The eruption of another round of warfare between Israelis and Palestinians in Gaza may come as a surprise to casual followers of the news, but it’s been building for years. Almost as soon as the last Israeli incursion into Gaza ended in January 2009, Hamas began rebuilding its arsenal with the aim of launching new terror attacks on Israel’s territory to spark yet one more episode of reprisals and bloodletting.
The earlier round of fighting, Operation Cast Lead, produced a ground invasion by Israel that cost Palestinians in Gaza 1,400 lives and at least $2 billion in damages. This one may be heading in the same direction. It has already produced more than 100 Palestinian dead in Gaza, including senior leaders of Hamas, but also some 50 civilians. More than 700 have been wounded. That’s before another ground invasion, if there is one.
There is no rational way to explain how any of this serves the interests of the people of Gaza. They live in one of the world’s most crowded and destitute entities. They need social services and economic assistance, not the daily round of anti-Israel hate propaganda Hamas dishes out while it fires deadly rocket attacks into Israel and uses the people of Gaza as human shields when the inevitable counter-punch arrives.
It’s easier to assign responsibility for the fighting than to find a solution. Israel has a duty to protect its people from the indefensible and intolerable barrage of rocket attacks coming from Gaza. Its people have a right to live in peace. Any country facing Israel’s situation would feel obliged to resort to the same forceful measures to defend itself.
But Israel needs to solve its problem, not merely manage it. The strategy of episodic reprisals — “mowing the grass,” some call it — is not a long-term solution. Complicating the picture are the shifting dynamics of the region. The “Arab Spring” has made it harder for countries like Egypt to stay out of a conflict in which Palestinians are portrayed as victims by Arab media.
Another troubling factor: The cost to Israel is rising. Its Iron Dome system has successfully intercepted more than 300 rockets fired at populated areas, but the incoming rockets cost a few hundred dollars and the interceptor missiles cost $40,000 to $50,000 each. It was paid for in part by $204 million from the United States in 2009. This year, Israel again asked for help from the Obama administration and received $70 million and a pledge of another $610 million over three years.
All of this makes it urgent for the other countries of the region — particularly Egypt and Turkey — to help negotiate a truce that can open the way to peace talks between Israelis and Palestinians. That will require all parties to give something.
Hamas’ offer is a non-starter: An end to the Israeli attack and targeting of Hamas leaders, as well as having Israel agree to lift its naval blockade of Gaza, while Hamas commits itself to nothing. What it must do, at a minimum, is promise a protracted halt to all attacks while negotiators work on an Israeli-Palestinian peace accord.
Israel would have to commit to genuine talks over the West Bank to provide Palestinians there the hope of a better life and offer a model that the people of Gaza can strive for. The United States can do its part by dragging both sides to the negotiating table.
None of this is likely to happen unless the people of Gaza renounce the leadership of Hamas. By now they must surely realize that as long as they live under the rule of terrorists, they will never have a better future.