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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Israel’s do-over election performed a vital service for democracy

Like many Israelis, I was horrified when April’s election led to another in September; it seemed a colossal waste of time and money. But the do-ever election proved critical to maintaining Israel’s democratic legitimacy among half the public—the half that would otherwise have thought that April’s election was stolen from them.

In April, rightist parties that explicitly promised to support Benjamin Netanyahu for prime minister won 65 of the Knesset’s 120 seats. In other words, a clear majority of voters seemingly cast their ballots for a rightist, Netanyahu-led government. But after the election, Yisrael Beiteinu chairman Avigdor Lieberman refused to join such a government.

Thus even if an alternative government could have been formed—whether a unity government or one led by Netanyahu’s rival, Benny Gantz—it would have undermined rightists’ faith in the democratic process. Any such government would have looked like a product not of the majority’s will, but of the whims of a single individual who “stole” right-wing votes and gave them to the left.

The do-over election showed this wasn’t the case. Lieberman’s party not only maintained its strength, but increased it, thereby proving him right that his voters cared more about curbing ultra-Orthodox power than about keeping Netanyahu in office. Moreover, the pro-Netanyahu bloc shrank even further—from 60 seats (excluding Lieberman) in April to 55 in September—due entirely to Netanyahu’s own appalling behavior in the intervening months, which prompted a nontrivial number of center-right voters to either switch sides or stay home and a massive increase in Arab turnout.

That doesn’t mean Gantz won; the bloc he heads can’t form a government on its own. But neither can Netanyahu’s bloc. Any possible solution—a unity government, a Netanyahu government with leftist partners or a Gantz government with rightist partners—will require compromise between the blocs. And nobody will be able to claim the election was stolen when that happens.

This matters greatly because the democratic process has been subverted far too often over the past 25 years, usually in the left’s favor, with enthusiastic applause from the left’s self-proclaimed democrats.

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