Israel’s decision to impose a unilateral case fire—quickly followed by a Hamas cease fire coupled with threats—will save lives in the short run, but it may end up costing even more lives if it is not accompanied by an unequivocal rejection of the Hamas tactic that provoked this war.
Unless Hamas is permanently disarmed and rendered incapable of smuggling more rockets into Gaza, this terrorist group will always have the upper hand. Whenever it chooses, it can once again provoke Israel into retaliating by firing rockets indiscriminately into Israeli civilian areas and playing Russian roulette with the lives of its children. It can also cause Israel to kill Palestinian children by simply continuing to use civilians as human shields.
Many Israelis today share a view expressed by Golda Meir many years ago when she said to Palestinian terrorists “we can perhaps someday forgive you for killing our children, but we can never forgive you for making us kill your children.” That, in a nutshell, is the difference between the morality of Israel and the immorality of Hamas. Israel mourns the death of every child, Palestinian as well as Israeli, whereas Hamas celebrates the death of every child, whether an Israeli killed by one of their rockets or Palestinian made a martyr by Hamas using him or her as a human shield. Hamas echoes the views of the leader of Hezbollah when he said, “We will win because we love death and you love life.”
The use of civilians as weapons of war—both offensive and defensive weapons—has been developed to a low science by Hamas and Hezbollah. Yet the international community rarely condemns this despicable, double war crime tactic. It is quick, however, to condemn Israel when it becomes a victim of this win-win tactic for terrorists and lose-lose tactic for democracies. Some have gone so far as to accuse Israel of war crimes. These same bigots were silent when Russia killed tens of thousands of Chechnyan civilians. They don’t care about “war crimes.” They only use that concept as a weapon against the Jewish state. As long as the international community and the media continue to act as facilitators for Hamas and Hezbollah, these terrorist groups will continue to use their immoral and illegal tactics. And why not? They win and the democracy loses.
This could all change. All that is required is for the international community—the U.N., so-called human rights groups, international lawyers and the media—to put the blame for this tactic squarely where it belongs: on those who use civilians as weapons, by targeting them and by hiding behind them. But dream on! This is about as likely to happen as Hamas recognizing Israel’s right to exist and sitting down with the Palestinian Authority to create a Palestinian state pursuant to the two-state solution. Palestinians will finally get a state when their leaders and the majority of Palestinians want their own state more than they want to see the destruction of the Jewish state. Unfortunately, that is not likely to happen in the near future.
The best we can hope for is an interim two-state solution between the Palestinian Authority, which governs the West Bank, and Israel. The West Bank could then be turned into a “West Berlin” as contrasted with Gaza’s “East Berlin.” A Marshall Plan for a peaceful West Bank might then demonstrate to the citizens of Gaza the peace dividend they could reap from giving up their futile dreams of destroying Israel, voting the Hamas terrorists out of office, and joining with the Palestinian Authority in achieving lasting peace with the Jewish state.
This is a propitious time to explore this option. We have a new administration, with a President who understands Israeli’s security needs, and has committed himself to protecting Israel from external threats, while at the same time committing himself to seeking a peaceful resolution from the beginning of his term. President-elect Obama, perhaps because of his heritage, is likely to be trusted more than his predecessor by the Arab and Muslim world. It is also a propitious time because Israel has dealt a devastating blow to the Hamas leadership and terrorists, even if it has not completely destroyed them or their capacity to launch rockets. Israel can only make peace from a position of strength, and the Palestinians will only make peace from a position of weakness.
This may also be a propitious time for Israel to reach out to Syria. The Bush Administration discouraged Israel from doing so, whereas the Obama Administration will surely encourage it to try to make peace with that dictatorship. Returning the Golan Heights, even in a demilitarized status, would be extremely risky for Israel. But eliminating Syria from its alliance of evil with Iran holds significant benefits for the Jewish state. Israel too is holding an election and may have a change of administration. Serious peace negotiations will probably have to await the outcome of that election, but preliminary steps can be taken even now.
This is the time for all sides to realize that an imperfect peace, as long as it increases Israel’s security, is preferable to a recurrence of Hezbollah and Hamas-initiated warfare.
Alan Dershowitz is a professor of law at Harvard and the author of The Case Against Israel’s Enemies (Wiley 2008). He will be speaking at the Jewish Federation of Broward County's Community Campaign Celebration, Tues. January 27th, at the Signature Grand in Davie.