March 7, 2008

March 7, 2008 | Commentary on Middle East

The Real World: From Sderot to Jerusalem

The terrorist who attacked Merkaz HaRav Yeshiva at around 8:30 Thursday night, murdered eight religious students and wounded at least 10, sent a message to U.S. President George W. Bush and to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice who just left Israel. The bodies of the dead Jewish students spell: You are not going to get peace anytime soon.

The Annapolis negotiations process is on its deathbed. Lacking Palestinian street support and Arab backing, tainted with Iranian meddling and Sunni jihadism, Annapolis was DOA, dead on arrival, as this commentator sadly predicted, , ("After Annapolis", The Washington Times, December 1, 2007)

This week, Condoleezza Rice has attempted to rescue the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations without achieving a firm commitment from Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to return to the negotiating table - and without a clear commitment to Arab-Israeli peace from Saudi Arabia or other key Arab states.

However, the events in Jerusalem and Gaza clearly demonstrate that the fundamental issues are the lack of a viable Palestinian partner which can deliver peace as well as meddling by the rejectionist forces, from al-Qaida to Hezbollah, and from Tehran to Damascus.

A biased and misleading report on the humanitarian situation in Gaza, published on Thursday by eight British left-leaning international organizations, including Amnesty International, Oxfam, CARE International, etc., actually repeats Hamas' propaganda by blaming Israel for the near-disastrous situation on the ground in Gaza. In fact, Israel left the Strip in 2005, and it is Hamas which is trying to gain political capital by forcing the situation to deteriorate and provoking Israeli retaliation against terrorist targets, in which it often deliberately positions civilians to get hurt.

Hamas has allowed elements of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards of Iran and al-Qaida to gain a foothold in Gaza. The business of these organizations is global jihad, and Israel is but one front is that war.

Until the United States, the European Union, and the Arab countries understand this and translate the knowledge into policy, all negotiations will remain unreal, if not surreal.

Gaza and the attack in Jerusalem demonstrate Palestinian implacability toward Israel. The Western media has failed to cover the fact, disclosed by Israeli intelligence in a recent briefing to foreign ambassadors, that Hamas posts children on the rooftops of their rocket factories to prevent Israeli attacks. This is a crime against humanity as well as extreme child abuse.

As Israel drops leaflets, trying to minimize civilian casualties, Hamas orders kids to take up positions as human shields. Israelis end up either cancelling the air attacks - or killing kids and facing the world's indignation. As a rule, Israelis chose not to bomb. "We are working with our hands tied because we are part of the free world and because this is part of our values," a senior Israeli official says.

Rocket attacks from Gaza started in 2001. After the Israeli withdrawal from Gaza in 2005 and Israel's abandonment of the Egyptian-Gaza border as a result of U.S. pressure, the rocket attacks grew exponentially, with rockets, terrorists, manufacturing equipment and cash smuggled through the tunnels and the porous Egyptian-Gaza border (the so-called Philadelphi corridor) without obstacles. Hamas also smuggled in Russian-designed, Iranian-made, military grade multiple launch Katyusha rockets, the 122 mm. Grad.

Neither Egypt, nor Mahmoud Abbas's Palestinian Authority, nor EU observers interfered. As a result, over 2,500 rockets have been lobbed against the town of Sderot, only seven miles from the Gaza border, and in recent weeks, also against the city of Ashkelon (population 120,000). Since the attacks started, one-third of the Sderot population left. Sirens and explosions sound every few hours, creating long term stress-related trauma among the majority of the population. Ashkelon also houses the second largest Israeli refinery, a power station, the regional hospital, and other strategic targets.

Currently, some 220,000 Israelis are in the range. Children in Sderot have been killed and maimed for life, with one eight-year-old boy losing his leg while his brother lost his arm. The younger boy will be wheelchair-bound for life. A father of four got killed at a parking lot in Sapir College. Houses are shattered daily, and with them lives of whole families. Obviously, a similar process is going on in Gaza when Israel retaliates, but with one key difference: if the rocket attacks stop, Israel will stop retaliating.

Many Palestinians today fondly remember how things used to be before the first intifada, when they held jobs in Israel and were capable of feeding their families, or during some years of the Oslo process, before Yasser Arafat decided to jettison it in the fall of 2000.

The solution is Gaza is simpler than many think. Hamas needs to recognize Israel's right to exist as a Jewish state; release the kidnapped soldier Gilad Shalit, who has been rotting in a Hamas dungeon since the summer of 2006; and stop its vicious propaganda on TV and in schools and mosques. Kids and adults should not be brainwashed on how to kill Jews and Americans world-wide. In the longer term, Hamas needs to transfer its weapons to the Palestinian Authority; cut ties with Iran and Syria; and cease its existence as a terrorist army. It should become a political party.

Arab countries which do not want to see Hamas-like Islamist movements spread to their own bailiwicks need to put pressure on Hamas to cease its terrorist attacks. They need to convince Hamas and Fatah to concentrate on rebuilding the civilian infrastructure in Gaza, not on more rocket production and smuggling. Hamas' sponsors in Saudi Arabia, Qatar and UAE should halt any financing unless the organization abandons the path of terror.

The European Union and other countries should not condemn Israel for conducting self-defense against irregular terrorist combatants, who violate international humanitarian law day in and day out. Those who live in glass houses - and are likely one day to conduct their own retaliatory operations against terrorists - should not malign a fellow embattled democracy which is fighting for its survival. Otherwise, yesterday's gory scene in Jerusalem is likely to be repeated in London, Amsterdam, or Paris.

Finally, if all else fails, and Israel is forced to launch a massive anti-terrorist operation in Gaza, the EU and the U.N., Russia and China, as well as the moderate Arab states, should stand prepared to launch post-war reconstruction and support moderate Palestinian forces who will hopefully pursue peace - not to derail Israeli self-defense operations.

The alternative is to grant victory to Iran, Hamas, and the forces of global jihad - and deliver a defeat to the Palestinians, Israelis, the Middle East, the U.S. and Europe. This is not something Washington and its allies should tolerate.

Ariel Cohen, Ph.D., is senior research fellow at the Heritage Foundation.

About the Author

Ariel Cohen, Ph.D. Visiting Fellow in Russian and Eurasian Studies and International Energy Policy in the Douglas and Sarah Allison Center for Foreign and National Security Policy, a division of the Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis Institute for International Studies, at The Heritage Foundation
Douglas and Sarah Allison Center for Foreign and National Security Policy

First Appeared in the Middle East Times