In Gaza, the War of ’48 Continues

In Gaza, the War of ’48 Continues

Israel must decide, once and for all, which path it will take: reach a courageous resolution to the conflict, or prolong it indefinitely.


Translation from the Hebrew by Jessica Cohen

The mantra repeated ad nauseam these days by Israeli officials, from Prime Minister Ehud Olmert down to the last spokesperson, is “Show us a state that would practice restraint while rockets are continuously fired at civilian populations in its sovereign territory.” For the benefit of provincial spectators like our American friends, the Israeli hasbara (Hebrew for “explanation” or “information”–a more euphemistic term than “propaganda”) has produced a film that compares Israel’s southern border to that of the United States. The question posed by the narrator: “Would the United States ignore rockets fired from Mexico into San Diego?”

The requisite yet simplistic answer is, of course, absolutely not. Even an incurable leftie like myself would not stand aside while Egyptian or Jordanian rockets landed on Israeli towns. But the correct answer, albeit the more complex one, is that the border between Israel and the Gaza Strip (and between Israel and the West Bank and the Golan Heights) is unlike any border in the world, including the Israel-Egypt and Israel-Jordan ones. The fact that Israel pulled its army out of Gaza and even removed 8,000 settlers in 2005 does not alter the fact that Gaza is still, practically and according to international law, occupied territory. Israel controls the entrances and exits, as well as access to necessities such as power and water. Mexico has not spent the last three or more years under an American aerial and sea blockade. Moreover, Israel’s impressive victory in the Six-Day War turned the West Bank and Gaza into one ethnic unit. In the peace agreement signed by Egypt and Israel in 1979, the Gaza Strip remained in Israel’s hands. The Oslo Accords between Israel and the Palestinians, signed in September 1993, determined that the Gaza Strip and the West Bank are one political entity. This means that as long as the West Bank is under Israeli occupation, so too is Gaza.

These arguments are not intended to justify Hamas’s conduct or to defend its interests. Hamas is an enemy that refuses to recognize my national right, as a Jew, to live in my country. No one would be happier than I would to see it gone from the seat of power. As I wrote at the time, I believe that President Bush caused severe damage when he insisted that Sharon’s government allow Hamas to take part in the January 2006 elections, despite the organization’s failure to meet the electoral conditions stipulated in the Oslo II agreement. I was deeply saddened to see that Fatah, Israel’s partner in a peace agreement based on the establishment of a Palestinian state alongside Israel, missed no opportunity to make a mistake; corruption and clumsy management alienated the constituency from the Tunis leadership. I was angry at my friends in Ramallah who foolishly paved the way for this extreme organization to gain power. However, as my president, Shimon Peres, says, you can make an omelet from an egg, but you can’t make an egg from an omelet. Hamas has no plans to commit suicide or wave a white flag.

Hamas is an immanent part of the democratic system in Palestine, and the only way to remove it from power is the same way it got there– through the ballot box. Not with bullets. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) must know how his people would view him, and what his fate would be, if he were tempted to return to Gaza over the rubble left by Israeli tanks and planes. The key to restoring control of the territories, including Gaza, to Fatah, is at the negotiation table. All public opinion polls among Palestinians in the last few years show consistent support (65-70 percent) for the two-state solution offered by Fatah. Yet the more distant this solution grows, whether because of foot-dragging in the negotiations or because of the expansion of Israeli settlements, Fatah becomes less relevant. Lacking political prospects, it is no wonder that the public, especially the masses of unemployed youths, are searching for hope and livelihood in the mosques and training grounds of Hamas.

Israel must decide, once and for all, which path it will take: reach a courageous resolution to the conflict, or prolong it indefinitely. If it chooses the former, it will find the Arab peace initiative of March 2002, which garnered enthusiastic support from Yasir Arafat and vehement denunciation by Hamas. It is unlikely that Israel will get a better deal than what that initiative offers: full recognition and normalized normalized relations with all of the Arab states in return for near total withdrawal from the territories, including East Jerusalem, with reciprocal land exchanges if Israel wishes to retain any areas in the West Bank or Jerusalem, as well as a just and agreed-upon resolution to the refugee problem. One may assume that in such an eventuality, the international community, with the new American president at its helm, would provide the parties with a broad security and economic shelter.

If Israel refuses to pay that price–which has not changed for the past two decades and probably will not for the next two–and if it is willing to risk losing its Jewish and democratic character, instead of fighting Hamas it can easily find common ground with the organization: Hamas also rejects the idea of two states based on the June 4, 1967, borders. Its leaders are begging for a long-term truce and have proved that they can enforce one. They know that they do not have the power to defeat Israel’s mighty army. But they also know that as long as Israel refuses to demarcate a permanent border with Gaza and the West Bank, the demographic clock–which will soon bring about a Palestinian majority in Israel and the territories–makes the dream of “greater Palestine” look more and more real.

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