Real issue is no peace partner

Real issue is no peace partner

Jamie Hyams


ISRAEL has again been forced to defend its civilians against unprovoked and indiscriminate massive rocket and other terror attacks from Hamas, a partner in the new Palestinian unity government, and kindred groups in Gaza.

Hundreds of rockets have been fired from the Gaza Strip, not only into southern Israel, but at Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and even further north. The rocket fire started on June 12, the day Israeli teenagers Eyal Yifrach, Gilad Shaar and Naftali Frenkel were kidnapped and murdered.

Israel responded at first with low-intensity raids, stating several times that if the rockets stopped, so would the retaliation.

Hamas instead significantly escalated the rockets, and attempted to infiltrate Israel by tunnel and by sea, forcing Israel to degrade Hamas’s ability to continue these attacks.

Israel is targeting only the Gaza terrorist infrastructure, including rocket-launching and storage sites, training camps, the houses of terrorists used as command centres, tunnels and terrorists responsible for the attacks.

Approximately two-thirds of those killed have been combatants but, despite Israel’s unique policy of warning the residents of any house about to be bombed, Gaza civilians have, tragically, been killed, a direct result of the terrorists’ longstanding tactic of using civilians as human shields. This is a war crime known as perfidy.

Hamas has now exacerbated its double war crime of targeting Israeli civilians while deliberately and callously endangering Gaza civilians by ordering those warned by Israel to evacuate to stay where they are. Hamas hopes this will either deter the attacks, or result in casualties that can be used as propaganda against Israel.

Israel has now been widely condemned for casualties resulting from attacks on a mosque and the Gaza police chief’s house, but these buildings were used for storing weapons.

There have also been calls for a ceasefire, but Israel can’t be expected to halt its attacks while Hamas and the other terrorist groups, which initiated all this, continue to terrorise and immobilise Israeli civilians.

Furthermore, it is untenable for Israel to allow the terrorists to maintain the capacity to subject so much of Israel to their rockets any time they choose. No other country would put up with these constant attacks, and there is no reason why Israel should.

Despite all this, some hold Israel solely responsible for all of the problems. “Cool heads must prevail on both sides to ensure justice and peace” (The Australian, July 7), by Bassam Dally and Peter Slezak of the Australia Palestine Advocacy Network, is a prime example. Their claim to despair at spin and political point is ironic, given their piece consists of little else.

For example, they incorrectly describe the murdered Israeli youths as “settlers” but, even if they had been, their murders would have been no less abhorrent than the revenge murder of 16-year-old Palestinian Mohamed Abu Kdher.

Yet while this repugnant murder was strongly condemned by all sections of Israeli society, including the far Right, the murder of the Israeli youths, while condemned by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, was widely celebrated by Palestinians. Many violently obstructed the Israeli forces in their search for the boys, causing deaths and leading to many of the arrests. Frequently, the soldiers were forced to defend their lives.

There won’t be streets, squares or soccer tournaments named after the Israeli terrorists, and their families won’t receive generous pensions for life, which is how the Palestinian Authority rewards Palestinian terrorists who kill Israelis.

While the comments by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu about the murderers of the Israelis were strong, he was referring to the killers, not to all Palestinians. By contrast, the Facebook page of Abbas’s Fatah party said on July 7: “Sons of Zion, this is an oath to the Lord of the Heavens: Prepare all the bags you can for your body parts”. Fatah groups in Gaza have announced that they too have been firing rockets at Israel.

Dally and Slezak attempt to whitewash Hamas involvement in the murders, claiming they were “an opportunistic act by a fringe group”. Yet three members of a Hamas cell disappeared straight after the kidnapping, and the Hamas leadership had been strongly advocating kidnapping Israelis for months.

Dally and Slezak claim that Hamas’s participation in the new government demonstrates that it has accepted non-violent resistance. The ongoing violence from Gaza underlines the absurdity of this claim. Their other claims require context.

Tragically, large numbers of Palestinian youths have been killed in the conflict since 2000, but many were participating in combat, spurred by the constant incitement to attack Israel, while others were caught in crossfire or used as human shields. Palestinian children of 12 and older have been arrested but only because they have committed potentially deadly crimes. The numbers are relatively small: about 700 a year out of a population of 2.5 million, compared, for example, with 10,937 juveniles arrested in Victoria in 2012-13 alone.

Dally and Slezak condemn Israel’s “expansionist” settlements but settlements have not expanded beyond their existing boundaries since 2003, and most new homes are within the large blocs that Israel is expected to retain in any two-state deal. They are not preventing peace.

The real problem is the lack of a peace partner. The Palestinian government is made up of Fatah, which has walked away from generous Israeli offers of a state in 2000, 2001 and 2008, has now walked away from negotiations, and insists on flooding Israel with millions of descendants of Palestinian refugees; and Hamas, which is committed to Israel’s destruction.

There will only be peace when both sides are prepared to negotiate in good faith and make painful concessions, and true friends of the Palestinians should be trying to convince them of this essential truth, rather than serving as apologists for their misdeeds.

Jamie Hyams is a senior policy analyst at the Australia/Israel and Jewish Affairs Council