After Monday’s rocket attack on Eilat and Aqaba, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu mouthed the de riguer platitude: the attack was perpetrated “by terrorist groups who want to foil the peace process.” Eliot Jager of Jewish Ideas Daily echoed this yesterday. Yet the sequence of events that Jager himself described — and of which Netanyahu is surely aware — strongly suggests the opposite: that the recent spate of attacks on Israel’s south are meant not to keep Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas “from pursuing genuine give-and-take bargaining with Israel,” as Jager put it, but to help him in wringing concessions from Israel.
That Abbas has no interest in direct talks with Israel is impossible to miss. He himself has said so repeatedly, as have other senior PA officials: he begged the Arab League (unsuccessfully) to back him in refusing direct talks just last week, and PA officials have complained bitterly of the pressure they are under to begin the talks. So if Hamas’s recent escalation — and whether or not the Eilat/Aqaba strike came from Hamas-controlled Gaza, as Egypt claims, the weekend’s Grad and Qassam rocket strikes on southern Israel definitely did — provoked an Israeli retaliation that Abbas could paint as an “atrocity” and use as an excuse for nixing talks, nobody would be happier than Abbas.
But why would Hamas, which is embroiled in vicious rivalry with Abbas’s Fatah faction, want to cooperate with him? Because despite their mutual loathing, they have a common interest in wresting more concessions from Israel. Hamas has proved this over and over.
For instance, it clamped down on rocket and mortar attacks on Israel in August 2005 — a 75 percent drop from the previous month — to avoid disrupting the month’s scheduled unilateral withdrawal from Gaza. Then, after the pullout, the rocket fire gradually escalated again.
Similarly, the year after May 1999, when Ehud Barak became prime minister on a platform of signing a final-status deal with the PA, was the first since the Oslo Accords were signed without a single suicide bombing inside Israel. Hamas wanted to see what Barak might give. But after Hamas and Fatah both deemed Barak’s offer at the July 2000 Camp David summit insufficient, they collaborated in launching a new terror war (the second intifada) to pressure Israel for more concessions. And it worked: in 2005, Israel uprooted 25 settlements and withdrew its army from Gaza without the Palestinians giving anything in exchange.
The problem with resuming direct talks now, from the standpoint of both Fatah and Hamas, is that Israel has made no new upfront concessions. Yet Abbas can no longer refuse without incurring blame.
The solution is obvious: shift the blame to Israel by provoking a military retaliation that Abbas could use as an excuse. Then the world would instead pressure Israel to offer new concessions to get him to the table.
It’s a scheme that has worked well many times before. And it will continue working until the world grasps that terrorists’ primary goal is not “foiling peace processes” but defeating their enemies piecemeal by wresting ever more concessions from them.