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May 26, 2021 12:29 pm

Israel and Gaza: Where Do We Go From Here?

avatar by Daniel S. Mariaschin


Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and US Secretary of State Antony Blinken hold a joint news conference in Jerusalem, May 25, 2021. Menahem Kahana/Pool via REUTERS

With Secretary of State Antony Blinken visiting the Middle East this week, it’s time to do some real-time stock-taking before plunging into initiatives or prescriptives that could lead quickly to yet another round of fighting.

Unfortunately, the series of battles between Israel and Hamas invite the worst kind of conventional wisdom, which has been disproved time and again over the past 20 years: the moral equivalency, the rote professions of “Israel has a right to defend itself,” followed a week later from the same quarters by statements that the Jewish state must demonstrate restraint and that its response to Hamas must not be “disproportionate.” This is followed by the media’s near total ignoring of the lengths to which the Israelis go to protect civilians during warfare, and then facile calls for a two-state solution as the remedy for all this.

This horrible cycle of events suggests that few lessons have been learned over time.

Now, let’s take a look at some of these steps in greater detail.

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Moral equivalency: it beggars the imagination that after all we know about Hamas — its charter (which calls for the destruction of Israel and is filled with antisemitic language), that it cynically uses human shields to protect its missile launchers and leadership hierarchy, and the fact that the organization is on the terrorism lists of many countries — why it is not held to account in the court of international public opinion?

The United Nations Security Council statement calling for an immediate ceasefire could not even bring itself to mention the word “Hamas” in its text.

When some members of Congress, in their Twitter hemorrhaging, can’t find a few characters to unequivocally condemn the indiscriminate targeting of Israeli civilians by 4,000 Hamas rockets, what should we expect from those in the media who react similarly in their coverage — or from the pro-Palestinian mobs that have begun attacking Jews in New York, Los Angeles, and in cites large and small around the world?

Rote professions: With the exception of countries like Austria, the Czech Republic, and Slovenia, which flew Israeli flags from government buildings in solidarity with the Jewish State, and Germany, which issued a strong statement in support of Israel, most democracies uttered only feeble confirmations of “Israel’s right to defend itself.”

Of course Israel has a right to defend itself; but this has become an obligatory and hollow statement, especially when followed only days later by calls to stop the fighting, interrupting Israel’s attempt to fully degrade Hamas’ ability to strike again.

If Hamas is on so many state terrorism lists, why not demand that Israel finish the job?

And this leads in to another glossed over aspect of the fighting: the extraordinary attention Israel pays to avoid civilian casualties.

The media plays, ad infinitum, video clips of imploding and bombed out buildings in Gaza. Notwithstanding Israel’s detailed explanation of how it deploys the “door knock” method of warning building inhabitants of imminent strikes, accompanied by drone surveillance to make sure civilians are not in the area; phone calls and text messages that are also sent as warnings; and Israel’s pinpoint identification of hundreds of military targets spread amongst Gaza’s civilian population, it seems that such care is dismissed — or, perhaps more to the point, gets in the way of the story the media wishes to tell, which is that Israel is callous (and often worse) when it comes to protecting civilians on the ground.

The rush to a two-state solution: in a perfect world, this would be the answer to resolving such an intractable conflict. But since the Oslo Accords were signed in 1993, we’ve learned a lot about Palestinian resistance — not reluctance — to concluding an agreement. The prospective partner in this case, the Palestinian Authority (PA), led by Mahmoud Abbas, has rejected numerous attempts brokered by the United States and others to resolve the conflict. Not at Camp David in 2000, nor after Israel’s withdrawal from Gaza in 2005, not at the 2008 Annapolis Conference, nor after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s conciliatory speech at Bar-Ilan University in 2009, nor during the Kerry Initiative of 2013-2014, did Abbas show serious interest in recognizing Israel as a Jewish state and getting down to the business of concluding an end of conflict and renunciation of claims.

Just weeks before the disturbances on Jerusalem’s Temple Mount, the White House announced that it would resume funding to the PA, as well as resuming its substantial contributions to UNRWA, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, which serves Palestinians in the region. The aid to UNRWA will resume, despite its innate corruption and its incitement of hate toward Israel and Jews in its network of schools and other organizations.

But despite the renewal of American aid, Abbas failed to send any signals to calm the situation. Instead, knowing his Fatah faction would be badly beaten in elections slated for March 22, he called off the vote, blaming Israel and, to boot, inciting and exhorting the mobs on the Temple Mount as a means of deflecting an outcry over his electoral decision.

A two-state solution, in the context of the current crisis, now seems more than unrealistic. Given the crisis of the past few weeks, we might one day be looking at Hamas rule not only to Israel’s south, but also to its east, in the West Bank. Why would any Israeli government, having lived through decades of terror and rocket attacks, look to make itself even more vulnerable?

And there’s one other abashedly glossed over and ignored piece of this puzzle: Hamas is in the thrall of Iran, which is seeking to completely surround Israel by well-armed proxies, all the time genocidally calling for “Zionism’s excision” from the Middle East.

All this, while the United States and its P5+1 partners (the US, United Kingdom, France, Russia, China, and Germany) eagerly pursue negotiations with Iran and a return to the JCPOA (Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action Agreement), which would remove sanctions imposed on Tehran for its nuclear program and its blatant attempts to advance it.

Many Hamas rockets and missiles are surely stamped “designed in or made in Iran.” Did the P5+1 condition future discussions with Iran on a cessation of its military relationship with Hamas and its other Gaza proxy, Islamic Jihad?

Hamas has thanked Iran for its help, and the Iranian leadership has congratulated Hamas on its “victory.” Need we better proof of what is going on here?

Simple formulations like “restoring calm,” reviving negotiations with rejectionist partners, and refusing to call out Iran’s role in the fighting will only bring about another round of battles, unless they are accompanied by tough and unequivocal demands. Hamas must be disarmed, the Iranian missile pipeline to Gaza must end, and the Palestinian Authority must get out of the business of speaking one way to Washington and European capitals, and another way to the people it says it represents.

This means recognizing Israel as a Jewish state, ending its call for a “right of return” for millions of refugees (now numbering over 5 million, according to a biased and hypocritical count by UNRWA), and an end to glorifying terrorists and riots, and paying salaries to terrorists who kill and attack Jews.

And one reminder to US policymakers this week — Israel is our ally and friend. Take a look at the correlation of voting at the United Nations; Israel votes more with the United States than our European allies. It shares our values, including the premium placed on human life. It is the only democracy in a Middle East filled with autocracies and worse. It has made tremendous contributions to improving the lives of all through medicine, science, technology, and more. And it is a country, ancient in time, but re-established in the last century on the ashes of a 12-year attempt to eliminate the Jewish people in its entirety.

It’s time to discard the “conventional wisdom” on Israel.

Daniel S. Mariaschin is the CEO of B’nai B’rith International.

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