Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reportedly told the U.S. Ambassador to Israel “not to ever second guess me again” when it comes to Hamas, after Hamas’ refusal and eventual breach of ceasefire agreements.
Did he have a point?
The international community in its zeal to solve the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians makes plenty of suggestions about what needs to be done. One would think that with the number of suggestions it’s made that have backfired, it would learn a little humility and perhaps listen a little bit more to Israel when it comes to Hamas.
For example, in a recent column, New York Times columnist Roger Cohen called the Israel-Palestinian conflict an “obscenity.” At the end of the column he made a suggestion as to how to go about ending the conflict.
Real reconciliation can only come on the basis of an ironclad commitment to nonviolence and to holding of free and fair elections, the first since 2006. Good Palestinian governance, unity and nonviolence constitute the path to making a free state of Palestine irrefutable. The longer Hamas fights this, the greater its betrayal of its people.
What happened in those “free and fair elections” in 2006? Hamas won and established its political legitimacy among Palestinians. A year and a half later it violently forced Fatah out of Gaza and established a stranglehold on the territory. With its newly found freedom to operate it launched thousands of rockets into Israel forcing three wars.
But how and why did Hamas, a terrorist organization with a genocidal charter come to participate in those elections? International pressure, including pressure from the Bush administration, forced Israel to drop its objections to Hamas’ participation. In retrospect that pressure doesn’t look so good. After Fatah and Hamas announced their unity deal earlier this year, Elliott Abrams, who was a member of the administration, recalled:
The last parliamentary elections were held in 2006, and there was a major dispute about whether Hamas should be allowed to run. Abbas then argued strongly and successfully (in that he persuaded Washington to back off) that an election without Hamas would be illegitimate: He would be barring his only real opponent, in the manner of all Arab dictators. We in the Bush administration made the wrong call and sided with Abbas, over Israeli objections. As Condoleezza Rice wrote in her memoirs, “In retrospect, we should have insisted that every party disarm as a condition for participating in the vote.” She was right, for several reasons.
Subsequent developments have shown Israel’s objections to having Hamas run in those election to be valid.
In addition to supporting the events that led to Hamas’ gaining power, the United States and other allies pressured Israel to loosen its blockade of Gaza following the Mavi Marmara incident. When the boat, Mavi Marmara, captained by the terrorist organization IHH, tried to run the Israel blockade in 2010, Israeli commandos who stormed the ship were violently attacked. When they responded with force, nine of the attackers were killed. In response to Turkish outrage over the incident Israel was forced to relax the blockade. President Obama hailed the decision:
The President has described the situation in Gaza as unsustainable and has made clear that it demands fundamental change. On June 9, he announced that the United States was moving forward with $400 million in initiatives and commitments for the West Bank and Gaza. The President described these projects as a down payment on the U.S. commitment to the people of Gaza, who deserve a chance to take part in building a viable, independent state of Palestine, together with those who live in the West Bank. These announcements resulted from consultations with the Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Salam Fayyad.
Today, the United States welcomes the new policy towards Gaza announced by the Government of Israel, which responds to the calls of many in the international community. Once implemented, we believe these arrangements should significantly improve conditions for Palestinians in Gaza, while preventing the entry of weapons. We will work with Israel, the Palestinian Authority, the Quartet, and other international partners to ensure these arrangements are implemented as quickly and effectively as possible and to explore additional ways to improve the situation in Gaza, including greater freedom of movement and commerce between Gaza and the West Bank. There is more to be done, and the President looks forward to discussing this new policy, and additional steps, with Prime Minister Netanyahu during his visit to Washington on July 6.
Barry Rubin criticized this announcement at the time:
Note that Obama did not mention the conditions for easing the blockade–that Hamas abandon terrorism and accept Israel’s existence–nor did he say that anything the Palestinian Authority or Hamas is doing is “unsustainable.” Only Western and Israeli policy are said to be unsustainable. In effect, Obama is saying that the policies of Hamas, Iran, Hizballah, and Syria, among others, are infinitely sustainable, especially because of his reluctance to do things to make them unsustainable.
And thus in Middle East terms, he’s saying: Your intransigence has won. We couldn’t move you so our policy has failed. We must give in.
Practically speaking the policies that the United States advocated weren’t just a surrender, but likely helped Hamas build its strategic capabilities.
It’s reasonable to ask if the relaxing of the blockade help Hamas smuggle the cement it needed to build its terror tunnels. Did the American aid abet Hamas in its efforts? By IDF estimates, the tunnels cost at least $90 million. How much of that was paid for by international aid? (How much of the aid went to building the fortunes of Hamas’ leaders?)
The international community will lament the violence in the Middle East and criticize Israeli self-defense measures. But when will it conclude that with the best of intentions it is encouraging terrorists by rewarding them for their violence and intransigence? Maybe it’s time to start taking Israel’s security concerns seriously.
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