Opinion

The Great Debate

Peace may be the true threat to Hamas, Israel’s leaders

By Amy Wilentz
August 18, 2014

Relatives of a Palestinian woman, who medics said was killed in an Israeli air strike, mourn during her funeral in Khan Younis

It’s time to wonder whether Israel and Palestine will ever be able to move out of the moral abyss into which they’ve plunged themselves, and address the threat of peace.

“Threat” is the right term. Because peace is dangerous for leaders in the Middle East.

It always has been. But back in the early 1990s, Palestine Liberation Organization Chairman Yasser Arafat and Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, who hated everything the other stood for, knew that each had his reasons for working for peace. Just possibly, they imagined, peace would be better than war for future generations. Certainly it would not be as wasteful.

A Palestinian woman wearing clothes stained with the blood of other relatives, who medics said were wounded in Israeli shelling, cries at a hospital in Gaza CityNot that those days were bliss — but at least peace was plausible.

The tragic truth is that positions have hardened now. Today’s rulers, singularly unimaginative and reactive, are not vessels aching to be filled with the potion of peace. Both Rabin and Arafat learned in brutal fashion that working toward peace is a perilous, risky business.

After this past decade, can the two sides ever be courageous enough to move beyond their twisted mutual history toward shaky and precarious chairs at the peace table?

This is not to suggest that there is equal blame to be assigned for the turmoil and bloodshed of the past 10 years. Hamas’ behavior may be wretched and irresponsible, but Israel has occupied Gaza even while walking away from it, and its indiscriminate bombing of civilian populations in a place it holds prisoner is inexcusable.

Yet eventually warring sides must progress from mutual murder to a lasting peace in which “lawns” don’t get “mown” (the cynical Israeli metaphor for their repeated shelling of Gaza), nor soldiers kidnapped, nor teens executed, nor neighborhoods razed, nor playing boys bombed.

A girl sits on the ruins of her family's home that witnesses say was destroyed by Israeli airstrikes in the Beit Hanoun neighbourhood of Gaza CityIt’s hard to get there because with peace in Israel, the population is likely to become more restive, more concerned with tough domestic problems that the government needs to face. Peace means individualism and hard-fought political battles. War means groupthink — which is to say reflexive support for the military and the prime minister who goes to war.

In Palestine (call it Gaza for the moment), peace would mean the challenge of figuring out how to run a nation, how to create an economy, how to lead a normal family life. Peace diverts the public mind from hatred of Israel and from groupthink. War, on the other hand, stops people from focusing on whether their leaders have served them well or poorly.

But most of all, peace is for moderates — and the leadership in both Israel and Gaza despise moderation. They despise compromise, they fear the handshake. They loathe everything that leads to peace, including negotiation. They can only be led to the cease-fire table by outsiders.

War is simpler for them, easier. Indeed, it sometimes seems that hating Israel is just a tool in internal Palestinian politics, and despising Hamas simply an expected element in Israeli elections, a key plank in the political platform.

Israel's Prime Minister Netanyahu holds a news conference at his office in JerusalemWar is a basic component of the Israeli creation myth. In the same fashion, intifadas are part of the Palestinian identity. Wage a war, stage an intifada and all the people on your side will follow.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, for example, is far more popular now than he was before this latest round of killing began.

And almost everyone in Gaza knows that Israel’s long blockade of the strip, plus its sporadic intensive bombings, have pushed Gazans further into the arms of Hamas. At least three generations of Palestinians have now been raised on the romance of resistance. Protective Edge, the name of this latest Israeli operation in Gaza, has thus enhanced the militants’ standing. If an election were held tomorrow, Hamas could win it by universal acclaim.

The point of view of each side is pretty well understood. Israel, as always, feels it’s in an existential war and points to Hamas’ new tunnels and longer-range missiles as good reasons for bad Israeli behavior. Hamas, understandably, points to the slow starvation and imprisonment of the Palestinian people in Gaza as a reason for continued, if impotent, shelling of Israel.

The mother of Palestinian boy, whom medics said was wounded by Israeli shelling, holds his hand as he lies on a bed at a hospital in Gaza CityThe whole Gaza affair is a pathological repetition of the dysfunctional relationship of these two populations, who both consider themselves victims even as they are firing off rockets that kill entire families, or are intended to kill entire families. Any psychoanalyst could tell you that these two have to change their behaviors.

But the leaders on both sides don’t see it that way. Like sick siblings, each side needs the other to establish its own identity. Israel is now close to meaningless without the Palestinian threat. As for the Palestinians — without Israeli oppression to resist, who are they at this point?

Still, the entity most undermined by the recent conflict is Israel. It’s like an angry older brother. It just continues to bash and bash, not realizing that little bro has become more agile, cleverer, more resourceful — and has new friends.

While the Israelis again use the macho-satisfying cliché of aerial overkill to deal with the enemy, the Palestinians now have better hardware and infrastructure for  resistance, and they’ve also become better at hiding their moves from Israeli intelligence.

Israeli soldiers stand on top of a tank near the Israeli border with the Gaza StripHamas can now hold out longer, pushing  the game into overtime. While Hamas continues the fight, more Palestinians die in Israeli bombings, and more members of the international community move into the Palestinian camp. It’s a brilliant strategy: to fight, and die, and in losing, win.

Hamas must bear some responsibility for the civilian casualties on its side during this round of conflict — but there is no better place to hide your moral shame than behind the bodies of your own people. International disgust at the killing of innocent civilians can sometimes stop superior firepower in its tracks.

It’s now old-fashioned even to mention the Oslo peace process, but it bears considering. What was the idea behind peace, as far as Israel was concerned?

The reason to pursue peace was that normalization of the Palestinians would bring them into the fold of respectable nations, with responsibilities other than resistance and militancy.

Palestinians inspect the rubble of destroyed houses in the Shejaia neighbourhood, which witnesses said was heavily hit by Israeli shelling and air strikes during an Israeli offensive, in Gaza CityBut that peace fell apart, dramatically, when extremists on both sides destroyed their own moderates. The second intifada began; Hamas took over Gaza; Fatah, Arafat’s organization that had sought peace, was marginalized, and Israelis sealed off the strip and bombed its airport. A militant Israel de-normalized the Gazans and ensured that they would remain extreme in their hatred of Israel. What else is there to do for a population that is 70 percent to 80 percent unemployed?

M.J. Rosenberg, a Middle East watcher who has been writing about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict for decades, focusing mostly on Israel, decided during this last battle to stop. “To put it simply, I’d rather not write about Israel anymore,” he wrote. “I’d rather not even think about it. Especially because I have given up any hope about its future.”

It may be wrong to go that far. Yet the extremism of Israel’s leadership offers precious little reason to expect a meaningful change in the ugly status quo any time soon.

 

PHOTO (TOP): Relatives of Palestinian woman Amani Baraka, whom medics said was killed in an Israeli air strike, mourn during her funeral in Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip, August 10, 2014. REUTERS/Ibraheem Abu Mustafa

PHOTO (INSERT 1): A Palestinian woman wearing clothes stained with the blood of other relatives, who medics said were wounded in Israeli shelling, cries at a hospital in Gaza City, July 20, 2014.  REUTERS/Mohammed Salem

PHOTO (INSERT 2): A girl sits on the ruins of her family’s home that witnesses say was destroyed by Israeli airstrikes in the Beit Hanoun neighbourhood of Gaza City, August 12, 2014. REUTERS/Siegfried Modola

PHOTO (INSERT 3): Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu holds a news conference at his office in Jerusalem, August 6, 2014. REUTERS/Jim Hollander/Pool

PHOTO (INSERT 4): The mother of Palestinian boy, whom medics said was wounded by Israeli shelling, holds his hand as he lies on a bed at a hospital in Gaza City, August 10, 2014. REUTERS/Mohammed Salem

PHOTO (INSERT 4): Israeli soldiers stand on top of a tank near the Israeli border with the Gaza Strip, August 2, 2014. REUTERS/Baz Ratner

PHOTO (INSERT 5): Palestinians inspect the rubble of destroyed houses in the Shejaia neighborhood, which witnesses said was heavily hit by Israeli shelling and air strikes in an Israeli offensive, in Gaza City, July 26, 2014. REUTERS/Mohammed Salem

Comments
25 comments so far | RSS Comments RSS

Excellent article.

The truth is this; as long as Israel has the unstinting support of the U.S. then nothing will change.

It doesn’t matter how oppressed the Palestinians are. Or how few rights and freedoms they have. Or how many Palestinian children are butchered by Israeli forces “defending themselves.”

None of that matters. Only when the U.S. face reality – when they allow the Palestinians the simple freedoms which are supposedly part and parcel of the American psyche – only then will we ever get close to peace.

Currently though, with the U.S. backing Israel regardless of every injustice and atrocity they actively commit, peace is a long, long way off.

And so instead, all of us as a race have to wallow in this quagmire of hatred and division.

Posted by JackHerer | Report as abusive
 

The writer failed to mention the third party in the equation that controls access to Gaza, that being Egypt. The border closure to Gaza started with Egypt due in large part to the security issues and unrest created by Hamas on the Egyptian side of the border. Coexistence can happen in Gaza when Palestinians control their own destiny and that involves removing Hamas, Hezbollah and any of the like from the equation. Israel will come in an assist in the reconstruction of Gaza and unfortunately, as long as the creed of Hamas calls for the destruction of Israel, any rebuilding will be short-lived.

Posted by smokeymtnblues | Report as abusive
 

Awful bigoted media bias.
Israel accepted peace long ago. Gaza leadership is the problem.

Posted by cosmostella | Report as abusive
 

Bravo! Please continue to speak out against this insanity that has taken on a life of its own. The nation State of Israel has turned from the oppressed into the oppressor in this now one sided conflict. As a result of their actions they have severely cast a shadow of infamy on all Jews around the world.

Hamas may not be an innocent in this matter but they have little recourse to free the Gaza from the Israeli stranglehold. As proof they only have to point to the Israeli occupation of the West Bank to peer into a future of “peaceful coexistence” with Israel.

Posted by Bernard711 | Report as abusive
 

I would like to say one brief thing: If someone was firing rockets at your kids, how would you respond? Strip away the rest, down to this simple truth, and you will understand all that is happening here.

Posted by Konthra7 | Report as abusive
 

The author managed to express everything I think about this endless war. As great imperialist Cecil Rhodes observed in 1895, “if one wants to avoid civil war, one must become imperialist”. Foul play.

Posted by ClarissaMach | Report as abusive
 

JackHerer is an idiot. Just look at what the Muslim Brotherhood did in Egypt and what ISIS is doing over in Syria and Iraq. I wouldn’t trust HAMAS either and they certainly aren’t freedom fighters. Israel is the only democracy the United States has in the Middle East and the only half-civilized country that has a chance at creating order out of the chaos. Muslim apologists are hilarious.

Posted by Cranberries | Report as abusive
 

The unholy trinity are at force here. Fear, revenge and religion.

I hope to never ever ever have these kind of folks in my midst. Unless of course I am sent to hell – then I expect these kind all around me.

Posted by Butch_from_PA | Report as abusive
 

Interesting seeing some of the reactive comments on here, people who refuse to even acknowledge that Hamas/Israel are the cause of the problem, but always blame the other side. They just prove the authors arguments are correct

Posted by GA_Chris | Report as abusive
 

Could is be that the reason Israel has bombed Gaza is because Hamas fires rockets into Israel?

Posted by EthelGoodhill | Report as abusive
 

If you look to the history, UK’s master plan that destroyed the Arab’s native dwellers in forceful occupation followed by US’s blind support to the tune of over $130B+ military aid to-date, turned this state into a reckless monster that deprives freedom and starves its neighbors for the utmost comfort of their own with least tolerance to the geo-political sensitivity including open disregard for the UN.

This is watched well by the global community in current times.

It is senseless to pour $3B+ USD into this nation of US tax payer money to continue their atrocities – shamelessly supported by both – democratic and republican parties at the so called – “political-necessity” that is “morally-corrupt”.

Peace to this nation will only be achieved via extending freedom and development support of the neighbors rather the current approach of isolation, starvation, tremendous abuse of power, that only will result in guaranteed desperate actions of the oppressed that we see with ever increasing global contempt for this nation that has gone-wild.

Posted by Mott | Report as abusive
 

The analysis in Wilentz’s article is nothing but a vulgar moral equivalency (“extremists on both sides”, “leadership in both Israel and Gaza despise moderation”, “who both consider themselves victims”) and no deeper than “a plague on both your houses”. You could recycle this piece with “Russian” and Ukrainian” instead of “Israel” and “Hamas” and achieve the same effect. I expected better from Reuters. Next time, bring in a writer who has the requisite qualifications to give us some real understanding of why this flare-up happened and where the conflict might be heading.

Posted by yba | Report as abusive
 

Assuming, that Arafat did, really, wanted peace, what should have Israel done when Arafat’s “moderate” movement has been marginalized by the terrorists like Hamas? To keep going the same way, while they amount weapons and shout out loud, that they want to destroy Israel and exterminate all Jews? To shake their hands?
By the way, peace-persuading Arafat has, numerously, proclaimed, that his peace agreement with Israel is nothing, but a one step of the multi-step plan to destroy Israel.
So, dear author, do us all a big favor and stop writing about the Middle East. Just don’t….

Posted by DavidKatz | Report as abusive
 

Worthless garbage. Hamas wants the destruction of Israel, plain and simple. They want no peace.

Posted by pidoug9 | Report as abusive
 

Dr. Goebbels would have been proud of you. As long as the Arabs kill and exile their own moderates, there will not be any lasting peace. These radical Arabs are fueled by Oil money and dogmatic religious hate. You can take a good guess as to the source of their funding. Remember, Israelis are “Palestinian” too.

Posted by rikfre | Report as abusive
 

“International disgust can……..”! Surprising.
What is International to day?That term has gone with the wind.UN is nonexistant.Groups are forming.The group with might prevails over mankind with no moral or decent attitude.These groups are so sharp and determind that many more will be killed.SURVIVAL THE FITTEST………we are going back to barbarism of ancient time when tribes were fighting.
In todays world the racial conflict is more serious that environment problems,decease,shortage of water or food.Look at how thousands have died in Iraq,Syria,Afghanistan,Libya,Egypt and now in Ukraine.
The writer here must research to find who is responsible?…..rest is only literature.

Posted by gentalman | Report as abusive
 

“Survival the fittest” but how one can be strong when economic and war weapons are at work.

Posted by gentalman | Report as abusive
 

I don’t know how old Amy Wilentz, who authored this op-ed, is…. But she must be very young. I figured this out about 55 years ago, when I was only 20….

Posted by edgyinchina | Report as abusive
 

I think you can change the headline words from “may be” to “is” and be spot on. It has been an absolute truth to the true thinkers of the world (non political party or religious sect members) for decades.

Posted by Twain | Report as abusive
 

Interesting idea. Much like the endless war in Orwell’s book 1984. It enables a willing dictatorship on both sides. I don’t know about the Palestinians but I believe the Israelis will come to their senses, much like we have after the second gulf war. The difference and wild card is that Israel is fighting for its existence. This is a much tougher problem. I have been to Masada and in a film they show you before you go up, they make the point that the spirit of sacrifice shown there is still alive. Suicidal. So, much more difficult a problem. They in the Middle East know they can just wait for a new US president. But both groups may not be able to out-wait their own people.

Posted by davidhi | Report as abusive
 

This claim – “hat peace fell apart, dramatically, when extremists on both sides destroyed their own moderates” – is fiction.

a) as we know, there were no moderates on the Arab side while Arafat was alive as he funded the Second Intifada and even today, with all the posturing, the media and educational curriculum anti-Jewish incitement in the Palestinian Authority prevents any cultivation of a peace-centered culture.

b) Peres was much more moderate than the assassinated Rabin but couldn’t get elected and nevertheless became President and even Netanyahu supports the idea of a two-state solution and applied a 9-month moratorium of construction in Judea and Samaria and that didn’t work.

There is no mirror-image which the writer seeks to portray so as to assuage her own anti-Israel extremism.

Posted by YMedad | Report as abusive
 

Hamas talks of the destruction of Israel, but Israel acts out the destruction of Palistine.

Israel prefers the status quo to continue its march up the West Bank to acquire water rights and farmland of the Fertile Valley.

The more Israel takes, the less is negotiable.

Posted by Flash1022 | Report as abusive
 

The apartheid state of Isreal is running out of tactics to keep the Palestinians imprisoned and under occupation. Eventually this state will implode.

Posted by No_apartheid | Report as abusive
 

It’s 1949. You move into a new house that you have admired all you life. The day after you move in, your neighbor comes to your door and says, “you don’t belong here. Pack up and leave or I will kill you and your family.” How do you react? Now change the date to 1963 and the place to Mississippi or Alabama. You say no, and, well you know the rest!

Posted by jon4man | Report as abusive
 

Reasoning with Hamas/Palestinians is like trying to reason with a rattlesnake.

Posted by jerry777 | Report as abusive
 

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