Last week, our pro-Israel peace camp was abuzz about a NY Times op-ed piece written by Nathan Thrall, an analyst for the International Crisis Group; he powerfully argues that “The Road to War [was] Paved by the West.” Although I found it informative, I was less enthralled by Thrall (couldn’t resist the alliteration) than others were. Rather than a single overriding reason for the current troubling situation, I see two.
Just as the present Israeli coalition government cannot conceive of any lasting deal with Hamas (and decided to invade instead), Hamas seems incapable of explicitly endorsing peaceful co-existence with Israel. If our camp were in power in Israel — say in a government in which the Meretz party had a significant voice (like Rabin’s coalition in the 1990s) — it would make every effort to find a way to work with Hamas as it is, despite its internal dynamics and contradictions. But the reality is that Israel has a right-leaning government that won’t do that.
This is a government that chose to undermine the US-brokered peace process with the Palestinian party that favors peaceful negotiations, the PLO/Fatah headed by Mahmoud Abbas, by repeatedly announcing new construction plans in East Jerusalem and the West Bank — unilaterally changing conditions on the ground that needs to be negotiated over. And most recently, Prime Minister Netanyahu has reflected upon the advances of the extremist ISIS movement in Iraq and Syria by declaring that the IDF will never withdraw from the West Bank, or at least not from the Jordan Valley bordering on the Kingdom of Jordan — a non-starter for all Palestinians, including the moderate camp headed by Pres. Abbas. (Abbas seems open to a US or international troop presence, and a phased Israeli withdrawal; with some hard bargaining, Israel might reasonably push for a small IDF observer presence on the border, alongside a third-party force.) Conclusion number one: Israel cannot make peace under its current right-leaning government headed by Mr. Netanyahu.
As for Hamas, instead of engaging in a hopeless mode of warfare that randomly attacks Israelis only to endanger its own population more, when Israel inevitably responds militarily, Hamas needs to change fundamentally. But Hamas is desperate to remain Hamas, as it attempts to win a propaganda war; Israel obliges (despite its phone calls and “knock on the roof” efforts to avoid civilian casualties) by inflicting massive harm on Gaza’s population and infrastructure. When you come down to it, what do we say about a movement that fights a war with the broken bodies of its own people? Conclusion number two: The Palestinians cannot make peace with Hamas ruling the Gaza Strip.
Most Israelis are understandably convinced that Hamas is an implacable foe and therefore, that there is no alternative to what Israel is doing now. I was horrified to learn, in a pre-dawn phone call from Israel, that many of my relatives there think that I “write against Israel.” To allay misunderstandings, and maybe for my own mental health as well, I will now retire from doing commentary on Israeli politics (for an indefinite period, if not permanently).
My writings tend to be very nuanced, with subtleties and complexities not easily picked up by people consumed in the emotions of a conflict like this; and they are especially hard to grasp by people with limitations in English. I don’t blame them, and I don’t want them to feel any more pain on my account. While it’s regrettable that views are becoming so polarized — as they generally are in wartime — I can’t have my relatives, all of whom have gone out of their way to show their love and exhibit hospitality, feel that I am betraying them.