Many features of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict are durable. Others, like the recent senseless killings of four teenagers — one Palestinian and three Israelis — are newly opened wounds. Global opinion on blame and solutions is divided; the only consensus is that the conflict is complex.
But this should be clear — simple, even: No nation would or should tolerate a constant cross-border barrage of rockets fired at its citizens. The Israeli government has a right, and a responsibility, to defend its citizens, and is justified in fighting back against Hamas, the radical Palestinian faction that Israel, the United States, the European Union and others consider a terrorist group.
If Hamas, which governs Gaza, actually cared about the Palestinians it claims to represent, it would stop endangering them by persisting in the rocket fire. But Hamas apparently hopes to create martyrs and global sympathy by using Gazan citizens as human shields to protect the rockets and by urging them to ignore Israeli warnings of imminent airstrikes. This cynical manipulation sentences teeming Gaza to a cycle of violence that will never allow it to develop the governing and economic infrastructure necessary to bring progress to one of the world’s youngest, and poorest, populations.
The indiscriminate rocket attacks serve no strategic military purpose, particularly because these are not missiles with guidance systems. Some have been intercepted by Israel’s increasingly effective “Iron Dome” missile defense system. The rocket offensive seems to serve an uncertain political purpose, too, unless it’s to divert eyes from Hamas’ incompetent governance.
The other Palestinian political faction, the more moderate Fatah, led by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, was wrong to reconcile with Hamas in April. Now Fatah finds itself saddled with an unstable, unsympathetic partner that threatens to weaken the Palestinian movement, while Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is strengthened. For that matter, Fatah’s unproductive strategy of internationally isolating Israel by pushing for more global recognition in the United Nations, and by encouraging the burgeoning boycott, divestiture and sanctions movement, is jeopardized, too.
Abbas could better serve Palestinians by focusing on the crisis at home by using its re-established partnership to persuade Hamas to agree to a cease-fire. Already an opportunity has passed, as Hamas rejected an Egyptian proposal that Israel had accepted. After rockets continued to be fired, Israel resumed its military campaign, too. Already nearly 200 Gazans have been killed, and scores more injured. Tragically, this toll is likely to rise because of Hamas’ irrational policies.
While self-defense is justifiable, Netanyahu should resist hard-liners’ calls for a broader war. The high toll of a ground invasion could play into the hands of Hamas, which may be seeking to engender Pan-Arabic, and even worldwide, support for its cause. While any outcry in the Arab world, riven with divisions driven by a broader sectarian split, is likely to be mere rhetoric, the negotiating deadline for Iran’s potential nuclear weapons program approaches on Sunday. Israel needs to keep in mind that a global coalition is necessary to cut a deal or to ratchet up sanctions on an already hobbled Iranian economy.
Netanyahu also needs to be concerned about sparking another intefadeh, which could be a bigger threat than the rockets themselves.
This page’s backing for Israel’s moral authority to defend its citizens should not be interpreted as a general endorsement of its policies toward Palestinians. Israeli intransigence on multiple issues has hobbled peace efforts. Eventually, Netanyahu’s government must move toward compromise to achieve the political and moral necessity of a two-state solution.
The Obama administration invested considerable diplomatic capital to achieve this goal, only to fail, as previous administrations of both parties have in the past. But Secretary of State John Kerry’s zealous bid to prod the peace process did not cause the current conflict, as some partisans have wrongly implied. In fact, it’s wrong to blame America for the crisis or the failed peace talks. And it’s wrong to blame President Obama for his offer to broker a cease-fire. The reality is that Obama is mostly sidelined here, as he has been in so many global crises.
Global and U.S. support, however, will be necessary elements of any bid to de-escalate the armed conflict. But the next step is up to Hamas; Israel clearly signaled its willingness to enter into a cease-fire agreement. The rocket attacks from Gaza must stop.