knowing the role that anti-Israel propaganda plays in violence against the Jewish state? Is it ignorance or malice? With regard to the poem, because of its historical and religious connections, the answer is probably ignorance. But if the editors want to plead ignorance on the slander that Netanyahu didn’t speak out against the murders in a timely fashion, it would require them to admit they don’t read their own paper. That’s certainly possible: as editors at the paper, they must know that the Times’s Israel reporting usually leaves readers misinformed, and they want to avoid that fate.

But another explanation is that this is merely the inevitable result–albeit a dangerous one–of the moral equivalence to which the press devotes itself when the subject is the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The Times editors understand that an accurate recitation of events paints the Palestinian leadership in more morally ambiguous territory than Netanyahu’s response. So they pretend Netanyahu had the same response.

In fact, the current crisis is further demolishing the leftist media’s caricature of Netanyahu, and they don’t appear quite sure how to react. The truth would be nice, of course. But that doesn’t seem to be in the cards. So they project the Bibi of their fevered imagination onto the page. Not only has Netanyahu denounced the gruesome, evil murder of Khdeir, but he’s also been the voice of moderation with regard to the fact that the Palestinians of Gaza have stepped up their rocket war against Israel.

As the Jerusalem Post reported yesterday on a contentious Israeli Cabinet meeting:

Following days of rockets on the South and riots in Jerusalem and among segments of the Israeli-Arab population, Netanyahu opened the weekly cabinet meeting saying on camera what was needed now was to act “with composure and responsibly, and not with “militancy or rashness.”

“We are working on several fronts at the same time” he said. “Last night we acted against numerous Hamas targets in Gaza, and the objective of all those actions is to return the quiet and security to the citizens of the South. Experience proves that at such times we must act responsibly and with equanimity, not hastily. We will do whatever is necessary to restore quiet and security to the South.”

This is perfectly in keeping with the restraint Netanyahu has shown throughout his premiership. But it conflicts with the make-believe Netanyahu who appears in fictional accounts passed off as news reporting in the Western press. The Times editors had some harsh words for this make-believe Bibi. But he’s still the only Bibi they’re willing to acknowledge.

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Not the Time to Split Over Gaza

Israel’s Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman has announced his party’s split from the joint Likud-Beitenu list that Prime Minister Netanyahu headed at the last election. The move isn’t entirely unexpected and Lieberman’s party will remain in the coalition. Nevertheless, the timing is hardly helpful. Allegedly it was an argument over how to respond to the ongoing Hamas rocket fire from Gaza that forced the split. By all accounts Lieberman has been pushing for a large scale operation and possible reoccupation in Gaza, whereas the prime minister has been cautioning restraint. Under different circumstances Lieberman’s call for a large scale response might seem highly warranted, and it may be that Hamas leaves Israel with no other option. Yet given the critically fragile situation that Israelis now face within the rest of Israel it seems hard to imagine that now is the time to initiate a major ground offensive in Gaza.

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Israel’s Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman has announced his party’s split from the joint Likud-Beitenu list that Prime Minister Netanyahu headed at the last election. The move isn’t entirely unexpected and Lieberman’s party will remain in the coalition. Nevertheless, the timing is hardly helpful. Allegedly it was an argument over how to respond to the ongoing Hamas rocket fire from Gaza that forced the split. By all accounts Lieberman has been pushing for a large scale operation and possible reoccupation in Gaza, whereas the prime minister has been cautioning restraint. Under different circumstances Lieberman’s call for a large scale response might seem highly warranted, and it may be that Hamas leaves Israel with no other option. Yet given the critically fragile situation that Israelis now face within the rest of Israel it seems hard to imagine that now is the time to initiate a major ground offensive in Gaza.

In recent years Israel has had two minor wars with Hamas in Gaza; the first, in 2009, involved ground troops in addition to airstrikes but today it is difficult to see what strategic benefit has been achieved by either of these smaller operations. It must be clear now that the only way to bring a definitive end to the rocket fire from Gaza would be a full scale invasion that would topple Hamas. But such an operation would be no small or easy undertaking and managing the aftermath—even if with the cooperation of Fatah–would likely be equally as challenging.

While the above action may eventually prove inevitable for Israel, there are a number of ongoing security concerns that Israel cannot afford to neglect right now, and most immediately there is the matter of the widespread unrest currently playing out among its Arab population. There has of course been talk of a third intifada. The numbering here seems to fall a little short, however. Indeed, long before the establishment of the State of Israel, the local Arab population was engaging in violent uprisings against both non-Muslim British rule and the growing Jewish presence in the area as was the case in 1920, 1929, 1936-9, and 1947. The pattern continues to this day. But what is particularly alarming about the violence of recent days is that it has for the most part concerned not the Palestinians of the West Bank, but rather Israel’s Arab citizens. These are people with full accesses to the ballot box should they wish to express dissatisfaction, and while many still suffer real economic difficulties (as do the ultra-Orthodox and Ethiopian Jews) there have in recent years been some serious efforts on the part of the Israeli government to integrate this group into the wider Israeli economy.

Right now Israel’s priority has to be about restoring calm with this group. That means treading a fine line that involves using enough force to restore law and order and to resist the violence of the mob, but without being so heavyhanded as to further inflame an already volatile mood. It is safe to say that a reoccupation of Gaza and the civilian casualties that this would unavoidably involve would do nothing to help this incredibly fragile situation. And of course the casualties that would result from engaging Hamas–with its war crime tactic of hiding behind civilians–could also greatly weaken Israel’s standing with its jittery Western allies. As we saw during Israel’s efforts to try and find the three Israeli teens who had been kidnapped—and as we now know, murdered—in the West Bank, the international community was allowing Israel’s security forces precious little room for maneuver. After the Obama administration put out the word that Israel sabotaged the peace negotiations with settlement building and as such was inviting another intifada, the mood among diplomats could all too quickly become a cold: “told you so.”

And Israel finds herself all the more reliant on international goodwill given that the negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program now appear to be reaching a crucial stage. Having been forbidden by the Obama administration from carrying out a strike on Iran while that was still a realistic possibility, it now appears that there is nothing other than the rickety diplomatic track standing between the Jewish state and the nightmare of life with a nuclear Iran. Nor is Iran Israel’s only pressing security concern in the region. The ongoing civil war in Syria has seen increased instability along the Golan Heights as well as the threat of Hezbollah becoming armed with some of the Assad regime’s most devastating weaponry. And now added to that is the threat of ISIS infiltrating Jordan, thus creating a renewed threat along the entirety of Israel’s eastern border.

With all of these factors in play it is difficult to fathom how Avigdor Lieberman can seriously think that now is the time for redeploying in Gaza. This split from the Likud has been in the cards for some time and is no doubt a move informed as much by party politics as anything else. Yet Gaza hardly seems like the issue to split over, and now is certainly not a particularly wise moment to be adding to Israel’s instability.

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Did the Oslo Accords Kill the Peace Process?

One of the striking aspects of the last two decades of Shimon Peres’s long career in Israeli public life is how much of a prisoner he was to his own near-success. Peres was a driving force behind the Oslo peace process and the crucial negotiations that led to the Declaration of Principles before the agreement melted under the hot lights of reality. Yet in many ways the deal trapped him, having to carry its banner and defend the possibility of its fulfillment for the rest of his time in office.

Peres was on the Israeli left, sure, but his career had been marked–as so many of his contemporaries in both generations–by partisan fluidity. The AFP analysis Jonathan mentioned yesterday illustrates this: it says Peres was once considered a hawk because, in part, he ordered the shelling of Lebanese territory in 1996. Yet that was after Oslo. By such an accounting, Peres was a pragmatist. But with Oslo only mostly dead, he was never really able, aside from a token move to leave Labor for Kadima under Ariel Sharon, to get out of its shadow.

This is hardly surprising considering the fact that Oslo has trapped, to a large extent, Peres’s country on the whole, including Israeli politicians who don’t support or defend it. Consider the Herzliya conference in Israel this week. While former ambassador Michael Oren’s “Plan B” idea for a new direction in the peace process–something akin to a coordinated unilateralism–has been discussed for months, BuzzFeed reports that Herzliya has seen something of a parade of alternative peace plans.

Finance Minister Yair Lapid, former settlers’ advocate Dani Dayan, and Economy Minister Naftali Bennett have all offered their ideas. Here’s the crux of Dayan’s:

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One of the striking aspects of the last two decades of Shimon Peres’s long career in Israeli public life is how much of a prisoner he was to his own near-success. Peres was a driving force behind the Oslo peace process and the crucial negotiations that led to the Declaration of Principles before the agreement melted under the hot lights of reality. Yet in many ways the deal trapped him, having to carry its banner and defend the possibility of its fulfillment for the rest of his time in office.

Peres was on the Israeli left, sure, but his career had been marked–as so many of his contemporaries in both generations–by partisan fluidity. The AFP analysis Jonathan mentioned yesterday illustrates this: it says Peres was once considered a hawk because, in part, he ordered the shelling of Lebanese territory in 1996. Yet that was after Oslo. By such an accounting, Peres was a pragmatist. But with Oslo only mostly dead, he was never really able, aside from a token move to leave Labor for Kadima under Ariel Sharon, to get out of its shadow.

This is hardly surprising considering the fact that Oslo has trapped, to a large extent, Peres’s country on the whole, including Israeli politicians who don’t support or defend it. Consider the Herzliya conference in Israel this week. While former ambassador Michael Oren’s “Plan B” idea for a new direction in the peace process–something akin to a coordinated unilateralism–has been discussed for months, BuzzFeed reports that Herzliya has seen something of a parade of alternative peace plans.

Finance Minister Yair Lapid, former settlers’ advocate Dani Dayan, and Economy Minister Naftali Bennett have all offered their ideas. Here’s the crux of Dayan’s:

He wants to ignore the peace process entirely and to loosen restrictions on Palestinians and improve their daily lives without waiting for a negotiated solution. Dayan, an advocate of one shared state for Palestinians and Israelis, is pressing the Israeli government to remove the separation barrier — a looming symbol of Israel’s military occupation of the West Bank — that separates Israeli and Palestinian communities. Israelis and Palestinians should be allowed to live wherever they want, he argues, and travel into one another’s territories. …

Many of Israel’s right-wing leadership, including Danny Danon, the deputy defense minister, have also thrown their weight behind the plan.

“In general I think that we should try to find ways to make the lives of the Palestinians easier,” Danon said. “That’s something I support.”

The plan has also been well-received by former Israeli defense officials. Moshe Arens, a former defense minister, has publicly backed the plan.

And here, according to the Wall Street Journal, are Lapid’s and Bennett’s:

Ministers have revived two previously rejected proposals that suggest opposite directions for Israel. One, touted by Economy Minister Naftali Bennett, whose hard-line party represents Jewish settlers in the West Bank, calls for annexing parts of the territory claimed by Palestinians for a future state.

A contrasting proposal made by centrist Finance Minister Yair Lapid on Sunday at a national-security conference envisions a military withdrawal from the West Bank and evacuations of Jewish settlements to spur an eventual peace deal.

Whatever their merits, these plans have two main obstacles. The first is the unity agreement between Fatah and Hamas. The Journal’s headline says it all: “Israel Ministers Press for New West Bank Strategy.” Indeed, West Bank strategy. There is no deal to be had with Hamas in Gaza, which essentially has constructed its own state–Somalia instead of Singapore, as Dayan correctly terms it–and which will seek to export its ideology to the West Bank. It’s possible that if the two are truly separate, a deal can be had with the West Bank. The sense of urgency is there anyway, since Israel left Gaza completely but has a far more integrated relationship with the West Bank.

But the other obstacle is the peace process everyone’s running away from. As Rick Richman likes to point out, the peace processers are beholden to this idea that “everybody knows” what a final-status deal would look like. This belief is strangely impervious to evidence.

Or perhaps not so strangely. The longer this dedication to Oslo goes on, the easier it is to at least understand why its adherents can’t bring themselves to quit cold turkey.

There’s always the chance that a confluence of ideas like what took place at Herzliya will change the calculus–that if left, right, and center all push for a grand rethinking of the peace process it might happen. But that’s not been the case in recent years. And the dedication to the status quo, which ignores changes on the ground and keeps policymakers of the future glued to discredited ideas of the past, negates critical thinking and discourages creative solutions. If that doesn’t change, Oslo will continue to be associated with preventing peace, not presaging it.

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For Want of a Camera

Last week’s incident in which two Palestinians were killed in the West Bank–allegedly by Israel Defense Forces soldiers who opened fire without provocation–is still under investigation. But the IDF continues to maintain that the video footage purporting to back this allegation was doctored.

As Jonathan Tobin noted on Wednesday, this isn’t inconceivable; such things have happened before. Even Amnesty researcher Donatella Rovera recently admitted that Palestinians have been known to falsify evidence (though it doesn’t seem to stop her organization from treating every Palestinian claim as gospel truth). Nevertheless, the IDF’s claim would undeniably be more credible if it could produce its own footage showing what really happened.

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Last week’s incident in which two Palestinians were killed in the West Bank–allegedly by Israel Defense Forces soldiers who opened fire without provocation–is still under investigation. But the IDF continues to maintain that the video footage purporting to back this allegation was doctored.

As Jonathan Tobin noted on Wednesday, this isn’t inconceivable; such things have happened before. Even Amnesty researcher Donatella Rovera recently admitted that Palestinians have been known to falsify evidence (though it doesn’t seem to stop her organization from treating every Palestinian claim as gospel truth). Nevertheless, the IDF’s claim would undeniably be more credible if it could produce its own footage showing what really happened.

But of course, it can’t–because one of the most technologically sophisticated armies in the world has somehow proven incapable of equipping its soldiers with the kind of simple cameras found on every cell phone. And so, day after day, week after week, it’s confronted with Palestinian allegations to which the only response it can offer is its soldiers’ unsupported testimony.   

A year ago, I thought the penny had finally dropped: The IDF announced with great fanfare that it had finally decided to train soldiers to film operations in the field. But it now turns out this vaunted project comprises all of 24 cameramen–24 people to provide round-the-clock coverage of the entire West Bank plus the Gaza border. It’s a joke. And not a very funny one.

There’s no reason why every single soldier couldn’t be equipped with a small, wearable camera that would operate automatically. This would have the additional benefit of cutting down on real abuses, from which no army is completely immune. Indeed, several Western countries have experimented with policemen wearing such cameras, and they have generally led to reductions in both real brutality and false claims of brutality.

But what seems like a no-brainer to me evidently isn’t so obvious to Israel’s chronically public-diplomacy-challenged government and army. Otherwise, they would have done something about it by now.

Consequently, this is an issue on which American Jewish help is badly needed. Jewish groups and individuals frequently meet with Israeli officials, both in the U.S. and in Israel, but it probably never occurs to them to raise a minor issue like IDF cameras at those meetings. If they thought of it at all, it would doubtless seem too obvious to need saying.

Unfortunately, it isn’t. And therefore, U.S. Jews would be doing Israel a big service if they started raising this issue at every single meeting with Israeli government officials or army officers. If Israeli leaders keep hearing about it from American Jews, maybe they’ll finally realize how important it is.

Or maybe they still won’t. But it’s worth a try–because waiting for them to figure it out on their own certainly isn’t working.

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Palestinians Unite to Preserve Corruption

The unity agreement that brought together the Fatah and Hamas Palestinian factions is, according to the New York Times, already paying dividends for the Palestinian people. According to the feature on the efforts to implement the accord, newspapers from the West Bank and Jerusalem are now on sale in Gaza and those from the Hamas-ruled enclave are now available on newsstands in the area run by the Palestinian Authority. That’s good news for consumers of the propaganda published by the two main Palestinian factions’ media operations.

Meanwhile, the Times is far more interested in the brewing controversy over what to do about the murders committed by the two factions against each other. A Palestinian commission is trying to get the families of the members of Fatah slaughtered by Hamas in its 2007 coup to accept monetary compensation rather than press their case and insist that the murderers be given the death penalty. The same is true of those families of Hamas members killed by Fatah. The pressure for the families to accept “social reconciliation” is yielding mixed results as many residents of both the West Bank and Gaza weaned on a culture of violence directed mainly against Israelis and Jews are focused on revenge and not much interested in the concept of forgiveness, even when applied to fellow Palestinians.

This dynamic will play a large role in whether this scheme will work in the long run. But of far greater interest to the rest of the world are two other questions that will impact both the chances of peace with Israel and the willingness of the international community to subsidize the PA: integration of the “security” forces employed by Fatah and Hamas and how to pay for all of the Palestinians in both factions that are being supported via no-work and no-show government jobs.

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The unity agreement that brought together the Fatah and Hamas Palestinian factions is, according to the New York Times, already paying dividends for the Palestinian people. According to the feature on the efforts to implement the accord, newspapers from the West Bank and Jerusalem are now on sale in Gaza and those from the Hamas-ruled enclave are now available on newsstands in the area run by the Palestinian Authority. That’s good news for consumers of the propaganda published by the two main Palestinian factions’ media operations.

Meanwhile, the Times is far more interested in the brewing controversy over what to do about the murders committed by the two factions against each other. A Palestinian commission is trying to get the families of the members of Fatah slaughtered by Hamas in its 2007 coup to accept monetary compensation rather than press their case and insist that the murderers be given the death penalty. The same is true of those families of Hamas members killed by Fatah. The pressure for the families to accept “social reconciliation” is yielding mixed results as many residents of both the West Bank and Gaza weaned on a culture of violence directed mainly against Israelis and Jews are focused on revenge and not much interested in the concept of forgiveness, even when applied to fellow Palestinians.

This dynamic will play a large role in whether this scheme will work in the long run. But of far greater interest to the rest of the world are two other questions that will impact both the chances of peace with Israel and the willingness of the international community to subsidize the PA: integration of the “security” forces employed by Fatah and Hamas and how to pay for all of the Palestinians in both factions that are being supported via no-work and no-show government jobs.

While reform of the PA’s spending policies is key to any hope of building an economy for the Palestinians, the more immediate question is what to do about the glut of government workers in Gaza. For the last seven years 70,000 Fatah employees have been collecting their paychecks without having to show up for work in Gaza since the Hamas coup. Meanwhile, 40,000 Hamas supporters are also getting government paychecks for doing or not doing the same jobs. Since the economy of both the West Bank and Gaza is largely fueled by the paychecks that come from this patronage scheme, turning off the spigot for either of these groups would create a crisis that could lead to violence.

The fact that Hamas made do with only 40,000 government employees where Fatah had 70,000 is not so much a tribute to the efficiency of the Islamists as it is one to the vast scale of the patronage system that was put in place by PA leader Mahmoud Abbas’s predecessor Yasir Arafat. Suffice it to say that Hamas is no more likely to get a good day’s work from many of its 40,000 workers than Fatah was from most of its 70,000. But unless the PA can find a way to keep all 110,000 on the government payroll, there will be major trouble in the Strip, of which the suffering of the families of these “workers” will be just the tip of the iceberg.

But as much as this problem makes the struggles of American state governments with an expensive municipal bureaucracy look like child’s play, it must be recognized that such corrupt practices are the foundation of the Palestinian economy. Government corruption and regulations aimed at filling the pockets of PA leaders make normal economic development virtually impossible. The attempt of former PA prime minister Salam Fayyad to implement reform was a flop because both Palestinian parties opposed it. The only thing keeping the West Bank fiscally afloat is the money donated by the EU and the U.S. in order to pay an even larger number of PA patronage employees, few of whom are asked to lift a finger in exchange for the money.

Thus, while many Palestinian sympathizers have been lauding the unity agreement, it must be recognized that as much as it is an effort to allow the two factions to join forces to thwart peace, it also will help stop any movement toward reform and economic development. The point here is that the price of this unity is not only a situation where an unreconstructed Hamas that will not renounce violence or its war on Israel will ensure that peace never happens. It also means that the same international community that has been bilked for billions that wound up in the pockets of PA leaders and their families will now be expected to perform the same service for Hamas’s large payroll.

Unfortunately, rather than calling out the Palestinians for this trick, the European Union has announced it will continue aid to the PA. Just as Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu predicted, unity will mean that Hamas and its terrorist cadres will operate behind a façade of PA bureaucrats while not only fomenting violence but also getting paid by the West for it.

This development should signal U.S. lawmakers that it is high time for them to push to enforce the Palestinian Anti-Terrorism Act of 2006 that mandates a cutoff of U.S. aid to the Palestinians if Hamas is brought into the PA fold. Any further delays in doing so due to the Obama administration’s futile efforts to revive a peace process that was already dead the day Fatah and Hamas joined hands will only lead to American taxpayers paying a portion of the tab for all those no-show and no-work Palestinian jobholders.

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