While it’s commonly thought the interests of Israel and Hamas are worlds apart, the parties at war in Gaza share a singular attitude. Each is mad as hell and not going to take it anymore.
Israel’s argument in this Sisyphean conflict with Hamas is basically this: Hamas is a terrorist organization that has no right to attack civilian Israelis whether by suicide bombs, as they once did, or by firing rockets at them. The attacks must stop.
Hamas’s argument goes like this: Israel is an occupying power that may have withdrawn its settlers and army from inside the Gaza Strip, but still maintains a stranglehold on the territory, preventing Gazans from having a normal life while carrying out targeted killings of people inside. The siege and the killings must stop.
If a deal between these two warring sides is possible, it would look like this: Hamas would stop all attacks on Israelis, and Israel would end its siege and the killings. Israelis would be able to live quietly even in the area bordering Gaza, and Gazans would be able to come and go as they please, by border-crossings into Israel, as once existed, or by sea or air. No one in Gaza would need to fear the extra-legal hand of Israel reaching in for them.
The current conflict in Gaza, like the one that took place in 2012 and the one before that in 2008-09, is a crude attempt by the two parties to negotiate such an agreement, with each side wanting, in true Middle Eastern fashion, to get the better of the bargain.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has modestly set Israel’s goal in this conflict as the establishment of long-lasting “quiet” for his people.
To that end, Israel would like to use this war to destroy tunnels constructed by Hamas and other groups that allow militant resistance fighters to burrow under the Israeli border and wreak havoc, killing and kidnapping Israelis. Attacks on such tunnels now are being carried out. It also would like to reduce the number of rockets held by Hamas and other groups, which are the biggest threat to Israeli quiet.
To some extent this is achieved by letting Hamas fire lots of rockets at Israel, shooting down the ones that might kill a large number of people. Hamas is obliging them in this regard, although it doesn’t seem as if it’s going to run out of rockets any time soon. Israel also shells the sites of rocket launchers, but that doesn’t do the whole job.
The most effective way would be to go into the cities of Gaza, where many of the rocket launchers are hidden among the citizens, and spend months finding and eliminating the launchers and the arsenals. Even if you eliminated them, however, what’s to stop Hamas and others from building more and better ones?
One way would be for Israel to eliminate Hamas, as the United States removed Saddam Hussein in Iraq. Mr. Netanyahu is under enormous pressure from his own right wing to do exactly that; he himself argued for it at the time of the 2008-09 war.
But such an operation would cost the lives of many Israelis and Palestinians and, as in Iraq, would risk chaos and greater extremists taking Hamas’s place.
The other way is through an agreement by which Hamas abides.
Israel knows a political solution is the only viable one; that means Hamas must get some of what it wants in return. To a large degree, Israel’s ulterior motive in this war is to pressure Hamas to reduce its demands in the bargain at which both will eventually arrive.
Hamas presented a long list of demands going into this war, including the opening of border crossings, airport and seaport, the payment of salaries and the release of Palestinian prisoners. But are they going about getting these things in the right way?
Firing rockets at Israel only draws Israeli retaliation that leads to death and destruction in Gaza. Doesn’t that turn Gazans against them? Wouldn’t it be better to accept a ceasefire and negotiate?
Hamas certainly doesn’t think so, and it may be right. Stop the rocket fire and what leverage does it have in negotiations? Hamas’s refusal to accept a truce put forward by Egypt on Tuesday led to a truce more attractive to Hamas being proffered on Thursday.
Hamas’s refusal of those terms also contributed to the Israeli ground invasion now under way. So how do all the casualties that will result affect Gazans’ attitude to Hamas?
In 2006, Israel sought to retaliate against the Lebanese Shia militia Hezbollah after the group attacked and abducted Israeli soldiers on the border. Besides targeting Hezbollah fighters in south Lebanon, Israel also destroyed a number of bridges, roads and power stations, believing that the Lebanese would blame Hezbollah for the war and turn against them.
Instead, the Lebanese united in opposition to Israel. The same thing is happening in Gaza.
“When you create fear, you build hate. This is what Israel has done,” Rawia Shawa, an independent member of the Palestine Legislative Council, daughter of a former mayor and scion of an influential family, said in an interview this week.
“I hate Hamas,” she said, referring to its religious agenda. “But we are nationalists, and when you have a common national cause, you’ll make an alliance with the devil.”
“I don’t like Hamas either,” said her son-in-law Jason Shawa, owner of a printing company. “But they’re defending this place [Gaza] from the Israelis.”
Aren’t they doing so by hiding rockets among the citizens, using them as human shields?
“Where do you want them to put them?” he asked. “Out in the open where Israelis can destroy them? No, this is the way resistance fighters operate. We aren’t concerned by it.”
The negotiations to end this conflict may be long and drawn out.