Late on Thursday, the announcement of a 72-hour humanitarian cease-fire between Israel and Hamas burnished hopes for the beginning of the end of this latest round of fighting in the region. Though many in Israel believed that it was not time to let up the pressure on Hamas, the Netanyahu government decided to accede to the proposal put forward by the United States and the United Nations. But that decision has been rendered moot by the decision of Hamas to use the cover of the cease-fire to launch a suicide attack on Israeli forces that led to the possible kidnapping of a soldier.
No one who knows a thing about Hamas could have been surprised by this action. The entire purpose of this Islamist terror group is violence aimed at killing Jews and to further their ultimate goal of destroying Israel. But this incident, which blew up the truce and led to an intensification of the fighting, should make it clear that the understandable desire to halt the bloodshed cannot be discussed separately from the equally urgent need to eliminate Hamas and demilitarize Gaza.
Israel’s initial position toward Hamas once this conflict began was to say that it would give Gaza “quiet for quiet.” But it quickly learned that Hamas was not interested in quiet as it continued to bombard Israel with thousands of rockets even though almost all of them were being neutralized by the Iron Dome missile defense system. Even more, the discovery of the massive system of tunnels aimed at infiltrating the border and producing murders and kidnappings of Israelis made it clear that the rockets were merely one element of a strategic threat to the country that could no longer be ignored or tolerated.
Hamas’s refusal to stop shooting and the tunnels persuaded a reluctant Prime Minister Netanyahu that Israel had no choice but to invade Gaza. But despite the drumbeat of criticism aimed at Israel because of the casualties created by Hamas’s decision to hide behind Palestinian civilians, there has been no indication that Netanyahu is prepared to push forward and eliminate Hamas once and for all. Indeed, even today after the news about the truce violation and abduction, his government may still have no appetite for a costly continuation of the offensive aimed at decapitating or eliminating Hamas’s hold on Gaza altogether.
But the collapse of this cease-fire in this particular manner should put an end to a diplomatic process championed by Secretary of State John Kerry that seemed to aim at allowing Hamas to remain place and to even contemplate further political concessions to the Islamists in subsequent negotiations. Going forward, the kidnapping makes more such attempts at cease-fires unviable.
If they really are holding a live Israeli hostage, Hamas may well be inclined to seek another cease-fire while they can declare victory. But the U.S. should not be complicit in that scheme. The White House should stick to its initial response to the kidnapping that rightly declared that the captured Israeli be returned immediately. If that doesn’t happen, this should be the signal for Israel to intensify its offensive, not to slacken off.
That will probably result in more condemnations of Israel by an international community that pays lip service to the concept of self-defense but thinks that virtually any such efforts by Israel are always wrong. In particular, the United Nations and UNRWA, its agency that is solely devoted to serving the Palestinian refuges—and which has played a major role in perpetuating that longstanding problem—will continue to blame Israel and even, as an UNRWA official did yesterday speaking to the UN Security Council, call for an end to the isolation of the Hamas-run strip.
The point here is that the futility of these cease-fires and Hamas’s determination to perpetuate the conflict and to use it solidify their hold on popularity among Palestinians makes the diplomatic discussion irrelevant. The suffering in Gaza and Hamas’s ability to hold the entire Jewish state hostage with its rockets and tunnels will not come to an end until Hamas is stripped of its power and weapons. Nor will any talk of a two-state solution and an end to the conflict is possible until that happens.
Those who claim there is only a political solution to the problem fail to understand that in the absence of a military solution it won’t be possible. Until something happens that will eliminate the Palestinian force that is determined to keep the conflict red-hot and is prepared to sacrifice their own people in order to advance that objective, there is no point to those who criticize Israel for not creating a Palestinian state. Though it has been blockaded by Israel, Egypt, and the international community since the 2007 coup that brought Hamas to power there, Gaza has functioned as an independent state for all intents and purposes since then. Its government’s sole objective has been to fight Israel, pouring its scarce resources into rockets, tunnels, and other military expenses while—despite Hamas’s reputation as a “social welfare organization”—doing virtually nothing to better the lives of its people. So long as it is allowed to stay in power that won’t change and, no matter how many cease-fires or negotiations John Kerry sponsors, peace will never happen.
Pressing on in Gaza will be costly and will be brutally criticized by the international press, the U.N., celebrities on Twitter, and every other conceivable venue. No one should think that Hamas’s duplicity and belligerence—amply demonstrated by today’s brutal cease-fire violation—will create much backing for an Israeli effort to finish the job in Gaza. But finish it they must or be faced with the necessity of starting over at some point in the near future. Despite publicized fears of something worse following this genocidal group, that is a myth. Anyone who really cares about the people of Gaza or peace should realize that and sit back and let Israel end the Hamas nightmare once and for all.