At last. After 17 years of diplomatic pressure from the United States to limit its responses to Hamas terrorism, it appears that Washington may be finally prepared to let Israel strike a decisive blow against the Islamist group in Gaza. The scale—the death toll now exceeds 1,300 murdered—and the depravity of the atrocities committed during the Oct. 7 assault seem to have convinced the Biden administration as well as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that a maintenance of the status quo with Hamas isn’t an adequate response.
But it hasn’t taken long for the people who have been influencing and steering America’s Middle East policies for the last generation and whose mistakes paved the way for this slaughter to be back preaching their familiar sermons about the need for Palestinian statehood. That such people are still being taken seriously—let alone touted as foreign-policy “wise men”—is mind-boggling, especially when few in Washington seem to recognize that the Hamas state in Gaza is proof that their formulations are wrong. It’s not just that the beliefs of these Islamists are incompatible with a two-state solution, something that even liberals now concede. Rather, it is that the two-state solution is incompatible with any vision of peace.
Giving Israel room to act
President Joe Biden’s remarks delivered at the White House on Oct. 10, in which he compared Hamas to ISIS and cited the horrific crimes committed by Hamas, were not merely passionate but seemed to be a green light for Israel to “respond.” Just how far the Americans will go along with a ground invasion of Gaza or at what point Biden will seek to halt Israel’s efforts to end the threat from the terrorists remains to be seen. But for the moment, Biden’s sentiments offer Netanyahu and his new unity government the room they need to act.
What exactly a ground assault on Gaza would mean is far from clear. Indeed, a press briefing by the prime minister’s office conducted on Oct. 11 merely promised that when Israel was done, Hamas would be left with “zero military capability and zero motivation to attack again.” That may fall short of the demands being voiced by many Israelis for a campaign that will end with Hamas finished, but Netanyahu is clearly keeping his options open.
For now, the focus of Israel’s supporters should be on making sure that Biden sticks to his promise to have Israel’s back. The rhetoric of support for Israel and recognition that Hamas cannot be granted a pass for its barbarism is loud, and for the most part, bipartisan. But the indications of the outlines of a post-war debate about what the next step for US foreign policy ought to be are already being made clear. The desire on the part of the foreign-policy establishment for a return to an American strategy rooted in the patent nostrum of a two-state solution is already being heard.
While Biden has avoided mention of two states in the current context, others have not.
Keeping Hamas alive
New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman, who has been a particular favorite of Biden as he acted as a cheerleader for the Israeli protest movement that was aimed at toppling Netanyahu, has lost no time in weighing in to urge that Washington oppose an operation against Hamas inside Gaza and to return to efforts to pressure Jerusalem to make concessions to the supposedly “more moderate” Palestinian Authority.
Just as pointed was a piece by Richard Haas, the quintessential establishment thinker, former Bush administration staffer and president emeritus of the Council on Foreign Relations, as well as an MSNBC talking head.
Haas sounded the traditional voice of caution that has always argued against doing something about Hamas, claiming that it “can’t be eliminated because it represents an ideology as much as an organization.” Sounding a theme that has been frequently deployed to deprecate counter-terrorism efforts elsewhere, he argued that killing terrorists merely creates new ones. “Efforts to destroy it risk building support for it,” he said.
That is a spineless argument that will fall on deaf ears in Israel as well as with decent people everywhere, as the shocking details of cold-blooded murders of men, women and children; decapitations of babies; rapes and kidnappings have created a consensus that those who ordered and committed these crimes must not go unpunished. The “ideology” of which Haas speaks is one that is grounded in the glorification of this inhuman behavior and the murder of Jews. Just like that of the similar beliefs of the Nazis, it, too, can and must be eliminated.
Going further, he claimed that the aftermath of the fighting must provide Palestinians with exactly the sort of political benefit that Hamas was hoping for. While he acknowledged that Israel would need to use its military to some limited extent, the only real answer is for it to produce “a credible Israeli plan for bringing about a viable Palestinian state.”
The Palestinian state already exists
The first thing that needs to be said about that is to remind the world about an obvious fact that is generally ignored. It is that there is already an independent Palestinian state in Gaza.
Do we really need to point out that Israel withdrew every soldier, settler and settlement from Gaza in the summer of 2005? It did not, as the George W. Bush administration and many in Israel hoped, become an incubator for peace. Instead, it became an independent Palestinian state in all but name. Hamas has ruled Gaza since mid-2007 in a coup after winning an election the prior year. It then transformed it into a terror base from which it has launched rockets and missiles against Israeli villages, towns and cities, a war crime in which it seeks to indiscriminately target civilians as well as cross-border assaults.
The “wise men” like Friedman and Haas claim that while Hamas are bad guys, they are merely extremists who give Palestinian nationalism a bad name. But this is untrue. While the “moderates” of Fatah that run the Palestinian Authority in Judea and Samaria—where it autonomously governs the Arabs who live there—are, in theory, committed to coexistence with Israel, in many ways they are as radical as their Hamas rivals.
It is true that there is close cooperation between the Israeli security forces and the PA. But that is more for the sake of keeping Mahmoud Abbas alive and his kleptocracy in power than for maintaining peace. Without Israel’s help, the corrupt PA leader—87 years old and serving the 19th year of the four-year term to which he was elected in 2005—would have been knocked off by Hamas long ago.
Is the PA different?
Abbas, an inveterate Holocaust denier as well as someone who denies the facts about Jewish history in the land of Israel, regularly spews antisemitism with as much vitriol as the Islamists in Gaza or Hamas’s theocratic funders in Iran. That’s also true of the PA’s official media and schools, which have been fomenting antisemitism and hatred for Jews among Palestinian children since it took over the territories after the 1993 Oslo Accords.
Abbas and his predecessor, Yasser Arafat, have funded terrorism with a “pay for slay” plan by which those who injure or murder Jews are rewarded with salaries and/or pensions for their families. Just as important, they have also repeatedly rejected Israeli offers of statehood and independence because it would have required them to recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state and effectively end their futile century-old war on Zionism.
They have always said “no” to peace because Palestinian national identity—whether expressed through the ideology of Fatah or that of Hamas—remains inextricably linked with efforts to eradicate the Jewish state rather than a desire to build their own nation. When Palestinians speak of the “occupation,” they don’t refer to Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria or Jerusalem, but to pre-1967 Israel. Hamas is merely more explicit about that goal than the PA.
The reason why the PA has repeatedly refused to hold another election is rooted in their justified fears that Hamas would defeat them and take control of the West Bank as well as Gaza.
For 16 years, Hamas has shown the world what a Palestinian state where (unlike in Judea and Samaria), the Israel Defense Forces could no longer operate would look like. And since unlike Abbas, they don’t rely on the Israelis to maintain control over their people, they don’t have to sometimes pretend to be more reasonable than they actually are.
Much like the routine terrorism that is rewarded with their “pay for slay” system, the barbarism of Hamas’s Oct. 7 attacks is a pure expression of the “ideology” that Haas thinks can’t be eliminated. And far from condemning these unspeakable crimes, the PA has predictably endorsed them. That took the form of a statement by Abbas in which he defended the attacks by saying that “Palestinians had a right to defend themselves against the terrorism of the settlers and occupation forces.” On PA TV, his Fatah Party urged Palestinians to “land more blows on Israel,” and to join with Hamas to join the terror, and to “strike the sons of apes and pigs” and “slaughter everyone Israeli.”
Were Abbas’s kingdom to be granted full sovereignty and independence, it would not just soon fall to Hamas as Gaza did. It would also behave in much the same manner as Hamas’s terrorist state. Many Palestinians may, like their Israeli neighbors, long for peace. But those among them that preach endless war are very much in the mainstream while advocates for peace are in the minority.
They won’t admit defeat
Peace between Jews and Palestinian Arabs requires the latter to do something they have stubbornly refused to do: admit defeat in their long war to turn the clock back not just to 1967 or 1948, but to 1917 and the Balfour Declaration. Perhaps a complete defeat of Hamas in Gaza will move them closer to that recognition, but as long as the West’s policy is aimed at allowing them to ignore reality, that won’t happen. Until there is a sea change in the political culture of the Palestinians, Israel will have no choice but to continue with an anomalous policy in which it seeks to avoid interference in internal Arab affairs but continues to protect its security by maintaining control over Judea and Samaria. It’s little wonder that the Western suggestions about replicating former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s Gaza experiment in the West Bank has always struck most Israelis as not just ill-advised but insane.
Oct. 7 provided even more proof not just of the insanity of calls for Israeli territorial withdrawals, but why a two-state solution is a formula for enabling the shedding of Jewish blood rather than advancing the cause of peace. Anyone prepared to look at the truth soberly and without the false preconceptions that have guided the peace processors since 1993 can now see that calls for two states are incompatible with Israel’s existence or peace. It’s time to realize that … and to stop taking those who continue to peddle such terrible and dangerous ideas seriously.
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