By Sarah N. Stern
It is the period after another round of fighting between Gaza and the Israel Defense Forces. This is the fourth conflict Israel has been forced to fight between Hamas-controlled Gaza and the IDF since every last Israeli soldier and civilian withdrew from Gaza in August of 2005. This recent 11-day “Operation Guardian of the Walls” follows “Operation Protective Edge” in 2014, “Operation Pillar of Defense” in 2012 and “Operation Cast Lead” in 2008.
Israelis are quite adept at picking up the pieces, sweeping away the physical rubble of their homes as they sweep their psychological rubble under the rug and get on with their lives as though almost nothing happened. What we always hear Israelis say during times of peace, as well as war, is Yihyeh beseder (“It will be alright”).
As an American, I have often marveled at the Israeli character, marked by resilience and tenacity; to be able to squeeze the juice out of life as though it were a fresh Jaffa orange; to relish every moment of calm; to work hard and to play hard and to dance with gusto at every personal celebration.
However, what most Israelis know, deep down inside, is that this is simply another “war between wars,” what the IDF likes to refer to as “mowing the grass.” I had the honor and privilege of sitting in a sealed room during this latest conflict, with my daughter and her young family who live here. It is not a pleasant experience as you hear the bone-chilling alarm, followed by the deafening boom.
For nearly two weeks straight this month, more than 4,000 rockets were launched by Hamas toward population centers in Israel; more than 600 didn’t make it that far and fell on their own people in Gaza. It is well known that Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad hide behind their civilians to launch rockets at Israel while Israel uses its defenses to protect its civilian population. Hamas has created a network of rockets in schools, hospitals, residential centers and even in the Associated Press Building in Gaza City, as Matti Friedman, an editor at AP, had courageously written about in The Atlantic in 2014.
This is not about “the occupation,” as is often claimed. I was here in 2005 during the Gaza disengagement when every one of the 9,000 Jewish residents there was painfully evacuated, Young IDF soldiers were taught to act as robots and not feel empathy as they ripped Jewish residents from their homes.
The reasoning by then-Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon was that this would give the Palestinians an opportunity to prove to the world that they can peacefully manage their own sovereign state, and it would prove how far Israel would go for peace, even without a negotiating partner.
Immediately after the evacuation in 2005, there had been a brief power-sharing period between Hamas and Fatah, which is the armed force of the Palestinian Authority. This was followed by a brutal period of internecine warfare, in which Hamas attempted to kill Fatah members, actually throwing them off of large buildings as they screamed, “You are treating me like a Jew!” Some Fatah members ran to the IDF, who helped them safely relocate to the West Bank.
This was followed by an election in which Hamas easily won.
Obviously, former Prime Minister Sharon’s experiment failed.
And now, we are in the situation where Israel has been backed into a corner, and where Qatari-funded and Iranian-backed Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad call the shots. Qatar supplies most of the cash, and Iran supplies the missiles and the know-how. When these terrorist groups feel that Iran has replenished their arsenal of missiles, they can and will attack again.
One is grateful to President Joe Biden for saying throughout the conflict that “the United States fully supports Israel’s right to defend itself against indiscriminate rocket attacks from Hamas and other Gaza-based terrorist groups that have taken the lives of innocent civilians in Israel.”
However, Biden and his administration have inevitably returned to the failed foreign-policy paradigm of many previous administrations by refusing to acknowledge that P.A./Fatah is part of the problem and not necessarily part of the solution.
Both Fatah and Hamas were furious that the center of gravity had been taken away from under the Palestinians’ feet during the Trump years, and that the Abraham Accords saw Sunni Arab nations’ normalized relations with Israel.
The knowledge that Fatah was about to come up short in Palestinian elections scheduled for late May was also a vital ingredient in this most recent conflict. When P.A. leader Mahmoud Abbas realized that he was about to lose the long-overdue election (the first in 15 years), he called it off, using the pretense that the Israeli Arabs living in Jerusalem would not be entitled to vote. This is nonsense. They would be bused to the West Bank to cast their votes, as they had been before.
Then both the P.A. and Hamas used the emotional, red-button issue of Jerusalem, and that “the Al-Aqsa mosque is under attack” to whip up their people to attack Israel.
Shortly after that, six missiles were fired from Gaza into Jerusalem.
Biden, in his laudable refusal to deal with Hamas, has tried to prop up the moribund control of Abbas as an alternative. He mentioned in his speech after the ceasefire that he has been in constant contact with Netanyahu as well as with Abbas, as though Abbas could actually control the decisions of their rival, Hamas.
As Khaled Abu Toameh has recently written, “In the past few weeks, thousands of Palestinians in Jerusalem and the West Bank have been demonstrating in support of Hamas, especially after it fired thousands of rockets and missiles at Israel.”
The demonstrators have been chanting slogans praising Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad (Iran’s Palestinian proxies) for targeting Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and other Israeli cities during the 11-day battle with Israel. The demonstrators have been raising Hamas flags and posters of its leaders even in areas controlled by Abbas’s Palestinian Authority in the West Bank, including Ramallah, the de facto capital of the Palestinians.
It is a fact of life that Fatah and the P.A. are no longer relevant to the Palestinians. Abbas is petrified of stepping foot in Gaza, for fear of his life. According to Abu Toameh, he is considered “a traitor,” “a U.S. agent” and “an Israeli collaborator.”
It is only in the United States that Abbas is considered relevant. The IDF is helping to keep him alive in the West Bank, and he fears an election or a hostile takeover.
Many people are debating whether it was Israel or Hamas that prevailed in these latest hostilities. Hamas believes it won by causing millions of Israelis to cower in their shelters. Israel feels it won because it did tremendous damage to the terror group’s network of missiles and military hideouts. The tragedy is that neither side won, and both sides suffer.
The true victor in all of this is Iran, which not only controls its proxies in Gaza and Lebanon but ultimately resupplies Hamas with the missiles for the next round of fighting.
Sarah N. Stern is founder and president of the Endowment for Middle East Truth (EMET), a pro-Israel and pro-American think tank and policy institute in Washington, D.C. This originally ran on JNS.org.