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Monday, January 26, 2015

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Hamas has no interest in ending Gaza conflict

Tags: Columnists gaza Operation Protective Edge
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Paul Michaels

At the time this column is being written – as Israel’s “Operation Protective Edge,” meant to stop Hamas’ indiscriminate missile fire on Israeli civilians, continues – it was impossible to know what would transpire in the next 24 hours, let alone by the time this appeared in print.

Yet already there are mounting voices in the international media chastising Israel for the unfolding conflict, even though it was initiated by Hamas.

To be sure, in the first few days, it was widely stated that Israel had the right, even the obligation, to defend its citizens from Hamas’ missiles. But, predictably, as soon as the Palestinian “body count” started to grow (small as it is, given the measures Israel takes to avoid civilian casualties – measures no other country would take if faced with the same onslaught), the emotional impact of TV news images from Gaza showing the dead and injured weighed heavily against Israel.

And since it deliberately fires its missiles from civilian areas, precisely to ensure that Israel’s counter-measures will result in widespread Palestinian civilian casualties and generate international opprobrium against Israel, this negative coverage is exactly what Hamas is counting on. It doesn’t get more cynical than that, but it works every time. 

One can’t help but wonder why so many western journalists reporting from Gaza, such as CNN’s Ben Wedeman, repeatedly observe that Gaza residents lack bomb shelters, but don’t bother to mention that Hamas leaders provide bunkers for themselves while leaving their citizens exposed.

Then there are western commentators who, while affirming that Israel has the right to defend itself, nonetheless fault it for being, in their view, not sincerely committed to the peace process. This line of argument assumes that Hamas and other extremist groups operating in Gaza would not be taking these actions if there had been progress towards an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement.

Michael Bell, former Canadian ambassador to Israel, Jordan, and Egypt – someone with extensive experience in the region – pursued this line of thinking in an opinion piece for the July 11 Globe and Mail.

Bell noted that the “basic duty of any legitimate government, anywhere, is to protect the security and well-being of its citizens when threatened,” and that this certainly applies in Israel’s case, given that Israel must “induce Hamas and its even more radical Palestinian competitors to terminate their [missile] attacks.” Bell even credits the Israeli military for taking steps to minimize Palestinian civilian casualties. He indeed tries to be fair to Israel on this score.

However, when Bell then argues that the breakdown of the political process toward a two-state solution – a breakdown he blames on Israel – leads to the instability and violence we’re witnessing from Gaza, he confuses matters.

 While Bell is correct that there’s no military solution for Gaza and that only a political resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict will provide stability, he’s wrong in implying that Hamas and other extremist groups have any interest in allowing such a political process to gain traction. Hamas, which seeks Israel’s destruction, is in fact bitterly opposed to any peace process (even though some elements have in the past spoken about accepting a temporary arrangement with Israel along the 1967 lines, with the caveat that Israel must accept the “right of return” of Palestinian refugees – code for Israel’s destruction).

Let’s not forget that during the early and hopeful days of the Oslo process (1994 to 1996), when Israel was fulfilling the “land for peace” formula with the Palestinians, Hamas launched a horrific wave of suicide bombings in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv aimed at crippling the “peace process.” Hamas succeeded in undermining it and has continued to do so to this day.

Now Hamas and Islamic Jihad are “competing” with even more extreme jihadists, both in Gaza and the wider region, which is wracked by growing violent upheaval and chaos.

It’s within this tortured environment that Israel must somehow find a lasting answer to Hamas’ nihilistic behaviour. 

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