Gaza Illustrates Palestinian Statehood
Jonathan S. Tobin
Secretary of State John Kerry is about to head to the Middle East again to restart the peace process between Israelis and Palestinians. His goal remains a deal to create an independent Palestinian state and thereby end the conflict for all time. But as much as Israelis crave peace, along with the rest of the world they are getting another good look today at what happens in an independent Palestinian state and the result is far from pretty. That’s the only rational way to process what happened earlier today as the Islamic Jihad group fired half a dozen rockets at southern Israel from Gaza. Israel responded with air strikes on the terrorists and the upshot was that for the first time in six months the fragile cease-fire between the Hamas rulers of the strip and Israel seemed in danger. But as the Times of Israel pointed out, the rockets were not so much aimed at Israelis (though if some Jews had been killed that would have been considered a welcome bonus by the shooters) as they were at Hamas.
That sounds confusing, but it actually makes perfect sense. Hamas and Islamic Jihad share a commitment to violence against Israel and imposing Islamist law on Palestinians. But the two have different patrons. Islamic Jihad is now backed by Iran, which used to supply Hamas with weapons, while Hamas now is tight with Turkey, which is opposing the Iranians in Syria. But with Hamas worried about starting another round of fighting with Israel just at the time when it wants to keep pressure up on its real rival—Fatah and the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank—support for Islamic Jihad is apparently starting to grow. That has led to a crackdown of sorts by Hamas on Islamic Jihad. Hence, the rockets fly as the Palestinians maneuver against each other by shooting at Jews.
While the fight between two factions of extremist terrorists may not seem particularly relevant to Americans, Washington should be paying close attention to this battle since it is a preview of what may happen in the even more strategic West Bank in the unlikely event that Kerry gets his way and Israel is forced to abandon not just settlements but the military presence that keeps a lid on terrorism. With all the talk about the need to create a Palestinian state for the sake of justice or even to assure that Israel remains a Jewish state, Gaza provides a daily clinic on the consequences of more Israeli territorial withdrawals.
Hard as it is for some people to remember, when Israel withdrew every last soldier or settler from Gaza in 2005, it was not assumed that the strip would become a terrorist base. Rather, there was hope that it would provide a chance for the Palestinians to show that they truly could govern themselves. But from the first day after the withdrawal—when mobs burned abandoned synagogues and tore down the greenhouses that had been purchased from their owners to give to the Palestinians to use—what has happened in Gaza is a walking, talking illustration of what the world could expect if the independent Palestinian state that we are endlessly told is the only solution to the conflict ever actually comes to pass.
Of course, as I’ve pointed out repeatedly, Gaza is for all intents and purposes already an independent Palestinian state in all but name. Though some claim that the fact that it doesn’t have complete control over its borders means it is still “occupied,” that is nonsense. It is true that both Israel and Egypt have sought to isolate the Hamas regime, but the Islamist group exercises effective sovereignty over the area. Moreover, if that is the measure of independence, do advocates of complete Palestinian independence over the West Bank expect Israel to accept a militarized West Bank or one that is free to allow the entry of foreign weapon supplies or even armed forces? If so, then the danger that such a state would pose to Israel is even greater than some have thought.
The point here is not so much to dismiss all the arguments that have been assembled on behalf of the creation of a Palestinian state by both Americans and Israelis out of hand. Most Israelis would like to be separated from the Palestinians of the West Bank. Indeed, after the terrorism of the second intifada, most want nothing to do with them and reject the idea that there can be any ultimate solution to the conflict that does not involve two states that would allow the two peoples to exercise their right of self-determination alongside each other. So long as violent groups dedicated to the destruction of the Jewish state dominate the political culture of the Palestinians, the prospect of the West Bank becoming another Gaza makes the high-flown rhetoric about the two-state solution look naive at best.
The main obstacle to peace remains the inability of Fatah to do what Hamas and Islamic Jihad will not consider: recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders are drawn and to renounce the so-called right of return that would swamp Israel with the descendants of the 1948 Arab refugees. If they were ever able to do that and to convincingly promise that this ended the conflict rather than just pausing it, they’d find Israel ready to deal. After all, Israel has already offered the Palestinians a state three times only to find each one rejected. But so long as Palestinian independence is synonymous with terror groups and their infighting, Kerry will find few serious observers heeding his calls. Anyone who wants to know why Israelis are skeptical about a Palestinian state in the West Bank need only look at Gaza.