IAF Airstrike Gaza - AP - 10.3.12
A fire burning after an IAF airstrike, southern Gaza, March 10, 2012. Photo by AP
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The last days have brought another round of violence between Gaza and Israel. Most commentators assume that neither Hamas nor Israel in interested in further escalation of the hostilities that have been initiated by Islamic Jihad this time, ostensibly to jockey for position vis-à-vis Hamas. Iron Dome has prevented casualties on Israel’s side, but it has almost paralyzed life in Southern Israel. So far the death toll in Gaza is 26, and we can only hope that it will not rise any further.

The other casualty of this further violence is the hope for peace. Israelis, for very understandable reasons no longer care who is responsible for the violence. All they know is that, in the end, there will always be a Palestinian group that will initiate violence. As a result they say ‘why should we take the risk of retreating to the 1967 borders? Why should we rely on Palestinians to keep the peace? All we’ll get is rockets on Tel Aviv, Raanana and Kfar Saba. So the world won’t like us for the occupation; we can live with that, but not with rockets on our population centers”.

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Israel’s left has, for years, taken the position that we should get to a peace agreement with Abbas’ moderate leadership quickly. Our argument has been that if we don’t move ahead, Palestinian moderates will be weakened further; that this will bring Hamas back to power and peace would therefore become impossible.

Israel’s citizenry had not accepted this logic, and has punished the left, practically eliminating it from the Knesset. Israel’s voters basically told the left “if indeed the hold of moderates over the West Bank is so weak, why should we rely on it? What if we retreat to the 1967 border, and Hamas, once again, wins the elections?” The result is that the Knesset has moved further to the right than ever before; the latest polls indicate that this trend is likely to continue in the next elections.
Is there anything Palestinians can do to change the course of history?

Mahmoud Abbas, in a recent interview with Henrique Cymerman, said that the Palestinians made a crucial mistake in rejecting the 1947 UN partition plan; before that he admitted that Palestinians’ most terrible mistake was the second intifada. And he asked the question ‘how long will you Israelis continue to punish us for our mistakes?”

My heart went out to Abbas, who has transformed from a greyish politician into a true statesman; and to Salaam Fayyad and the phenomenal work of state-building that he has done in his tenure as Prime Minister of the Palestinian Authority; to the many Palestinian business people who have taken the initiative of raising Palestinian quality of life; my heart went out to them, because I am convinced of their honest commitment to peace; and because there is nothing they can do to convince Israelis to trust Palestinians.

The key to all this is Hamas. It didn’t initiate the latest round of violence, but it has, for years, raised the stakes of what it means to be a true foe of Israel, and thus increased the power of groups like Islamic Jihad.

Hamas’ explicit position is that Israel is to be destroyed; that there will never be peace, but at best a truce, has basically turned the Israel-Palestine conflict into a zero-sum game. Its charter, a rambling document of religious fanaticism intermingled with quotations from the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, qualifies it as belonging into the same category as Neo-Nazi groups in Europe: organizations that need to be fought, not negotiated with.

I know that the reality of Hamas is more complex; that there are members of its leadership that think Hamas needs to renounce violence for good, and that it should transform into a legitimate political party and endorse the two-state solution.

I want to call upon Hamas’ leadership to take responsibility. Through its suicide bombings it is responsible for the death of the Oslo process; by the shelling of Southern Israel it is responsible for the terrible suffering of its own people in Operation Cast Lead.

Hamas has virtually destroyed Israel’s peace camp. Hamas have left us without arguments to convince Israeli voters to take risks for peace. Hamas are about to push the Knesset even further to the right, and it will soon have the dubious honor to have indeed killed the two-state solution. The result will be further waves of violence; Jewish lives taken for nothing, and Palestinian lives lived without freedom and dignity.

It is time for Hamas to realize that it holds the key to the future of its own people. Israelis will not move towards peace as long as Hamas, a central player and crucial part of Palestinian society will not endorse peace explicitly. No amount of playing games will do; nothing less than full recognition of Israel’s right to exist in safety and abolishing the Charter and excising its anti-Semitism as it stands completely; nothing less will do.

I am not arguing about morality now. I am not talking about whose ultimate responsibility this tragic conflict is; and I am not participating in the war of ‘narratives’ about the Israel-Palestine conflict.

I am talking simple realpolitik. Israelis will not move towards peace if Hamas will not radically change its position; if it will not take the way the Northern Irish Catholic resistance took in abolishing the IRA and creating a legitimate political party.

The longer Israel’s right is in power, the more impossible the two-state solution will become. Already now it is almost no longer feasible. This is the equation, simple and harsh. Hamas is condemning its people to a life without dignity, and on the way to destroying chances that Palestinians will have a viable state. Nothing and nobody will absolve Hamas from its responsibility for its people’s fate.