I received a very good comment on one of my most recent posts that deserves an extended response.
The comment is as follows:
The mistake of the Bush administration was to subscribe to LBJ’s theory that “better to piss from inside the tent……………”, thinking that once Hamas had to pick up the garbage and deliver the mail, they would become more responsible, yet it turns out it just afforded them the opportunity to switch from the mafia to a thugacracy , steal much more which gives them more power to push their #1 agenda: radical Islam and Jihad. Abbas is little better and has shown time and again he is a Holocaust denier and duplicitous. If Israel has a partner in peace even remotely close to Anwar Sadat, this conflict would be settled within 6 months.
You act as if Israel has not lost thousands in their wars of defense and only desires domination. It reminds me of the German-Jewish family standing on the platform before being transported to the camps believing they can’t possibly be such monsters……. ” but, We are German.” This is a time for staying strong as much as we all long for peace.
Actually, the history of Hamas post the 2006 election (which as you correctly imply was encouraged by the Bush Administration) is mixed. Although much attention, including decidedly biased accusations against Israel, continues to focus on Operation Cast Lead, collective memory seems to forget that there was a six month ceasefire agreement signed in June, 2008 which held quite well through November, 2008 (Hamas reduced the number of rockets from about 300 in May to about 20 per month (per NYT report December 19, 2008) when the rocket fire began again. The reasons that the cease-fire broke down was an incursion by IDF troops into Gaza on November 4 to eliminate the threat of a tunnel being dug to the Israeli side of the border presumably to allow for the kidnapping of additional IDF soldiers. According to the IDF, Hamas responded with 61 rockets on November 5 aimed at Israeli civilian populations, but essentially curtailed the bombardment at noon. Obviously, each side defended its actions based upon each of their interpretation of the facts. This essentially was the beginning of the end of the cease-fire, and led to Operation Cast Lead.
My point here is not in any way to defend Hamas’ use of rocket fire indiscriminately aimed at civilians, nor to question Israel’s right to defend itself militarily (it certainly has that right), but instead it is to address two very important strategic questions: a) whether Hamas can be trusted to comply with any agreements, and b) to consider the strategic effectiveness of Operation Cast Lead.
The facts seem to indicate that Hamas can be somewhat trusted to comply with agreements. The cease-fire was enforced pretty well by Hamas leadership. Although the Hamas charter is an abhorrent document that cannot be ignored, and it is clear that there are people both inside Hamas and in other organizations like the Al Aqsa Brigade and the Islamic Brotherhood who clearly continue to seek the destruction of Israel and the killing of all Zionists anywhere in the world, the evidence provided by the cease-fire is that there are more moderate and pragmatic elements within Hamas who were strong enough to control the more radical elements. In addition to this circumstantial evidence, I have heard the same from people who have met directly with Khalid Mashaal and other Hamas leaders. My argument is that both Israel and the United States are better off supporting the moderate elements. Rejecting these moderate elements only strengthens the hands of the radical elements. That is seemingly not in Israel’s long-term best interests.
This is actually supported by evaluating the current situation post-Cast Lead. Reports indicate that there are now twice as many rockets (with both enhanced range and guidance systems) in Gaza as there were before Operation Cast Lead. Would it have been better or worse without Operation Cast Lead? No one can say. But I think that one can say that the strategic threat from Gaza is much worse today than it was in July-October, 2008 during the cease-fire. As Secretary of State Clinton said during her speech at the 2010 AIPAC Policy Conference, technological developments are not necessarily on the side of the Israelis. Iron Dome is an amazing technological success. But I don’t think it is a strategic success. Why? Each Iron Dome missile reportedly costs close to $35-50,000. Each of the 40,000 Hamas’ rockets (and presumably a similar number of Hezbollah’ rockets on the Lebanon border) cost hundreds of dollars each, let alone artillery and morter shell. So, even without a nuclear weapon, Iran’s de facto control of these organizations poses a very real existential threat to Israel’s population today. I have heard all of the arguments against “linkage” and I agree that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is not the cause of Islamic jihadism, however that it does not automatically follow that the converse is not true. That is, I think that the creation of a Palestinian state could be the biggest blow to Iran’s aim for increased hegemony in the region . (But that is an entirely separate topic).
Hillel’s Message to AIPAC and all American Jews: Now Is The Time To Make A Two State Solution Happen (Part 3 of 3)
“If I am not for myself, then who will be for me?
And if I am only for myself, then what am I?
And if not now, when?”
“And if not now, when?”
Hillel ends his admonition with an imperative: The time is now. And so it is for Israelis and Americans who truly want to preserve Israel as a democratic homeland for the Jewish people. Although it has been said for years that the window of opportunity is closing, like the boy who cried wolf, this time it is really true.
There are three major trends in the Middle East which underscore why it is so critical to move boldly and swiftly towards peace. The first is the Arab Spring. Everybody loves democratic uprisings – when they first begin. However, they do not always end up quite the way we hope. The very nature of grass-roots rebellions is that they tend to be short on organization, which opens them up to co-option as things move from the emotional frenzy of demonstrations in the streets to the reality of picking up the garbage in the streets. In Egypt, which is probably the best example of successful regime change, the final outcome is indeed still open to question. But the response of the Israelis seems to be that of delay. In March, we spoke with Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky who had just come back from Israel bearing the message from Israelis leaders that “Now is not the time for action. We need to let things settle down.” While there is some logic in that point of view, the counter argument carries a lot of weight as well. That is, it might make better sense to get an agreement moving farther along (including the support of other world nations) before things blow up around or in the Palestinian territories. In other words, it seems just as likely that spontaneous developments in the region will actually give the Israelis less control at the negotiating table than they have now.
The second factor is the movement towards a unified government that Fatah and Hamas have taken. This took everyone by surprise (by all accounts, Mahmoud Abbas included) and as a result it is not totally clear whether the arrangement will work out or what the results will be if it does. But what is clear from the reaction of the Israeli and American governments is that everyone on this side of the table is scared to death. Although the excuse is that Hamas is a terrorist organization, it seems that the real fear is that no one really understands Hamas’ motivations or its ability to politically control and organize its factions. I am not sure why people are reacting with such repulsion. It seems to me that we should take the advice of that old Texan, LBJ, on this one: “It’s much better to have him (LBJ referring to J. Edgar Hoover) inside the tent pissing out, than having him outside pissing in.” It would certainly be much easier to assess what Hamas is thinking if we met with them rather than to simply turn our backs – which is what both the Israelis and Americans are doing. A former Israeli General once said to me: Never turn your back on a Arab (which by the way, was not said with malice or derision, but simply as honest
advice). So why turn your backs on Hamas? Additionally, the current position gives Fatah nowhere to turn. Simply saying “it’s Israel or Hamas” makes good political rhetoric, but if you think about it, it actually gives additional power to Hamas because they know that Abbas does not have enough political support to reject Hamas at this point in time – so the Israelis haven’t given him a real choice. Under normal circumstances, it might be best to wait to see what happens between these two factions. However, there is a third
factor that overrides this: September.
the Security Council where the US will be able to veto it. However, it will then move to the General Assembly for a vote of all of the nations. It is quite likely that they will be able to
get the votes needed to pass the resolution as there are already over 100 countries that have recognized the Palestinian Authority. One Israeli official has been quoted as calling the possibility of UN ratification a “train wreck”, and rightfully so. If Palestine is recognized as a sovereign nation, it totally changes the legal relationship with Israel according to accepted international law. And while many American and Israeli spokesmen have minimized the validity of the vote and its potential impact, that seems to be the naïve point of view.
So, the Arab Spring, the Fatah-Hamas détente, and most importantly, the anticipated Palestinian quest for statehood at the UN, all underscore the fact that time is closing in on Israel’s opportunities to control their own fate. But instead of urgency, what we hear loudest from the American Jewish community is denial. American Jews can stonewall and contend that the Israelis cannot possibly deal with terrorists (although let’s recall that the PLO was the foremost terrorist group in the world at one time) and that there is no one to make a deal with, and that the world is delegitimizing Israel, and that that old UN is once again being anti-Israel and anti-Semitic. We can do that. But that doesn’t stop the clock towards UN declaration of a Palestinian state from ticking. Why do we want to put the fate of Israel and Palestine in the hands of the UN? If we don’t act now to do everything we can to get the Israelis and the Palestinians to the table, we may well leave setting the terms of the agreement to others.
Instead of continually reciting all of the obstacles to peace, we American Jews should do all we can to urge Israel to engage with the Palestinians. And soon. Instead of a wholesale rejection of Hamas, why not be creative? Find some clever way of giving Hamas an out that will allow them to save face with their own people, while providing some assurance to the Israelis that they are moderating. For example, while some in Hamas have maintained their hateful rhetoric, Hamas leader Khalid Mashaal has already indicated his openness to accepting an agreement under certain circumstances. Why shouldn’t Israel use these statements to open the door – even if it’s just a crack?
This is just an example, but if you examine the information being distributed and promoted by the Major American Jewish Organizations, most of it consists of reasons why peace cannot be accomplished. It lists all of the obstacles to peace. Underlying all of this is an unstated (or sometimes stated) assumption that Israel has too much to risk by making peace. But there are two problems with that. First, it fails to recognize that
it is no longer 1948. The relative powers in the region are very different than they were back then. As Hillary Clinton said last year at the AIPAC Policy Conference, the real dangers to Israel lie in demography, ideology, and technology – not from conventional military attack. And secondly, it fails to recognize the very real risks of doing nothing. More former Israeli political and military leaders than you can count have emphasized that the status quo is simply unsustainable.
So, my hope is that my fellow AIPAC members and the rest of the mainstream American Jewish community will go beyond the same old platitudes that give all the reasons that peace is not possible and instead, urge the Israeli government and our elected leaders to make definitive, substantive steps towards peace. It is time to be bold and brave. We Jews are strong enough, we are tough enough, and we are smart enough to cut a deal with the Palestinians that, if well thought out, implemented and monitored, can bring better lives to everyone in the region.
The time is now.
- Netanyahu to Outline Peace Plan to Congress (abcnews.go.com)
Kahled Mashaal, leader of Hamas, yesterday in NYT: “Unfortunately, nonviolence doesn’t work against the Israelis.”
That is why Making Peace is such hard work.
And, Maintaining Peace is even harder.
But if Peace is your Endgame (see Precept 1), then you have no choice.
- Mashaal: Progress on Shalit (israelnationalnews.com)
- Palestinians optimistic on Hamas-Fatah unity deal – Christian Science Monitor (news.google.com)