- By Dov ZakheimDov Zakheim is Senior Advisor, Center for Strategic and International Studies and former Under Secretary of Defense.
President Obama’s call for an immediate cease-fire in the latest conflict between Hamas and Israel was as noteworthy for what he said as for what he did not say. Obama made it clear that he understood that Israel needed to defend itself against rocket attacks, and that it could not tolerate Hamas building tunnels into the Jewish state in order to kidnap soldiers and civilians. But he said nothing about the need to bring an end to the rocket attacks and kidnap attempts once and for all. He said nothing about getting Hamas to accept prior agreements that the Palestinians had reached with Israel. Or that Hamas come to terms with the existence of the Jewish state. Or that Hamas cease its incitement to kill all Jews, anywhere, which has inspired the spate of attacks on European Jews, most notably the pogrom-like riots targeting a Paris synagogue. Nor, for that matter, did Mr. Obama say a word about the FAA’s restrictions on flights to Israel.
Without an arrangement that results in a different relationship between Hamas and Israel, the cycle of violence that results in biannual warfare will continue. Hamas will fire rockets at Israel’s border towns and will try to reach its major cities. Knowing that it cannot destroy Israel, its objective will be, as it has been, to terrorize Israel’s civilians, and to kill as many of them as it can. It will fire those rockets, as it has done before, from schools, hospitals, and mosques.
For its part, Israel will not tolerate incessant rocket attacks and, after a pause, once again will pummel Gaza. It will destroy the tunnels and the rocket launchers and, in the process, hit their unwitting human shields. And once again, it will be masses who are crammed into that unfortunate strip of land, rather than the leaders of Hamas, who will suffer the most.
The president’s call for an immediate cease-fire, seemingly with no conditions attached, does nothing to address these fundamental causes of the conflict. Reflecting a pattern that has marked the administration’s policies from the outset, the president is long on exhortation and woefully short on implementation. Without an arrangement that results in a fundamentally different relationship between Israel and Hamas, there will be no cease-fire for some time, and even if one is achieved, it will not last.
Hamas has thus far shown no interest in ceasing its attacks. Because its very existence is predicated on the destruction of Israel, it has no interest in a two-state solution for Israelis and Palestinians. Somehow, those seeking a cease-fire must account for this reality. Perhaps the only way to defeat Hamas is for the people of Gaza to depose it, much as Egyptians deposed the Morsi government. In order for that to happen, however, Gazans must have an incentive to do so. Thus far they have none. Despite the fact that Ramallah is booming, Israel’s continuing occupation of the West Bank, its ongoing construction of new settlements that with time become towns and small cities ("settlements" is a misnomer for many of the Israeli cities on the West Bank) offers little hope for West Bank residents who want a country of their own, and none for Gazans. And where there is no hope, there is Hamas.
Those in the West, especially in Europe, who support Hamas, support the destruction of Israel. That is not American policy. But if American efforts to bring a halt to the violence in Gaza are to succeed, they must include a change of Hamas policy, notably a total cessation of rocket attacks and kidnappings, and its acceptance of previous Israeli-Palestinian agreements. Israel would have to alter its policies as well, specifically lifting the blockade of Gaza’s ports, and, importantly, halting its settlement construction. And there must be a renewed and serious commitment on all sides to the creation of a Palestinian state alongside the Jewish state of Israel. Nothing less will end Gaza’s troubles, in either the near term or the long run.
It is probably hoping for too much to expect Secretary of State John Kerry to accomplish all of this in his latest round of Middle East negotiations. These goals seem Pollyannaish: Both sides are far too locked into their respective positions. But unless he and the president make it clear that American policy calls for nothing less, when the cease-fire comes, as it inevitably will, nothing will have changed, Washington’s efforts will get nowhere, and the misery will continue.