Opinion

Hamas Has Proven Israel Only Understands Force

We treat Abbas, who for 14 years has been making major efforts to prevent terrorism, with disdain and even contempt. Yet Hamas leaders Yahya Sinwar and Saleh al-Arouri, who have Israeli blood on their hands, win our respect

Hamas Chief Ismail Haniyeh attending the funeral of Hamas militants who were killed by Israeli tank fire, July 26, 2018.
\ MOHAMMED SALEM/ REUTERS

Mid-1980s: The national unity government headed by Shimon Peres is aiding in the establishment of Hamas. Defense Minister Yitzhak Rabin meets with the movement’s co-founder, Mahmoud al-Zahar, at Defense Ministry offices in Tel Aviv. Permission is granted to set up the Islamic University of Gaza, and with Israel’s help, Hamas becomes a leading actor in Palestinian society.

2005. Prime Minister Ariel Sharon evacuates the Jewish settlements in the Gaza Strip, under fire. Mahmoud Abbas has led the Palestinian Authority since November 2004, but Sharon insisted that the withdrawal was a unilateral action. Israel never evacuated a single settler through negotiations with the Palestinian Authority, but for the first time it agreed to uproot settlements for Hamas.

“The Arabs fear this plan and are trying to act against it everywhere,” Sharon said cynically. “Approval of the plan is a mortal blow to the Palestinians and their dreams.” Two years after this “mortal blow,” Hamas seized power in Gaza.

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October 2011: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu released more than 1,000 security prisoners, including hundreds of murderers, in exchange for a single Israeli soldier — Gilad Shalit — in a deal with Hamas. The PA, which is committed to peaceful negotiations, never secured a prisoner release of that magnitude. Hamas, which is committed to Israel’s destruction, was further strengthened.

August 2018: Netanyahu and Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman finalize an agreement with Hamas. Their envoys explain to Abbas that it would be worth his while to assume responsibility for governing the Gaza Strip. True, Hamas will keep its weapons and all the problems will be laid at his door, but that’s small potatoes. It’s the way to return to Gaza. Learn from us, they say. Even David Ben-Gurion, agreed to half a state in 1947. Abbas, who’s been hearing about Ben-Gurion’s example for nearly 30 years, is not easily persuaded. He recognizes that if the process begun by Netanyahu and Lieberman is completed, Hamas will become even stronger — at his expense, of course.

There are many people who are sure that this is Netanyahu’s genius. Under the cover of zigzagging, hesitation and momentary concessions, he is in fact pursuing a consistent policy designed to destroy anyone who still wants to talk with us about dividing the land. And there are examples to support this thesis. When Salam Fayyad was the PA prime minister, he drew up a broad economic development plan. The international community and Israeli defense officials were enamored with it. Israel wouldn’t have to concede much — building permits, checkpoints — but Netanyahu waited and dragged his feet and probed and questioned, until the plan died. Fayyad lost his job soon after.

There’s no great plan here, strategic or otherwise. The truth is sadder: We understand only force. We’re only willing to make concessions after blood has been shed. Over the years, the amount of force required has declined. Even kites can do the job. It can be proved almost mathematically. When an Air France flight was hijacked in 1976, the release of dozens of terrorists was demanded. In the Jibril deal, three soldiers sufficed in exchange for 1,150 Palestinian prisoners. 26 years later, one Israeli soldier was enough. Now the negotiations with Hamas are stalled over the remains of two Israeli soldiers.

The government is under heavy pressure not to sign an agreement that does not solve this issue — which has become nearly unresolvable, mainly because Israel broke the Shalit deal (by rearresting some of the prisoners released in the agreement). Instead of investing most of its effort into seeing to it that any agreement reached with Hamas goes through the Palestinian Authority, Israel is wasting its political energy on stupid manipulations aimed at hiding the fact that there are negotiations and an agreement with Hamas.

The bottom line is that we treat Abbas, who for 14 years has been making major efforts to prevent terrorism, with disdain and even contempt. We hold every inciting word, every stupid remark, against him. After all, we’re very sensitive about our honor. Yet Hamas leaders Yahya Sinwar and Saleh al-Arouri, who have Israeli blood on their hands, get respect from us, assurance that we won’t harm them. Come to Gaza, go to Egypt, no problem.