Changing the Hamas Equation
JNS.org – The mortar fire from Gaza into Israel on Tuesday night very aptly illustrates why Israel needs a strategic change, which applying sovereignty in Judea and Samaria could provide. The “protection” approach, or — in other words — paying Hamas not to shoot at Israel, has been bankrupt for a long time, and now an opportunity has emerged to change the rules of the game.
On Tuesday night, a projectile was fired at the Gaza-area communities, which luckily landed in an open field. It didn’t disrupt the lives of Israelis anywhere else in the country, nor did it bother the café-goers worried about the coronavirus. The defense establishment believes this mortar was fired due to the issue of Qatari payments to Hamas. The situation, if so, is clear: If you don’t pay, you get fired upon. This equation is the result of weak policies that have been pursued over the past 30 years in search of “peace and quiet,” not to mention peace agreements that look good on paper but do little to actually bolster Israel’s security.
A historic situation has now been created whereby the United States supports us more than ever, some Arab states have understood that Israel is not the problem in the Middle East and the diplomatic “tsunami” that former Prime Minister Ehud Barak warned about has instead become a steady stream of world leaders who have strengthened ties with and support Israel. This momentum finally allows us, and after many long years, to change the equation. We can now stop seeking protection agreements that don’t do anything for us but erode our image. We cannot miss this chance.
The sovereignty initiative, which is supposed to be implemented in parts of Judea and Samaria and the Jordan Valley, is the practical embodiment of this change. Adopting this approach represents a dramatic strategic shift with regard to the Palestinians. This shift effectively says: From now on, we determine the rules of the game, and the ones who will pay the price of intransigence won’t be Israeli citizens. The currency isn’t cash, it’s land. The price of rejecting outright any type of accord is Israeli sovereignty.
Don’t be mistaken — the Palestinians have neither the desire nor the ability to reach a peace agreement with us. They are as divided as ever, and their own “sovereign” power, the Palestinian Authority, is completely incapable of disarming Hamas and enforcing security wherever the Israel Defense Forces doesn’t have a presence. This state of affairs was proven in Gaza long ago. For those who have forgotten: We expelled 10,000 people from their homes in exchange for peace and quiet and we transferred sovereignty over Gaza to the Palestinians. The result has been self-evident and is a strategic threat that pins the IDF down 24/7 in a secondary arena.
The people warning of the consequences of applying sovereignty argue it will pin the army down in Judea and Samaria and in the Jordan Valley. They forget to mention that the opposite approach taken Gaza has actually pinned the army down. Recently, these same people have started presenting the economic ramifications of sovereignty and the billions it will cost us. Tell me — how much did the disengagement from Gaza cost us? How much is it continuing to cost us?
And if we’re talking money, let’s talk about the cost of the alternative — a familiar concept to any beginning student of economics. When making a decision one must adopt the optimal option, the one that provides maximal return with minimal cost and effort. The approach of withdrawal and “separation” has proven to incur the maximal cost and maximal damage. There is no worse alternative. This isn’t a case of hindsight being 20/20 either. It’s a fact. The disengagement, and the strategy guiding it, has turned us into clients of Hamas in the form of the protection we pay for.
On Tuesday night, a group of defense veterans met with the prime minister. Their message was clear: You have our full support over the sovereignty initiative. This strategic outlook isn’t only held by the “Commanders for Israel’s Security.” Many current officers hold the same views. Sovereignty is important for the purpose of national defense, and it’s important in the context of our historical bond to the land where our people and culture were born, but more than anything, the context here is most important. The time has come to change the equation and the rules of the game. We have a golden opportunity to do this, and it’s entirely uncertain we’ll get another chance.
Col. (res.) Ronen Itsik is a former commander in the IDF Armored Corps and author of “A Man in a Tank.” A version of this article first appeared in Israel Hayom.