Who‘s at fault? What to do?

In the aftermath of a messy afternoon when some 40,000 Gazans were sent to wreak havoc on, and if possible, over the border with Israel, and IDF personnel killed some 60 and wounded a thousand or two, we‘ve been flooded with commentary all over the intellectual map.   My Israeli perspective, widely shared here, is that the responsibility lies with the Gazan leadership, whipping up enthusiasm then describing their murderous intentions as a peaceful demonstration. Along the way they managed to destroy three times after repeated Israeli efforts at reconstruction the Gazan side of a border crossing, including the pipelines for household gas and fuel oil from Israel, as well as the possibility to receive hundreds of large trucks daily carrying food, medical and household supplies.   Bloodshed and misery is their purpose, transmitted to the world by journalists allowed to work on Gaza, provided they toe the Hamas line.   On all the above, there is very little dispute here.   There is also widespread condemnation of the Palestinians‘ overseas sycophants, who voted for the nonsensical condemnation of Israel — dressed up by what was called an impartial investigation — by the body that goes by the misleading title, United Nations Human Rights Council.   There is less agreement here with respect to what can be done.   There is wide recognition of the relative peace that prevails in the West Bank, and the assessment that it reflects work opportunities in Israel and reasonable accommodations with respect to access to Israel for medical care, family visits, and religious observances.   East Jerusalem is also relatively calm, reflecting residents‘ full access to Israeli social services and work opportunities.   "Relative peace" is, of course, relative. There are armed guards at sensitive places, frequent demonstrations, nasty comments by West Bank leaders, occasional attacks by knife or automobile, and charges of police brutality. Overall, however, the West Bank and East Jerusalem compares favorably with statistics of violent crime in the US, and police treatment of African Americans.   Israelis discuss the possibility and desirability of opening Gaza for greater aid, and providing–as was available in years past–similar opportunities to work in Israel as are available to West Bank Palestinians.   Here, however, we run into the problems of managing someone else‘s society.    The DNA of Hamas and its allies is so far intensely opposed to Israel‘s existence and any cooperation. And they control Gaza with greater toughness than their Fatah cousins control the West Bank,    There are laments from within Israel and more strongly from overseas Jews and others about the extremists in control of Israeli politics, and the rejection by Netanyahu, Lieberman, and others of any concessions or inclination to try something new that might produce accommodation with Gaza.   Perhaps there are things that haven‘t been considered at the highest levels. But it‘s foolish to claim that nothing has been tried.   Most prominent was the withdrawal of Israeli settlements from Gaza, produced by the iconic hawk Ariel Sharon as Prime Minister.   It took minutes for the Gazan mobs to destroy what the Israelis had left behind, including signs marking as holy sites the synagogues that had served the settlements. It didn‘t take much longer for the Gazan leadership to begin firing missiles toward Israeli settlements on the other side of the border, and on occasion further into Israel. That began several rounds of middle level IDF responses, with the results on each occasion of about a hundred Israeli deaths and a couple of thousand Gazans. Israel allowed the shipment of fuel and other supplies after each outburst of violence, and the transfer of funds from overseas supporters said to provide for rebuilding and other development.    The reality is that a mass of destroyed housing remains from the last IDF operation and earlier ones, while much if not most of the resources went to building tunnels, rockets, and other facilities meant for the next attack against Israel.   Do those calling for Israel to do something constructive need anything more of a wake up call than Gazans‘ repeated actions to destroy Israeli lines of supply for their food, fuel, and medical goods?   Israeli governments have sought to nurture those Palestinians showing signs of accommodation, but overt ties with Israel have been a problem for those Palestinians making the effort. Anything more than a pragmatic willingness to work in Israel, or quiet, passive, and under the table cooperation between security personnel is likely to bring condemnation and intra-Palestinian violence from the extremists.   Despite the UNHRC resolution and other statements by international worthies in condemnation of Israel, the overall picture has changed, and not to Gaza‘s interests. Israel now has cooperation from Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Qatar, each of which have commentators who criticize and ridicule the efforts of Hamas, and whose governments have pressed the Gazans–with the incentives of aid–to ratchet down from their efforts to sacrifice civilians in a hopeless effort to topple Israel.   The borders between Jews and Palestinians are profound. They are not so much physical barriers, but cultural. Distrust is more prevalent than individual friendships. Suspicions may linger, even among people who work together and share an occasional meal or  conversation.    There is no shortage of material suggesting that we live on the edge. "invisible enemies" is one expression about gangs, militias, non-governmental organizations or quasi-governments like Hezbollah and full governments like Iran boasting their capacity to destroy Israel.   According to the economic statistics, however, most Israelis live better than most Brits, French, Japanese, and lots more at lower levels.   We hear from right-wing overseas Jews who dream of moving Palestinians elsewhere.   Israeli realists–shown by surveys to be the vast majority–recognize that we‘re destined to live alongside one another, and support efforts at accommodation. Relations with the West Bank are within or close to the tolerable range. We should never say never about Gaza, but the recent past, the present, and foreseeable future are not encouraging.   Liberal American Jews criticize their Israeli cousins for not doing enough for Gaza or other Palestinians. We hear about like "moral imperative" for what we must do.   It may be wiser for such critics to consider the field of comparative public policy. Why concern themselves with Palestine? Much of the Third World is in worse shape than the West Bank, or even Gaza. And minority ghettos in American cities are arguably in need of solutions as much or more so than Gazans. And those ghettos are closer to what Americans might understand by way of the options than are distant Palestinians.

Israelis, like Jews from time past, must find friends, supporters, or those willing to cooperate, perhaps quietly, where it can. There are ironies and unpleasantness in the process. It involves cooperation with those who must condemn us before their crowds and in UN forums, like several Arab governments, as well as cozying up to both Putin and Trump, each destined by their own politics not to get along with one another..   Currently there‘s a movement afoot to arrange a long term cease fire with Gaza, in exchange for various kinds of aid. The principal movers in this seem to be Egypt and Qatar, both of whose governments have indicated that Hamas has gone too far in asserting its feeble power against Israel.   Israeli officials, along with Americans, are cooperating in this move, but it‘s a tough slog– against Hamas‘ anti-Israel extremism, along with the anti-Hamas extremism of the Palestinian Fatah party in control of the West Bank. If many in the Hamas leadership are disinclined to deal with Israel, many in the Fatah leadership are disinclined to see any advantage going to Hamas.   We‘ll see if it‘s another Palestinian opportunity to miss an opportunity.

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— 
Ira Sharkansky (Emeritus)
Department of Political Science
Hebrew University of Jerusalem

 
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