Lessons Not Learned
The Kadima Party led by acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has now won 28 seats in the 120-seat Knesset elections in a vote that hinged on his plan to draw the country’s final borders through â€œunilateral withdrawalâ€ from most of the West Bank including its vital aquifers and strategic depth. It reflects growing Israeli despair over the prospects for a negotiated settlement with the Palestinians. Israel now has twelve political parties with no mandate to govern at arguably one of the most critical moments in its history. Only 63.2% of Israel’s voters bothered to show up on a day when fateful decisions should have drawn the entire country to the ballot box.
As happened at the end of World War II when wartime Prime Minister Winston Churchill was replaced by Labor’s Clement Atlee with his mostly domestic agenda, so it has been in Israel where, for the moment, socio-economic and domestic issues have trumped security issues, and the desire for “conflict management” with the Palestinians has overshadowed any hope in the foreseeable future for a “conflict resolution” with them.
This state of affairs will continue until either the Iranian nuclear threat approaches “critical mass” or until a Katyusha rocket attack either brings down a civilian airliner as it approaches Ben Gurion airport or strikes a populated residential area or industrial center resulting in massive casualties. For now, however, social welfare reform has won the day and Israelis are content to maintain their current level of response based upon counter-insugency, targeted assassinations and the security barrier.
Coincidentally, on the same day as the Israeli election (and for the first time), Palestinian terrorists fired a long-range Katyusha rocket from the Gaza Strip into Israel thereby placing a much larger number of Israeli towns and villages within rocket range, including the city of Ashkelon. Gaza rockets are now closer to Tel Aviv than ever before. The implications of this are ominous.
At the same time, the new Hamas cabinet headed by Ismail Haniyeh was ratified by the Palestinian Legislative Council. Holding high a copy of the Koran, a Hamas member proclaimed: “The Koran is our constitution, Mohammed is our prophet, jihad [holy war] is our path, and dying for the sake of Allah is our biggest wish.” His remark drew a thunderous applause from all his colleagues. “We cannot recognize Israel,” Hamas’ newly approved Minister of Information, Youssef Rizka, told one cheering crowd in Gaza. “The land of Palestine is ours and not for the Jews.” And Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh (responding to the Kadima Plan to set Israelâ€™s borders with the Palestinians) declared that the Palestinians would not accept any such borders and would never â€œgive up one inch of Palestine.â€ Hamas will now consolidate its control over the Palestinian Authority infrastructure, move to exert Islamic law over Palestinian society (which should not be too difficult given that two-thirds of Palestinians already believe Islamic law (shariâ€™a) should be their sole source of legislation), continue to stockpile more sophisticated, long range rockets and other weapons in their war arsenal and fund its educational and religious institutions to encourage Palestinian children to become â€œmartyrs for Allah.â€ It has already confirmed it’s intention to continue military operations against Israel and acknowledged that jihad (holy war) is the only way to “liberate Palestine and achieve independence.”
Unless Iâ€™m missing something, there seems to be a serious â€œdisconnectâ€ here. While Israel (together with its Western allies) over the years has spoken of peace plans, roadmaps, withdrawals, negotiations and concessions, just down the road, Hamas is preparing for genocide. While Israelis speak of a two-state solution, Hamas speaks of a Final Solution.
Without reviewing the military and strategic blunders inherent in the Gaza withdrawal which predictably has now led to the creation of a terror statelet in Gaza, it is amazing that the Israeli electorate would bring to power a government that has committed itself to a further withdrawal from most of the high ground in the West Bank. Hamas, which has made no secret of its intentions, must be ecstatic (despite it’s protestations). From its perspective, terrorism continues to pay dividends, made all the easier by Israel’s willingness to cede territory without requiring anything of substance in return. It’s leaders are not entirely wrong in claiming that violence (most notably through suicide bombings) has achieved more results over the past six years than the previous two decades of dialogue and negotiation with the Israelis.
President Kennedy was right when he warned Americans in another war, against an equally formidable enemy, in another time: â€œ”We dare not tempt them (the Soviets) with weakness.” Following his death, America would learn that lesson by “withdrawing” from Vietnam, Tehran, Beirut and finally Mogadishu, Somalia.
In the Arab world, perception is everything and in the eyes of the Palestinians, any Israeli â€œwithdrawalâ€ is perceived as “victory”. On March 21, 1968, a party of Israeli school children from Tel Aviv was being taken by bus for a picnic to the Negev desert. The school bus hit a mine planted by Arab terrorists. Two children were killed and twenty-eight injured. The Israelis took punitive action and launched a raid to destroy the Arab base at Karameh, a small village east of the Jordan River. The moment the Jordanian army arrived in support of the terrorists, however, the Israelis withdrew leading to a perception of weakness and vulnerability. Yasser Arafat (who was then leading the terrorists) immediately claimed Karameh as a great victory. “Fatah had taken on the might of Israel and defeated the vaunted Israeli army” he said and that was the message that flowed through the Arab refugee camps. The perception of “victory” at the battle of Karameh sent a surge of optimism through the Palestinian community and established the Palestinians’ claim to being a national liberation organization. The operation gave an enormous boost to Yasser Arafat’s Fatah organization and irrevocably implanted the Palestine problem onto the international agenda, no longer as a humanitarian issue of homeless refugees, but as a claim to Palestinian statehood.
Similarly, when Israel withdrew from Lebanon on May 23, 2000, Hezbollah’s reputation in jihadist circles soared. The withdrawal allowed the organization to spread the perception that by killing Jews in designated, selective suicide bombings, Israel could be made to withdraw from anywhere. In a brochure prepared for a Hezbollah conference in Beirut on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the terrorist group argued that “the first harsh defeat” for Israel came in May 2000 when it withdrew its forces unilaterally from southern Lebanon after several years of Hezbollah suicide attacks on Israeli soldiers there. Hezbollah never tired of boasting that suicide bombings succeeded where all else had failed.
These “martyrdom operations,” are often seen in the West as a tactic of desperation. That is because we continually fail to understand the “culture of martyrdom” that permeates the Middle East. The leaders of Hezbollah, Hamas and Fatah view these “operations” as a successful weapon that has put Israel on the defensive. In the eyes of terrorists, any withdrawal (for whatever reason) is perceived as a vulnerable weakness that can be made to metastasize into a humiliating defeat.
Thus, while the Western world congratulates Israel for its magnanimity in withdrawing from Gaza (and by the way, there is no historical model that has ever shown that exchanging land for peace has ever worked with an ideologically-driven enemy), the perception of Hamas and its Palestinian terror affiliates is entirely different. They see any withdrawal as an Israeli defeat. The election of Kadima in Israel and the reaffirmation of its failed policy of withdrawal (for whatever reasons it chooses to offer – in this case, setting Israelâ€™s borders for demographic reasons) will set the stage for yet another blunder of strategic proportions if carried out. It is the wrong policy, at the wrong time, and is being “offered” to the wrong kind of enemy under the wrong circumstances. History teaches us that peace that is dictated by one side never holds.
Like bin Laden, the leaders of Hamas understand the concept of â€œvictoryâ€ and with the election of a government committed to voluntarily returning what Hamas considers to be â€œhistoric Islamic lands (umma)â€, Hamas rightfully smells victory once again. Just as al Qaeda dreams of the last Americans being forced out of Dar al-Islam (The Abode of Islam) by “the Army of Muhammad,” so Hamas dreams of the day when Israel will be vanquished. To believe that Israel can find security through withdrawal when confronted by an ideological enemy committed to her destruction is the height of folly.
We are told that those who do not learn the lessons of the past are doomed to repeat them. Gaza should have demonstrated that withdrawal does not a peace make unless an enemy is genuinely prepared to negotiate a settlement in good faith. As Emanuele Ottolenghi wrote recently in National Review Online: â€œWith Israel now encircled by Iran’s proxies and Islamist fanatics, the last thing the country needed was an inconclusive (election) result. It will (now) reap the whirlwinds of its apathy.â€
A further “unilateral retreat” will perpetuate Israel’s image (in the eyes of its enemies) as a country that can be broken. So long as Hamas believes that they are winning and that the Jewish state can be destroyed, there will never be a resolution of the conflict. Appeasing Hamas with another withdrawal will only encourage further acts of terrorism. In the terrible arithmatic of war, it will only lead to more deaths. Israel can only hope to survive by defeating Hamas (at some point in the near future) decisively and absolutely. It is only a matter of time before that state of affairs becomes necessary. Since Hamas derives its ideology from it’s unswerving belief that faith in Allah makes it invincible, only defeat can convince it otherwise. Only defeat can bring it (and its supporters) to the realization that it cannot continue to conduct itself as it has. Based upon its nature and its past, that day will not be long in coming.