The Long View

As the Hamas conflict nears the end of its third week, there are signs that a ceasefire (at least a temporary one) may be imminent.  Sooner or later, of course, a ceasefire will come, even if this one doesn’t hold.  What then?

No current conflict seems more intractable than the Israeli-Palestinian logjam.  The two sides see eye-to-eye on virtually nothing – they disagree on the interim steps, yes, but they can’t even define a common goal.  The struggle is complicated by extremists on both sides, and by the dual Palestinian leadership, split between the moderate (relatively) but weak Fatah and the militant and politically popular Hamas.

I see no possibility of peace as long as Hamas is playing a central role.  I could never articulate the reasons why as well as Jeffrey Goldberg does in the NY Times:

Periodically, advocates of negotiation suggest that the hostility toward Jews expressed by Hamas is somehow mutable. But in years of listening, I haven’t heard much to suggest that its anti-Semitism is insincere. Like Hezbollah, Hamas believes that God is opposed to a Jewish state in Palestine. Both groups are rhetorically pitiless, though, again, Hamas sometimes appears to follow the lead of Hezbollah.

I once asked Abdel Aziz Rantisi [a member of the Hamas ruling elite] where he learned what he called “the truth” of the Holocaust — that it didn’t happen — and he referred me to books published by Hezbollah. Hamas and Hezbollah also share the view that the solution for Palestine lies in Europe. A spokesman for Hezbollah, Hassan Izzedine, once told me that the Jews who survive the Muslim “liberation” of Palestine “can go back to Germany, or wherever they came from.” He went on to argue that the Jews are a “curse to anyone who lives near them.”

Nizar Rayyan expressed much the same sentiment the night we spoke in 2006. We had been discussing a passage of the Koran that suggests that God turns a group of impious Jews into apes and pigs. The Hezbollah leader, Hassan Nasrallah, among others, has deployed this passage in his speeches. Once, at a rally in Beirut, he said: “We shout in the face of the killers of prophets and the descendants of the apes and pigs: We hope we will not see you next year. The shout remains, ‘Death to Israel!’”

Mr. Rayyan said that, technically, Mr. Nasrallah was mistaken. “Allah changed disobedient Jews into apes and pigs, it is true, but he specifically said these apes and pigs did not have the ability to reproduce,” Mr. Rayyan said. “So it is not literally true that Jews today are descended from pigs and apes, but it is true that some of the ancestors of Jews were transformed into pigs and apes, and it is true that Allah continually makes the Jews pay for their crimes in many different ways. They are a cursed people.”

I asked him the question I always ask of Hamas leaders: Could you agree to anything more than a tactical cease-fire with Israel? I felt slightly ridiculous asking: A man who believes that God every now and again transforms Jews into pigs and apes might not be the most obvious candidate for peace talks at Camp David. Mr. Rayyan answered the question as I thought he would, saying that a long-term cease-fire would be unnecessary, because it will not take long for the forces of Islam to eradicate Israel.

There is a fixed idea among some Israeli leaders that Hamas can be bombed into moderation. This is a false and dangerous notion. It is true that Hamas can be deterred militarily for a time, but tanks cannot defeat deeply felt belief.

The reverse is also true: Hamas cannot be cajoled into moderation. Neither position credits Hamas with sincerity, or seriousness.

I had a lengthy conversation with a Palestinian friend today.  He is no anti-Semite.  He is a very reasonable, intelligent man.  He told me that Palestinians are not opposed to Israel because of Jews, but because of Zionism.  For him, that is no doubt true.  However, reading the excerpt quoted above by Goldberg, I cannot credit the Hamas leadership with this sentiment – clearly, they hate Zionists AND they hate Jews.  These are not the words of a man who seeks only the lifting of the economic blockade of Gaza…these are the words of an anti-Semitic extremist who wants to send the dirty Jews back to Europe where they came from.

Is there no hope then?  Goldberg again:

The only small chance for peace today is the same chance that existed before the Gaza invasion: The moderate Arab states, Europe, the United States and, mainly, Israel, must help Hamas’s enemy, Fatah, prepare the West Bank for real freedom, and then hope that the people of Gaza, vast numbers of whom are unsympathetic to Hamas, see the West Bank as an alternative to the squalid vision of Hassan Nasrallah and Nizar Rayyan.

Well, if that’s the hope, then there truly is no hope.  Fatah doesn’t even have a legitimate ruler now (Abbas’s term has expired).  Hamas is more popular than ever, as Israeli opponents rally around it in much the same way they rallied around Hezbollah in the Lebanon operation of 2006.

No hope at all then?  Well, there is always some hope – but not under the present dynamics.  The best that can be hoped for now is to end the bloodshed (with a real ceasefire that applies to both sides – no rockets fired by Hamas, that’s not a ceasefire at all) and put in international monitors.  If the Palestinians continue to choose to be led by Hamas (and they will for the foreseeable future, I’m afraid), then no real progress can be made towards the two-state solution that is the only way out of this swamp.  An uneasy stop to hostilities will have to do for now…it will be years before peace talks with a plausible chance of peace are even conceivable.

Peace is only achievable when one side wins a decisive victory or when both sides want it…in the present case, neither condition applies…

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