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Opponents of Israel's military operation in Gaza are the real enemies of Middle Eastern peace

The death knell for future peace efforts may well be the international community’s reflexive opposition

Gabriel Sassoon
Monday 28 July 2014 10:24 BST
A Palestinian protester climbs Israel's controversial separation barrier during clashes with Israeli security forces following a demonstration against Israeli settlements
A Palestinian protester climbs Israel's controversial separation barrier during clashes with Israeli security forces following a demonstration against Israeli settlements (Getty Images)

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Louise Thomas

Louise Thomas


Opposition to Israel’s military operation against Hamas is the greatest threat the international community poses to peace in the Middle East.

Implicit in the promise of the two state solution has always been a concomitant understanding: that, if attacked, Israel would have broad international support to strike back under its inalienable right to self-defence as enshrined in Article 51 of the UN Charter.

Israel withdrew from Gaza in 2005, but subsequent barrages of missiles against Israel have met with indifference by the international community. Hamas’s quotidian commission of war crimes nets them a global shrug or rap on the knuckles – another example of the soft bigotry of low expectations.

The UN has gone further – by all accounts, it has actually aided and abetted Hamas’s creation of a terror statelet – most recently, by storing rockets in UNRWA schools, and, when “discovered,” handing those rockets back to Hamas to fire at Israel.

In stark contrast, Israel’s targeted retaliation against Hamas’s rocket and terror infrastructure has been greeted by the usual cavalcade of media and diplomatic opprobrium, and the steady march of protesters the world over yelling, “Death to the Jews!” and “Hitler was right!”

I advise a member of the Israeli Labor Party, the party of Yitzhak Rabin. The Israeli peace camp has spent years convincing the electorate that the security risks inherent in handing the Palestinians the West Bank are outweighed by the likelihood that territorial withdrawals, and peace with a Palestinian state, would lead to “peace dividends:” moderation, trade, and, above all, a disincentive against terrorism.

Israel regarded its withdrawal from Gaza in 2005 as a trial balloon for this theory. After the Second Intifada years of bloodshed, during which much of the electorate concluded that the Palestinians would never accept the state of Israel as a fait accompli, the “disengagement” from Gaza was an opportunity to turn the tide back – toward compromise, mutual dialogue, and constructive engagement.

Gazans could have built the nucleus of a state and given a decisive boost to Israeli peaceniks agitating for a final status agreement, including a pullout from the West Bank and full Palestinian statehood. Instead, Hamas took over and turned the Strip into a giant rocket launching facility.

The international community fully supported the disengagement. The ideological right wing vehemently opposed it, arguing that extremists would set up a terror statelet in Gaza and launch mass attacks against Israel. These concerns were laughed off by moderates and progressives, who thought “patently ridiculous” the idea of Hamas being able to fire even on the southern city of Ashkelon – much less Tel Aviv.

Fast forward nine years. Thousands of rockets later, the right wing’s doomsday scenario has become a surreal, nightmarish reality. The right wing claimed that the rockets would one day reach Tel Aviv. Laughable in 2005, Hamas achieved this by 2012, and, as of last week, Hamas had two-thirds of Israel’s 8 million citizens in bomb shelters, its projectile power stretching as far north as Haifa.

In this context, the FAA shutdown of flights to Ben Gurion International airport, following a Hamas missile strike on a civilian house in nearby Yahud, was a game changer.

Never mind that Hamas committed a war crime, and had been explicitly broadcasting its intent to hit Ben Gurion for weeks. Even more critically, Hamas nearly hit the airport from a distance of 70 kilometres, while withdrawal from the West Bank would bring Palestine’s borders to within 10 kilometres of Ben Gurion.

Hamas has done enough damage to the prospects of a two state solution with its violent rejectionist extremism. But the death knell for future peace efforts may well be the international community’s reflexive opposition to Israel’s operation in Gaza.

While many of the Arab states “get it,” and the EU’s statement yesterday was heartening (though unreported anywhere but in Israel), as soon as civilians began dying in Gaza, we saw lukewarm support drop to mild opposition, with that opposition only rising with today's UN Human Rights Council’s decision to establish a commission of inquiry on "war crimes."

Withdrawal from the West Bank is a lynchpin of any two state peace proposal. That will require an enormous security gamble on Israel’s part. Israel must know that the international community would not tolerate a single mortar fired on Israeli territory, because, as we’ve seen, just one projectile can shut down air traffic and bring the economy to a screeching halt.

However, since 2005, the world has blithely watched, indifferent, as literally thousands of mortars and rockets – often at a “low” weekly rate – have been fired on southern Israel. Now, Hamas has fired rockets at Ben Gurion airport, yet somehow it is the Israelis being castigated for retaliating.

The world’s pathetic reaction to Hamas’s aggression is beginning to crystallize the right-wing turn in Israeli politics. You are killing the peace movement in Israel with your unthinking opposition to Israeli self-defense. How can Israel possibly risk a West Bank withdrawal when its army's frankly restrained response to 2000 rockets being fired at its cities from Gaza by terrorists is the subject of "disproportionate" global condemnation?

The late Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin’s motto was to “fight terrorism as if there is no peace process and pursue peace as if there is no terrorism.” The world cannot push Israel to adopt just half of Rabin’s motto. If the international community is serious about getting to a two state peace, it must encourage Israel to pursue peace as if there is no terrorism, but it must also stand shoulder to shoulder with Israel in its fight against terrorism regardless of the state of the peace process.

Twitter: @GabrielSassoon

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