Analysis from Israel

Hamas celebrated its 24th anniversary this week, and like any organization, it used the occasion to issue a press release detailing its achievements. So here, according to its own press release, are what Hamas considers its most notable achievements: It has killed 1,365 Israelis and wounded 6,411 since 1987. It has carried out 1,117 attacks on Israel, including 87 suicide bombings, and fired 11,093 rockets at Israel. And it has lost 1,848 of its own members to this noble cause.

Then, lest anyone fail to get the message, Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh made it explicit at a mass rally to mark the anniversary. “Resistance is the way and it is the strategic choice to liberate Palestine from the (Jordan) river to the (Mediterranean) sea and to remove the invaders from the blessed land of Palestine,” Haniyeh said, making it clear there’s no room in his vision for a Jewish state in any borders. “Hamas … will lead the people towards uprising after uprising until all of Palestine is liberated.” And the crowd replied by chantingm “We will never recognize Israel.”

Hamas’ boasts are almost certainly exaggerated: It claims “credit” for more than 80 percent of all Israeli casualties since 1987, whereas Israeli data shows a much more equal distribution between Hamas and its rival, Fatah, aka Israel’s “peace partner.” But its eagerness to claim responsibility for more than its fair share of murders merely underscores the point that, far from being moderated by the responsibilities of governance, Hamas’ years in control of Gaza haven’t slaked its thirst for Israeli blood one whit.

There are several reasons why this ought to give pause to all those, from Defense Secretary Leon Panetta to the New York Times, who routinely blame Israel for the impasse in the peace process. First, as Elliott Abrams noted, there’s little point in negotiating a peace agreement with half the Palestinian polity while the other half remains committed to Israel’s eradication, as that makes it unlikely a Palestinian state could actually deliver the promised peace.

More importantly, it’s hard to see how peace is possible when a sizable portion of the Palestinian public shares Hamas’ genocidal goals. About one-third of Palestinians (excluding the undecided) say they plan to vote Hamas in the next election. Even taken at face value, that’s a minority far too large to ignore, and in reality, the figure is probably larger: Polls also predicted a Fatah victory before the last election, which Hamas won handily.

Then there’s the fact that Israel’s “peace partner” feels it has enough in common with this genocidal organization to decide to form a unit government with it. That ought to cast doubt on Fatah‘s commitment to peace even among those untroubled by other evidence.

Finally, there’s what it says about the broader land-for-peace paradigm. Abrams argued that how newly-elected Islamist parties in other Arab countries respond to Hamas’s genocidal goals will be a good test of their intentions. But in one case, we already know the answer: Hamas announced last week that it was formally joining the Muslim Brotherhood, which, shortly after winning Egypt’s elections, has already announced plans to reconsider Egypt’s own peace with Israel. In other words, the change in government in Egypt is making that peace treaty look decidedly shaky; would a treaty signed with Fatah to create a state where Hamas could someday win power be more stable?

One can understand why many Westerners prefer to avert their eyes from these facts; Hamas’ naked bloodlust isn’t pretty. But if you really want to understand why the “peace process” has failed, you won’t find a more concise explanation than Hamas’ own press release.

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Why the status quo is the least bad option for Palestinians

Even among people who recognize that Israeli-Palestinian peace is currently impossible, a growing number think that Israel must nevertheless quit the West Bank. Israel has a right to defend itself, their argument goes, but not by controlling another people for decades. Instead, it should withdraw to the “internationally recognized border” and protect itself from there, like other countries do.

Forget for a moment that the “internationally recognized border” is an arrant fiction. Forget as well that Israel remains in the West Bank precisely because defending itself from the 1949 armistice lines (the abovementioned fictional border) hasn’t worked very well in either the West Bank—from which Israel partially withdrew in the 1990s before returning the following decade—or the Gaza Strip.

That still leaves another uncomfortable fact: As long as genuine peace remains impossible, Israeli control of the West Bank, despite the undeniable hardships it causes Palestinians, remains the least bad alternative for the Palestinians themselves. As evidence, just compare the Israeli-controlled West Bank to Gaza, which has been free of both settlers and soldiers since August 2005. By almost any parameter, life in the former is far better.

Take, for instance, casualties. According to B’Tselem’s statistics, Israeli security forces killed 5,706 Palestinians in Gaza from September 2005 through August 2019. That’s almost eight times the 756 killed by Israeli security personnel and settlers combined in the West Bank during this period (no Gazans were killed by settlers since there are no settlers there).

Nor is this surprising. Israel’s control of the West Bank means that suspected terrorists can often be arrested rather than killed, though shootouts (with attendant collateral damage) do occur. But in Gaza, where Israel has no troops, it can’t arrest terrorists. Thus the only way to fight terror is through military action, which naturally produces many more casualties among both combatants and civilians.

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