x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

'Victory' in Gaza is an Israeli delusion shared by Hamas

Both Israel and Hamas are delusional if they think hostilities in Gaza count as "victory"

Sometimes wars, even little ones, can clear the clouds of propaganda as the motives of the antagonists come into clear focus. This appears to be the case after the recent hostilities in Gaza.

In the midst of the short but deadly conflict, one statement by an Israeli spokesperson struck me as a particularly disturbing distortion of the truth. He claimed that Israel's goal in the conflict was "to finish [Hamas] off, so we can sit with moderates and talk peace".

This was false on many levels: Israel did not seek to destroy Hamas; Israel has no interest in working with "moderate" Palestinians; and the current government in Israel has no interest in negotiating a lasting solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

I believe that the Netanyahu government is, in fact, satisfied with the outcome of this last round of hostilities. Hamas has not been destroyed, but in Israel's view it has been tamed and has assumed the role of a policeman controlling Gaza's more radical groups.

From the earliest days of the occupation, Israel viewed Gaza as a burden that it would have been more than happy to unload. When the former prime minister Ariel Sharon unilaterally "withdrew" from Gaza, he refused to negotiate an orderly handover. He evacuated troublesome settlers from the unwanted Strip, while maintaining near complete control over its borders. In the years that followed, it has not been an exaggeration to describe Gaza as a massive open-air prison.

The Hamas takeover, the tunnel systems and an economy based on smuggling, and the import of arms were the result - as were the three conflicts between Hamas and Israel in 2006, 2008 and 2009, and the most recent one that ended last week.

Despite its bellicose rhetoric, Hamas, too, appears satisfied with the outcome of the conflict. It has secured international recognition and is now seen as the de facto authority in Gaza, assuming a role not unlike that of its West Bank rival, the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah.

Israel was asked to refrain from further assassinations of Hamas leaders, and promised to discuss with Egypt the easing of restrictions on the flow of goods across the Rafah crossing. With the backing of Egypt and its minions in Gaza, Israel hopes to have bought itself at least a few years of relative peace on its southern border.

If Israel never intended to "finish Hamas", then what of the claim that it wants to work with "moderate" Palestinian leaders to discuss peace? That, too, is a clear distortion of the truth. In the middle of the conflict, Israel announced the construction of hundreds of new housing units in the Occupied Territories. It also renewed threats against the Palestinian Authority's plans to seek limited UN recognition later this month.

Mr Netanyahu's acceptance of a "two-state solution" and his offer to "negotiate without preconditions" was a feint designed to keep his US patron satisfied. To an extent, it has worked. Ignored are Mr Netanyahu's real preconditions: he will never surrender occupied East Jerusalem or the substantial areas of the West Bank that Israel has annexed; he insists on keeping control of the massive settlements (which make a contiguous Palestinian state impossible); and he maintains that he will not surrender control of the Jordan Valley. This make negotiations and peace impossible.

Mr Netanyahu has never surrendered the revisionist Zionist goal of a "Greater Israel", with a pacified Palestinian population. And, to his way of thinking, he's almost there. Palestinians (and the international community), he believes, have been sufficiently subdued to allow for continued settlement expansion. PA areas are now more or less self-policed and dependent on international largesse. And now Gaza may be tamed, as well. It will be policed by Hamas and it, too, is financially dependent on international patrons - with more moderate Qatar, Turkey and Egypt having replaced Iran and Syria.

Israel sees these developments as short-term gains. They are, however, illusory and are not sustainable.

Strengthening Hamas is a mistake. Hamas is playing for time - its ideology has not changed. And weakening the PA only serves to sideline the only real negotiating partner that Israel has. Palestinians in the West Bank have been protesting against both their deteriorating economic situation and the PA's passivity during Israel's assault on Gaza. Add to this the humiliation caused by Israel's behaviour, and the PA's vulnerability becomes painfully clear.

In the early years of the British Mandate, some Zionist writers referred to the indigenous Arab population of Palestine as "Red Indians" - an obvious indication of their intentions. Eighty years later, the colonial enterprise has continued unabated. The current crop of Israeli leaders may share the vision of their ancestors, but the majority of Israelis and Palestinians desire a different future - which can best be achieved in a just two-state solution.

The path that Mr Netanyahu has chosen is making that impossible. By pursuing the vision of his father's generation, seeing Palestinians as "Red Indians" to be corralled in reservations, he is paving the way for future conflicts yet to come.


James Zogby is the president of the Arab American Institute

On Twitter: @aaiusa