By Barry Rubin
Israel has won a huge military victory in a defensive war against the radical Islamist group, Hamas, which rules the Gaza Strip.
So what does Israel want? Its first choice would be a moderate movement running the Gaza Strip that would negotiate a deal for a Palestinian state living in peace alongside Israel, resettling refugees there, and being a prosperous, stable state. All Israel desires is that such a country wouldn’t attack it with rockets, war, terrorism, or inciting such terrible hatred as to ensure future wars.
Hamas, however, is too extreme to make peace; its rival, the Palestinian Authority (PA), which rules the West Bank, is too weak and indecisive to do so.
Having Hamas as a neighbour is like living next door to a serial killer who abuses his children and threatens to kill them if you go in after him. You can defend yourself but if the police won’t arrest him the only choices left are to build a wall around him, stop him from getting weapons, and send in food.
This is Israel’s dilemma. The world demands peace but isn’t prepared to do too much to help. The West’s basic stand is to keep Hamas ruling Gaza, comparable to ensuring continued Taliban rule in Afghanistan after the September 11 attacks. Thanks to such international “support”, Gaza’s people will be able to “enjoy” a dictatorial regime dedicated to spending the next century fighting – and losing – wars.
Remember, the Hamas regime was not elected as such. Yes, it won an election, but it then seized total power by a bloody coup against the PA. Now, it imposes a radical Islamist regime on its unfortunate subjects. Hamas has no policy for creating jobs or raising living standards. Its educational system doesn’t teach useful skills or civic virtues but indoctrinates children with the ambition to become suicide bombers.
So the world should consider. Is this the kind of regime you want to save and succour? Do you want to keep Hamas in power when even most Arab states would like to see it fall? Why talk about a peace process while following a policy ensuring no peace process can succeed.
Understand that Hamas believes the deity insists on its victory. It doesn’t matter how long it takes or how many die. Its educational policy isn’t aimed at training productive citizens but rather future suicide bombers.
Well, it looks like the West is going to make that mistake, the PA itself isn’t going to help provide an alternative government, and Israel can’t solve this problem by itself.
So the next best thing is a ceasefire that works for a while. What is the basis for such a plan, which recognises the fact that Israel won the war and that Hamas wants to restart it again?
First, Hamas must perceive itself beaten no matter what it says publicly. This doesn’t mean it will give up but does mean it will be slower to launch attacks in future.
Second, Palestinians must perceive that Hamas was beaten so that they follow a more productive path of moderation and diplomacy.
Third, the Arabic-speaking world – or as much of it as possible – must perceive Hamas is beaten so that Arab states are encouraged in their battle against radical Islamism, Iran, and Syria, while the flow of recruits to extremist movements declines.
Fourth, Hamas must perceive itself as isolated. If it knows that cross-border terror attacks, firing rockets at Israeli civilians, and cynically using its own people as human shields brings international sympathy and political profits these tactics will be used again by them, and be imitated by others elsewhere.
All of these are realisable goals. The West can help by giving Hamas no recognition, no support, and no help. A terrorist, genocidal movement which oppresses its own people and uses them as human shields should not be rewarded. That should be obvious.
What about the actual terms? Among the key provisions are these:
A seriously effective regime of inspection and blocking smuggling must be put into place on the Egypt-Gaza border. This means Egyptian forces helped by a force which will really act to block tunnels and stop arms from coming in, not just sit and watch the contraband go by. If more weapons get in, that will bring another war.
Israel has the right to maintain sanctions, which means that while humanitarian and necessary goods for Gaza’s society will be allowed to cross the border, Israel can keep out items that have military applications.
Aid money to rebuild in Gaza and sustain Palestinian society must be kept out of Hamas’ hands. Not only would Hamas use such funds for military purposes, it would also steal them from being used for real relief. For example, Hamas cries there is not enough fuel, but that is because it diverts gasoline from civilian purposes for its own use.
Gilad Shalit, a hostage seized by Hamas in a cross-border raid into Israel in 2006, should be released unconditionally. It is bad enough to reward terrorists for their crimes; it is ridiculous to do so after they have been thoroughly defeated after launching an aggressive war.
Finally, we should remember the aims of the two sides. Israel’s goal is very modest: security for its citizens, no cross-border attacks. Hamas’ goal is the destruction of Israel, wiping out its citizens, revolution throughout the Middle East, treating women as chattel, and the creation of what it considers to be Allah’s government on earth.
Knowing that, you can decide which side to support.
Dr. Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Centre at the Interdisciplinary Centre, Herzliya, and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal. His latest books are The Israel-Arab Reader (seventh edition), with Walter Laqueur (Viking-Penguin); the paperback edition of The Truth About Syria (Palgrave-Macmillan); and A Chronological History of Terrorism, with Judy Colp Rubin (Sharpe). To read and subscribe to MERIA and other GLORIA publications or to order books, visit http://www.gloriacenter.org.