For those of us who care about Israel and Palestine, the events unfolding in Gaza are especially depressing. There is no doubt that both sides have missed opportunities to avert the disaster that is now unfolding. On the other hand, as David Kirkpatrick says in today’s New York Times, there is more going on here than just another bout of the never-ending Israeli-Palestinian battle. What is going on is – as Tom Friedman has been writing recently – is the latest episode in the battle between some semblance of order and chaos.
Hamas is not the representative of the Palestinian people. It is a terrorist organization that is cynically and opportunistically using the Palestinian people for its own ends. Both Palestinians and other Arabs are acutely aware of this. Kirkpatrick quotes a communiqué from Egyptian President el-Sisi saying that he does not blame – or even mention Israel when condemning Hamas for “the bloodshed of innocent civilians who are paying the price for a military confrontation for which they are not responsible.”
Every time Hamas launches an attack from a Gazan hospital, school, mosque or community center, it abuses the very people it claims to defend. By now, it should be abundantly clear that Israel can and will greet every assault with equal – or greater – retaliation. Its intelligence is sufficiently good and its weapons are sufficiently accurate that most of the time (but not all of the time), its retaliations will indeed strike at the point of origin of the attacks made upon it.
So what is the answer? As someone who believes that the root cause of political instability and unrest is economic, not political, I believe that the answer comes from creating an ordered environment in which both Gaza and the West Bank – in a unified, independent Palestinian State, can begin to build something akin to what Jordan (which is well over half ethnically Palestinian) has done in terms of a relatively strong entrepreneurial/start up ecosystem in the midst of much chaos in the region. Palestinians are notoriously clever, industrious and when given half a chance, successful. The vast majority of Palestinians do not have the political strength to dig out from under the tiny minority that Hamas represents and is driving them – not Israel – into the sea. Israel needs to help by pulverizing Hamas and then helping oversee the creation of truly democratic parties that can compete for the votes of Palestinians, with the aim of creating a functioning state that Israel will shelter in its fragile, earliest days. That is how we turn this horror in to opportunity.
The political point is that each side of this conflict has their own narrative about the status of the Gaza Strip and Israel’s role. The argument is not whether this is a border. The argument is whether Israel is occupying Gaza.