What a fiendish plot that kidnapping turned out to have been, for if it was intended to set off another round of attack and reprisal between Israeli and Palestinian it paid off beautifully. The devil himself could not have so perfectly executed such a scheme. Everything that has happened since flowed from that one poisoned well. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu pinned the abduction of 3 Israeli students on Hamas and, whether or not its agents carried them out, Hamas has taken credit for the killings. After the 3 students turned up dead, as if on cue, a Palestinian teenager was abducted from East Jerusalem and killed and within days the rockets were flying and the bombs were falling, leaving people on the ground in the middle of the third round of fighting since Hamas gained control and chased the Palestinian Authority out of Gaza in 2007. Since that time the territory has remained in a sort of legal limbo, neither occupied (U.N. objections duly noted) or a state. Israel withdrew troops and settlers in 2005, but along with Egypt continues to maintain a blockade. The Jewish state does retain control of Gaza’s airspace, electricity, and communications infrastructure; its continued entanglement set the table for the war unfolding now.
The irony of the current situation is that Prime Minister Netanyahu may have sabotaged his stated goal of peace for Israel. What could have happened with an offer to lift the blockade and bring Gaza into Israel as a state as a first step on a road to autonomy and as a starting point to further negotiations with the Palestinian Authority? In 2007 Hamas happened. The cease fire brokered by Egypt only sets the stage for another round of fighting. The question is simply when and why it breaks out, because the cease fire does not put out the fire that feeds Hamas. The beating heart of the fight between Israel and Hamas is not the rockets, the tunnels, or even the blockade; it’s the frustration and resentment that comes to the surface when the cold war between the two goes hot. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas had a chance to marginalize Hamas as a player in any potential negotiated settlement after he laid the blame for the length of the Gaza war at their feet. The Palestinian Authority had another opportunity to isolate Hamas when it issued a statement critical of the public executions they carried out by against a group of alleged collaborators. Did the Palestinian Authority have any contact with the Israeli government to help them deal with Hamas? There is little reason to believe Fatah is willing to confront them alone. The possibility likely never came up.
It’s circumstances like these that make Israel’s recently announced plans to take 988 acres of land in the Bethlehem area south of the West Bank so puzzling. The whole thing is too ham-handed to consign to simple stupidity. To announce such a plan less than a week after the cease fire took effect hints at a political calculation. Either Prime Minister Netanyahu, perhaps for Israeli legislative elections, is making a pitch to pro-settlement elements or he is trying to provoke Hamas into breaking the cease fire to enhance his case for taking a hard line on potential talks over the blockade. Whatever his government’s reasoning it has already confirmed the worst suspicions not only of Hamas but of people in the wider Palestinian population; and given Hamas a way to continue, even enhance, its case for armed resistance as the only way to respond. Peace for Israel? Only a glimmer of it under the protection of Iron Dome. It’s hard to look at what has happened and not conclude that Prime Minister Netanyahu is so concerned with fighting the extremist elements that he can’t make a distinction between them and the average Palestinian, those recorded on CNN running through hospital corridors in Gaza during the ground war carrying wounded children.
Whatever their losses in this battle Hamas won the war of image hands down, and they know it. Israel’s Iron Dome defense system saw to that by neutralizing the hundreds of rockets Hamas fired into Israel. The ground campaign fed a one-sided narrative of Israel as aggressor because there was no corresponding footage of bombed-out homes in Tel Aviv for U.N. officials to condemn. Hamas aided that narrative by hiding its rockets in U.N. schools and daring the Israelis to attack. Their intent may not have been to use their own citizens as cannon fodder for the propaganda value, but if it were what would have changed? Every minute of news footage and every column inch of material generated in the press is another victory for Hamas and another loss for the Palestinian people. Hamas is poised to take advantage of any frustration the latest settlement announcements provoke, all the while making their case that armed resistance is the only way to respond. The Palestinian people’s continuing desire for a homeland will fade into the background, with the two sides continuing inability to find a way to deliver one serving as a failure for both. This generation of leadership on both sides, with an identity so tied to struggle and the conditions that make settlement impossible, will likely have to give way to the next before one can be reached.