Commentary Magazine


No Easy Answer in Gaza

Hamas firing rockets into Israel. Israel retaliating with air strikes and sometimes ground attacks into the Gaza Strip. The “international community” bemoaning Israel’s supposedly “disproportionate” response and demanding an immediate ceasefire.

If you feel like you’ve seen this movie before, it’s because you have. It’s been running on endless repeat like a cheesy late-night horror show ever since Israel pulled all of its troops and settlers out of the Gaza Strip in 2005. Hamas took advantage of the Israeli evacuation to seize power from the corrupt and unpopular Fatah apparatchiks with whom Israel and the West prefer to deal. Hamas then began stockpiling missiles, smuggled in through tunnels from Egypt, which it unloads on Israel at periodic intervals. Israel naturally hits back and, because Hamas military installations are hidden in civilian areas, the predictable result is civilian casualties which can then be paraded before the television cameras to turn international opinion against the big bad Zionists.

After a while, both Hamas and Israel decide they have had enough–the former because it does not want to suffer any more damage, the latter because it does not want to reoccupy Gaza. Then the two sides agree to a ceasefire which lasts perhaps 18 months if we’re lucky (before today the last such round of fighting occurred in November 2012). Eventually, however, some fresh incident occurs (such as the recent murder of three Israeli teenagers by Palestinian extremists and the equally odious revenge killing of a Palestinian teenager by Jewish extremists) to trigger a fresh outbreak of conflict.

Is there no way out of what is known, with some justification, as a “cycle of violence”? Not that I can see.

The preferred solution of the U.S. and the European Union is an Israeli pullout from the West Bank. This is intended to hasten a “final settlement” of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. But Israel will do no such thing because it has seen in Gaza the wages of withdrawal–not peace but rather more conflict.

But if the doves have no real answer to the threat from Gaza, neither do the hawks who urge that Israel annihilate Hamas. The only way this can happen is if Israel reoccupies the Gaza Strip. Otherwise, as has happened so often in the past, Hamas will simply regenerate itself after suffering some casualties.

The problem is that the Israeli public has no desire to assume the role of occupier in Gaza once again–which would undoubtedly reduce rocket attacks on Israel but increase casualties among the conscripts of the Israel Defense Forces. The fact that the Iron Dome system provides a fair degree of protection against Hamas rockets makes it all the more unlikely that Prime Minister Netanyahu will take the drastic step of reoccupying Gaza.

It would be nice if Fatah were able to topple Hamas from power and install a regime in Gaza committed to peaceful co-existence with Israel. But this is unlikely on multiple levels, not least because even Fatah has not truly accepted Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state.

Perhaps things will change now that Egypt is unwilling and Syria unable to provide aid to Hamas. Perhaps Hamas will be weakened enough to be toppled by other Palestinian factions. But unfortunately Hamas’s successors may be al-Qaeda-style Salafists who would be no improvement.

So for the immediate future there appears to be no way out of the strategic impasse in which Hamas and Israel are trapped. Hamas would love to destroy Israel but is too weak to do so. Israel has the power to destroy Hamas but not the will. Both sides thus keep conflict within manageable bounds and preserve their resources for future battles.

There is, for the foreseeable future, no exit from this grim deadlock–and attempts to achieve one (by, for example, forcing Israeli territorial concessions) are only likely to make the situation worse.

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5 Responses to “No Easy Answer in Gaza”


    Succinct summary of this tragic situation. But, I’m not so sure the murder of the teens started this whole mess since rockets were already flying before that time. Hamas wanted this war to improve its economic and political position. Also part of this movie is the international support and economic aid that inevitably flows in to help them restore and restock.

  2. BEN ORLANSKI says:

    Actually, there is an easy answer: If the US were to give all-out diplomatic support to Israel for a complete eradication of Hamas, then Israel would have the will to use its power toward this end. Of course, the US is doing the opposite right now.

    What you should have said is that there is no easy answer “for Israel”, but we already knew that. If the US were to do the right thing, with determination, then then this becomes a very solvable problem.

    Likewise, if the US were to target the BDS movement with a diplomatic offensive (perhaps coupled with anti-boycott legislation, like it used in the 1970s to cripple the Arab boycott of Israel), then the BDS movement could be brought to its knees.

    Instead, the Obama Administration tacitly encourages the BDS movement.

    Israel’s difficulties are directly traceable to a lack of US diplomatic support.

  3. JACK LEVEY says:

    Yes, the murder of Muhammed Abu Khdeir was odious. What does it have to do with the current round of rocket fire? Gazans fired well over 100 rockets into Israel during the weeks before Muhammed Abu Khdeir was murdered. Like the fatal traffic accident that marked the start of the first intifida or Sharon’s visit to the temple mount that marked the second, Khdeir’s murder was simply a convenient excuse.

  4. JAY GOLDSTEIN says:

    Before Israel existed, Jews were often the victims of senseless violence. Now Jews are still the victims of senseless violence, but we have a State that is probably the most successful country that ever existed in the world. At some point, Israel will probably have to re-occupy Gaza and Judea and Samaria. Its all part of the deal.


    As usual, Max Boot is CORRECT !!

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