In my earlier post on Israel’s efforts to halt Hamas’s terrorist missile offensive against southern Israel, I alluded to the claim put forward by peace activist Gershon Baskin that Ahmed al-Jabari, the group’s military commander, was willing to accept a cease-fire before he was killed yesterday. In doing so, I referred to the tale as “farcical.” I should clarify that. I was not stating a belief that Baskin made up the story. Baskin, an Israeli who has been in continuous contact with Hamas over the last several years, is probably merely repeating what he was told by his interlocutors in Gaza. So in that sense he was telling the truth as far as he knew it. What was farcical about the story, which is probably on its way to becoming one of the top talking points for critics of Israel, is that the entire premise of Baskin’s ongoing efforts to try and broker agreements with Hamas serves the interests of the terrorist group, not that of Israel or of peace.
Baskin is claiming that killing al-Jabari spiked chances for a return to the relative calm that prevailed along the border with Gaza until last week as well as angering Egypt mediators. Even worse, he asserts that in doing so, Israel made a deliberate decision to reject a peace feeler. But even if Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak really were aware of the messages that he was relaying to al-Jabari’s people, their decision to make Hamas pay a price for its terrorism was correct. Though few in Israel want to send troops back into Gaza, the status quo Baskin was helping Hamas preserve was an invitation to more terrorism, not a pathway to peace.
Though Baskin’s motives here may be pure, there is a reason why Hamas wanted Israel to stand down before inflicting anything more than a slap on the wrist to the terrorist group. In the six years since Hamas seized control of Gaza in a bloody coup, the group has sought to burnish its credentials among Palestinians as the leading murderers of Jews while simultaneously seeking to persuade Israel that it was better off tolerating their terrorist activities than to do something about it. In order to pull off that neat trick, it needs well-intentioned Israelis like Baskin to act as messengers for their threats and offers, as well as to facilitate the ransom negotiations that led to the release of kidnapped soldier Gilad Shalit in exchange for a thousand terrorist prisoners. Netanyahu may have had no choice but to make the deal to free Shalit, but he was rightly wary of indirect talks that merely serve to grant Hamas impunity for its cross-border raids and missile attacks.
During his last four years in office, Netanyahu, like Ehud Olmert before him, has chosen to play along and allow Hamas to continue with business as usual. But just as Olmert was eventually forced to act, so, too, Netanyahu has learned that tolerating terror merely allows the terrorists to grow stronger as well as bolder. Pursuing Baskin’s scheme for a long-term cease-fire with Hamas might have temporarily halted the missile fire but it would have certainly made it even more certain that when Hamas chose to start shooting again it would be on terms and at a time when it would have been even harder for Israel to respond.
Treating his effort as a genuine peace feeler also gave al-Jabari, the mastermind behind the Shalit kidnapping (in which two other Israelis died), a free pass for that crime and the many other murders he helped commit.
Far from rejecting a path to peace, the strong response to Hamas makes it clear that the group will gain no ground or credit for the violence it fomented this past week. While it is likely that Israel will accept an informal end to hostilities with Hamas at some point, it was necessary that Hamas’s military capabilities and leadership were materially damaged first so as to make it less likely that they will try the same trick again in the near future.
There may be nothing that can be done about the fact that Hamas runs an independent Palestinian state in all but name and uses it to perpetuate a legacy of violence. But the game in which terrorists use peace activists to blackmail a democracy is, by definition, an illegitimate endeavor rather than a genuine peace initiative. Peace will come as a result of a sea change in Palestinian opinion that will reject violence. Back channel talks that empower Hamas won’t help that happen. To the contrary, they embody a process by which the entire nation of Israel is held hostage by terrorists.