What to do About Gaza

June 20, 2018

 

The scenario in the Gaza Strip has been on people’s minds lately, particularly with the so-called Great March of Return and US President Donald Trump’s move of the US embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Over a hundred Palestinians, most of them members of Hamas, died in riots on the Gaza border. The United Nations has stated that by 2020, Gaza will be "uninhabitable." Because Hamas chooses to splurge international aid money on buying Iranian weaponry or enriching its own leaders, water in Gaza is non-potable, sewage flows into the beaches, electricity is only available for 4 hours per day, and the economy has sharply declined into a steep depression. Despite Israel offering aid for Gaza to prevent violence, Hamas refuses it,  choosing instead to damage their own access to power in riots against Israel. 

 

The government in Jerusalem and its allies elsewhere continue to create plans to alleviate Gaza’s suffering. Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman made clear that Israel would provide humanitarian assistance if Hamas returns captive Israelis and the bodies of two Israeli troops killed in the summer 2014 war. So far, Hamas has refused.  The Trump Administration is going to request that Gulf states donate around $1 billion to economic projects in northern Sinai that will alleviate Gaza’s suffering. Yet Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian Authority president whose attempts at uniting Palestinians have failed, has rejected the plan as an attempt to siphon Gaza away from his vision of an independent Palestine. Instead, he has sanctioned Gaza even more and brutally cracked down on protestors in the West Bank. Israel has also considered building a port island off of Gaza to allow in goods, yet so far that doesn't seem to be moving forward.  It is time for the international community to accept a few premises. One is that the Palestinian Authority, along with the nearby Arab countries, have little interest in alleviating Gaza’s pain. The Arab states see Hamas and its partners in Gaza as an arm of Iran, their mortal enemy. The PA believes that aiding Gaza would give a political boost to Hamas, its political arch-rival. As tragic and brutal as their approach is towards Gaza, both the PA and their Arab neighbors believe that starving Gaza of crucial supplies will eventually prompt its populace to throw Hamas out of power. This is no different than Israel’s own siege tactics, which is why the offshore island approach has been shelved for now, in addition to security reasons. Another premise the international community must accept is that Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ), both proxies of the Islamic Republic of Iran, will never agree to anything more than a temporary ceasefire. Their “struggle” against the Jewish state will never end, nor will they turn over security control to the PA. Hamas’ so-called “reforms”—that it would accept a provisional state on the 1967 borders and a hudna with the Jewish state—are only to give it more international legitimacy, a slight economic and humanitarian improvement, and more support among its people, who are wavering in their steadfastness behind this “resistance.” Even the 1967 borders, however, are out of the question for Israel’s security needs and aspirations for a united Jerusalem as its capital, nor do they reflect the reality on the ground of the settlement blocs. Furthermore, Hamas is waiting for Gaza to become wealthier, more stable, and more industrialized so that it can afford to buy more sophisticated weaponry and launch its “liberation campaign” for all of what it deems as historic Palestine. In short, its campaign of terror against the Jewish state won’t end until the Jews are driven into the sea, flee Israel, or capitulate to a binational state where Arabs can one day rule over the Jews and persecute them, as has happened in prior centuries. And obviously, Israel will never accept any of these scenarios. 

Given that the relationship between Israel and the Palestinian Authority has already deteriorated recently (not that it was any good beforehand), it would not be wise for Jerusalem to bypass Ramallah (or Cairo) on the Gaza siege. Capitulating to Hamas for “humanitarian aid” will only give them legitimacy and a political victory. Israel can, and should, do something to help alleviate the crisis. One is to fix the sewage system in Gaza. Already, some Israeli beaches have had to shut down due to spillover of waste from Gaza’s coastline. Diseases recognize no borders, and if Gaza is allowed to turn into Yemen, a cholera outbreak could eventually take hold and slip into Israel. The economy could also take a hit if Israeli beaches on the Mediterranean are spoiled by Gaza’s crappy situation—pun intended. Given that Israel’s economy relies in large part on beach tourism from Tel Aviv in particular, the economy could take a hit if those beaches were closed for a while due to pollution, and it could give BDS some semblance of a victory. However, if Israel decides to prevent this by fixing Gaza’s plumbing system, it will protect its interests as well, while being seen by the international community (and perhaps Palestinians) as doing more than Hamas to alleviate the humanitarian crisis. 

 

At the same time, Israel should crack down more on Hamas. History teaches us that the only way to defeat such a radical and uncompromising enemy is through the pursuit of total defeat—to be equally uncompromising. During Hulegu Khan’s conquest of Iraq, he faced a ruler who was unwilling to lay down his weapons and pursue peace, despite the fact that victory was unattainable. In the end, Hulegu was left with no choice but to be merciless. In Japan during World War Two, despite numerous appeals for the Japanese to surrender when it was clear they couldn’t win the war, they refused and instead chose the path of more bloodshed. Often—much as Hamas does—they told lies about the Allied soldiers to either frighten civilians into committing suicide or taking up arms and dying in the process. In the end, the United States was forced into putting down Japanese fascism with nuclear weapons. In the current political world, many like to compare the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict to Northern Ireland’s era of The Troubles, and view some kind of dialogue or political outcome to solve it as being modeled after the Good Friday Agreement. However, Israel & the Palestinian Territories are not in Europe or the West—they are in a more turbulent region, parts of a Middle Eastern society that Westerners do not understand and often don’t even try to. A better comparison to the conflict and its outcome should be the Sri Lankan Civil War. In Sri Lanka, the Tamil Tiger militant group attempted a campaign of separatism through violence against the Sinhalese-dominated Sri Lankan government. There were a serious of wars, terrorist attacks, and peace talks, yet all ended in failure. Sri Lanka became war-weary and indeed tried to negotiate, yet all attempts ended in failure and an outbreak of violence. Ultimately, the Sri Lankan government realized the only way to end the war was through using force to crush the Tamil Tigers once and for all, taking their territory and forcing them into surrender. Similarly, Israel has tried small-scale, secretive talks with Hamas, to no avail. Prior to that, in pursuit of peace, it withdrew from Gaza in 2005, leaving behind valuable infrastructure such as greenhouses. Hamas overthrew the PA, dismantled the greenhouses left behind in goodwill, ransacked abandoned synagogues, and began its terror campaign of rockets into Israel. Despite losing three destructive wars against the Jewish state, along with Israel developing sophisticated defense systems against terror tunnels and rockets, Hamas continues to shun peace in favor of “armed struggle.” It also refuses to surrender to the PA, despite its policies repressing the citizens it rules over and bringing nothing but bloodshed and financial ruin to Gaza. The only way for a better path forward in Gaza as well as Israel is the total annihilation of Hamas. 

 

Already, Avigdor Liberman has stated that the next war will be Hamas' last. This should not be meaningless posturing aimed at intimidating terrorist leaders—it must be carried out. It would be immoral and irresponsible for Jerusalem, Ramallah, and even Gaza to shift the conflict to future generations of Israelis and Palestinians. Israel must make its goals clear: that it will topple the Hamas regime in Gaza for the sake of peace, to stabilize the rule of the PA in the West Bank, and to liberate the people of Gaza from Islamism. Moreover, it will deal a huge black eye to the regime in Tehran and display Israel’s military prowess to Arab countries that are considering joining with Israel for an anti-Iran alliance. Any humanitarian goals in Gaza beforehand must consist of things that will improve the lives of ordinary Gazans and also play into Israel’s own self-interest. Firstly, it should fix the sewage system. Secondly, Jerusalem needs to develop a plan to allow for the emigration of Gazan civilians who wish to leave---and there are many who do. Israeli and American intelligence services can screen Gazans wishing to move to be sure that they aren’t a security threat, and help facilitate their transfer to another, safer, wealthier country (and perhaps in a few cases, to the West Bank). This would be a humane move and openly display the failure of Hamas: its rule is so bad that its own people wish to emigrate. It would also serve Israel’s interests by eliminating a potential demographic threat, while removing the possibility of more civilians either being drafted into terror groups or being killed as collateral damage in the event of war. While some abroad may be suspicious of Israeli motives, it also would improve Israel’s image abroad more generally. Strategically speaking, removing Gazan civilians would also make it easier for Israel to effectively fight and destroy Hamas, PIJ, and other jihadists in the coastal enclave, as well as demolishing damaged buildings and terror infrastructure. Following an Israeli victory, international humanitarian aid can flow in to rebuild and rehabilitate Gaza, finally turning it into the “Singapore of the Middle East.” Remaining Gazan civilians can have a chance to live in peace and prosper, whether that is under the rule of the Palestinian Authority or some other government, should Gaza be formally severed—as Abbas suspects it will be—from the West Bank. It would lead to Israeli border communities being safer from arson, rockets, and terrorist infiltration, while allowing them to flourish economically. And it would secure Israel’s borders and status as a Jewish democratic state, while proving to the Arab World that it is a valuable ally in the fight against Iran and its network of proxies. Deep down, many around the world, including in Israel and the Palestinian Territories, know that this is ultimately how the fight will end—with Hamas’ defeat at the hands of Israel. Prolonging the humanitarian crisis by pushing it back serves nobody; neither does delaying the improvement of the sewage system or allowing Gazans to emigrate. Fresh ideas and new leadership are needed to bring about a golden age of peace, reconciliation, and wealth in Gaza and Israel. Leaving behind the Northern Ireland model of peace—unrealistic in this case—and adopting the Sri Lankan model is the only way to accomplish this. 

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