Thursday, January 08, 2009

Washington Post: A Conflict Hamas Caused

A Conflict Hamas Caused
By Richard CohenTuesday, January 6, 2009; A13

Nearly a year ago, I was in the southern Israeli city of Sderot, where, on almost any day, you could see the current war coming. "The next Middle East war may start over Sderot," I wrote back then. I came by my prescience the hard way -- in a bomb shelter. That day, three Qassam rockets had hit the city. It took no genius to see the imminence of war. It takes real stupidity to blame it on Israel.

On some days, dozens of rockets fell on Sderot. A blimp hovered over the town, and when it electronically spied an incoming rocket, the sirens went off. In Sderot, the sirens were virtually a single, long wail on some days. Everyone took shelter because shelters are everywhere -- a constant reminder of the nearness of death or, at the very least, destruction. Even a dud can bust through the roof of a house.

I get the impression that Israel is expected to put up with this. The implied message from demonstrators and some opinion columnists is that this is the price Israel is supposed to pay for being, I suppose, Israel. I am informed by a Palestinian journalist in a Post op-ed that Israel is trying to stop "amateur rockets from nagging the residents of some of its southern cities." In Sderot, I saw homes nagged to smithereens.

While I was reading the online version of the Israeli newspaper Haaretz for all the latest news about the war, a pop-up ad announced itself: "Camp Kimama, Israel, 2009 -- What childhood memories should be made of." The picture shows kids frolicking in the water. Placed next to stories about battle, it was a jarring -- but vivid -- statement of war aims: the expectation of normal life.

The CIA's World Factbook says that Israel has a population of 7,112,359. Of these, about 5,434,000 are Jews. That includes 187,000 settlers in the West Bank, about 20,000 in the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights bordering Syria, and about 175,000 in East Jerusalem. It does not include, however, the approximately 750,000 Israelis living in the United States -- some for a brief amount of time, some for an extended period, some permanently. For a variety of reasons -- and often with considerable pain -- they have given up on the country of their birth.

As the leaders of Hamas understand, the war in Gaza is about Israel's incessant fight to be a normal country. Maybe that's impossible. The war between Arab and Jew predates the founding of Israel in 1948. For the Palestinians, it is a fierce fight for Arab justice, for Arab pride, for Arab myth -- for ancestral houses and orange groves that few living have ever seen. For Israel, it is so kids can swim in a lake.

Three years ago, Israel pulled out of the Gaza Strip. Good, the world said. Next, pull out of the West Bank, the world said. But then Hamas, which has vowed to destroy Israel, won the election in Gaza. Sderot soon became hell. The West Bank is controlled by Fatah, the moderate Palestinian organization, which once had control of Gaza, too. If Israel withdraws from the West Bank, will rockets come from there? If you lived in Tel Aviv, a spit from the West Bank, would you take the chance?

Anyone could have seen this war coming. The diplomats and demonstrators who are now so engaged in the problem and the process were nowhere to be found when rockets began raining down on southern Israel. The border between Gaza and Egypt is riddled with tunnels -- some for food, some for weapons. The international monitors that are so evidently needed now were just as evidently needed then.

Conventional wisdom says that when Israel went into Lebanon in 2006, it lost that war. Hezbollah stood up to the mighty Israeli army; Israel could not muzzle Hezbollah's rockets. That may not be the way Hezbollah sees things, however. After the war, its leader, Hassan Nasrallah, said he had miscalculated. He was not prepared for the fury of the Israeli attack. He apologized. Now, Hezbollah takes no role in the current war. It will be back, but it still has wounds to lick.

The horrors of war are not to be dismissed or demeaned. In 2006, Israel accidentally killed 28 civilians in the Lebanese village of Qana when it attempted to take out a nearby rocket site. In Gaza, innocent Palestinians are being killed. The suffering is great and cannot be ignored. But what has been ignored is the series of events that led to this war. Anyone could see how it was going to start. As always, though, it's a lot harder to see how it ends.

Californians, what would you do?

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Why the Gaza war is the only path to true peace

Why the Gaza war is the only path to true peace

Many years ago Golda Meir made the now-famous statement that peace would come to the Middle East when the Arabs love their children more than they hate Israel. Recent years have led me to rephrase this as follows: True peace will come to the Middle East when the Arabs can gain more from a negotiated peace than they can through terror.

Like many Israeli citizens, I have been truly concerned over the past few years that peace would never come to the region. In the past few days, however, I have come to believe that we are finally on a path that can lead to true peace.

To understand what I mean, and to truly understand the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians, we need to look at two recent events that changed the entire landscape of the conflict: The negotiations between Prime Minister Barak and Yaser Arafat ten years ago and the Israeli withdrawal from Gaza three years ago.

Prime Minister Barak changed the entire dialog in Israel from the question of whether to give the Palestinians land for peace to the question of how much land to give and under what conditions. His famous offer of 98% of the West Bank and Gaza to create a Palestinian state made clear Israel's willingness to offer land for peace. Similarly, the Israeli withdrawal from Gaza changed the dialog in Israel from whether to withdraw from Israeli settlement towns to when and how to do so. It demonstrated without question that Israel was willing to do so and in fact has now done so.

At the same time, however, Prime Minister Barak's negotiations with Yasser Arafat showed the futility in negotiations in which the Palestinians believe that they can get more through terror. With an offer on the table of 98% of the West Bank and Gaza, including all areas primarily occupied by Palestinian villages, the Palestinians chose a second intifada over accepting the offer. Even more so, when the Palestinains were given full control of the Gaza strip three years ago, with promises to withdraw subsequently from the West Bank, they chose not to build a functioning and peaceful society, but rather to fire thousands of rockets at Israeli towns.

These events bring me to the simple conclusion that the Palestinians believe that terror can bring them more than negotiation. The only way to stop this impasse is for Palestinian terror to have such a high price tag that they will choose peace through negotiation.

For three years the Palestinians have been shooting rockets at Israeli towns such as Sderot. Israel has never responded, hoping against hope that world opinion would influence the Palestinians abandon terror and choose peace. But this has not happened, because there was no price tag associated with terror. Why compromise when terror might bring more, with no cost?

Now, however, Israel has attached a price tag to terror. If the Palestinians choose terror, they will pay the price instead of Israeli towns paying the price. This price tag, and only this price tag, brings the hope of a situation in which the Palestinians will choose negotiation over terror.

My hope is that when a cease fire is reached, Israel will make clear that any rockets fired at Israeli towns will bring a continuation of this response. There must be no options other than peace negotiation. Another hope is that the result will be a true two-sided compromise, not a negotiation under which Israel is presumed to give whatever the Palestinians want.

Israel has demonstrated its willingness to compromise and offer land for peace, and to withdraw from land and give it to the Palestinians. Israelis dream of a day that the Palestinians will respond by building a peaceful and productive country of their own. To realize this, terror must be given a high enough price so as not to be an option.