In 2005, Israelis conducted a bold experiment. Prevailing wisdom held that the Palestinian-Israeli conflict was due to Israel’s “occupation” of two “Palestinian territories.” If that was true, shouldn’t giving Palestinians one of those territories, Gaza, mitigate the conflict?
Negotiations over the other “occupied territory,” the West Bank, could follow, leading to the resolution of the conflict.
Fast forward to last May when Hamas, which rules Gaza, initiated a war with Israel – for the fourth time. Obviously, Israel’s experiment failed.
Equally obvious: Israelis cannot withdraw from the West Bank until they have security guarantees from the Palestinian Authority (PA), which governs that territory. And if that means the Jews of the Jewish Quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem will be denied Ben & Jerry’s Chunky Monkey, so be it.
Will you let me take you on a slightly deeper dive? When Israelis withdrew from Gaza – every soldier, every farmer, every grave – they expected the PA to take control. But Hamas waged and won a civil war against the PA. Since 2007, PA President Mahmoud Abbas has not dared set foot in Gaza.
Turning Gaza into a Mediterranean Singapore was never on Hamas’ to-do list. What has been: digging terrorist tunnels into Israel, sending incendiary balloons to burn Israeli fields and forests, and firing missiles at Israeli villages, towns, and cities. In 2008, 2012, 2014, and again this year, the salvos were large enough to ignite wars.
Israelis try to limit the weapons that Hamas receives. Israel’s enemies call that a “blockade” and pretend it’s the cause – not the result – of Hamas’ terrorism. But food, medicine, and other non-military goods move into Gaza daily from both Israel and Egypt.
Often misunderstood: Although the Israelis gave Gaza to the Palestinians, the Israelis never took Gaza from the Palestinians. The territory was an Ottoman possession until that empire collapsed. It was a British possession until that empire exited. In 1947, the UN proposed the partition of Palestine into two countries: a very small one for Jewish Palestinians, a larger one for Arab Palestinians (who did not yet insist that only they could be called “Palestinians.”)
The Jews agreed. The Arabs did not. In 1948, the Arab states surrounding Palestine launched a war to drive the Jews into the sea.
The Jews fought for their lives and won an independent state in part of their ancient homeland. But Egypt conquered Gaza. And Jordan conquered Judea and Samaria, territories it renamed the West Bank, and from which all Jews were expelled. Neither nation attempted to transform these territories into a Palestinian state.
In 1967, Egypt, Jordan, and other Arab nations launched what became known as the Six-Day War. Its aim was Israel’s extermination. Its failure left Gaza and the West Bank in Israeli hands.
Suppose this brief and factual history is unfamiliar to you. In that case, that’s likely due to the persistent propagation of misinformation and disinformation about Israel – in the media, on campuses, and from such organizations like the UN and Human Rights Watch.
With that in mind, Jonathan Schanzer, my colleague at FDD, has quickly but carefully written the first book on this year’s war. “Gaza Conflict 2021: Hamas, Israel and Eleven Days of War” takes on the task of “explaining that war, with the benefit of hindsight, better than it was explained at the time.”
He examines what really motivated Hamas to attack Israel at this particular juncture and the role of other actors, particularly the Islamic Republic of Iran, which provides Hamas with “financial assistance, as well as training and weapons,” and regards Gaza as part of its expanding empire.
He provides historical context that does not conform with the narratives promulgated by anti-Zionists and antisemites (but I repeat myself).
Mr. Schanzer also tells some good war stories, none better than how, on May 13, the Israeli Defense Forces tweeted a statement indicating that ground troops had invaded Gaza. Western reporters ran with it. The Israeli media, by contrast, sought corroboration.
“Hamas scrambled its commando fighters — many of whom had been trained in Iran — to file into what the Israelis nicknamed the ‘Hamas Metro,’” Mr. Schanzer writes. “The Metro was a labyrinth of tunnels that Hamas had spent years and hundreds of millions of dollars digging. The terrorist group hoped to surprise Israeli troops entering Gaza, with commandos popping up and quickly disappearing back into the Metro’s many openings. Their goal was to kidnap or kill IDF soldiers.”
Israeli ground troops never arrived. Instead, “160 aircraft dropped 450 missiles on 150 targets in northern Gaza during an intense operation. Although the exact number is still debated, the Metro sustained significant damage, and many commando fighters were killed. Israeli tanks, artillery, and infantry units near the Gaza border targeted Hamas rocket teams that emerged to strike Israel.”
Is there a diplomatic solution to Hamas’ conflict with Israel? Mr. Schanzer is doubtful. “Hamas exists to fight Israel,” he concludes. Hamas’ patrons – Qatar and Turkey in addition to the Islamic Republic – “provide funds and assistance for exactly that reason.” He predicts: “War will, unfortunately, come again.”
Might Israelis one day decisively defeat Hamas? It’s possible, but what happens the day after? Most Israelis don’t want the burden of occupying and ruling Gaza. Nor do they want to become the expeditionary force of the PA, which has refused to seriously negotiate with them for years.
Mr. Schanzer concludes that Israelis have no choice but to fight endless wars and endless “wars between wars” against Hamas, against Lebanon-based Hezbollah (which has 150,000 missiles aimed at Israel), and against the Iranian patrons of both. That will change when the lion lies down with the lamb.
• Clifford D. May is founder and president of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD) and a columnist for the Washington Times.