The clichés about the Israeli-Palestinian violence are bubbling up once again, proving to be more inapt than ever.
“This should end as soon as possible.” No one wants war and any deaths of innocents are tragic, but the worst outcome is to leave Hamas with sufficient force and confidence to resume its missile strikes at will. Having brought this crisis on, despite an Israeli truce offer, Hamas cannot be allowed to come away with the conviction that it can lob missiles at civilians and then count on the “international community” to bail them out. The stakes are high for Israel, especially so since Hamas’s patron in Tehran is looking at the response to provocation. It is also critical for Egypt, which must deal with the granddaddy of Hamas — the Muslim Brotherhood — to see Hamas decimated. For Israel, for our allies in the region and for our own security, the perception must be reversed that Iran and its proxies (be they Syria or Hamas) can act at will.
“No Israeli has been killed so what’s the big deal?” Since the beginning of the year, more than 450 rockets have been fired from Gaza into Israel. Perhaps Americans can’t conceive of racing to bomb shelters, the constant fear of attack, the disruption of ordinary life, the economic dislocation Israelis endure. But they’d do well to put themselves in the shoes of innocents or to imagine their children in them. Hamas’s inability to target its rockets makes the uncertainty and arbitrary nature of the attacks all the more acute. Let’s be clear: This is a war crime. Those who fancy international norms as important limits on bad actors should be especially supportive of the effort to show that no systematic terrorization of the population will succeed. (President Obama came up with excuses not to respond with force to another war crime — use of chemical weapons — and lo and behold we now see many more chemical weapons attacks.)
“Neither side really wanted this.” Sorry, Hamas plainly did. Former deputy national security adviser Elliott Abrams has made the convincing case that Hamas escalated and refused truce offers specifically because it wanted to induce a response, claim martyrdom and re-establish itself as a player in the region. (“When increased levels of rocket fire began about a week ago, Israeli prime minister Netanyahu responded with restraint. He sent clear messages to Hamas in public statements, and via Turkey, Jordan, and Egypt, that he wanted no war, and no incursion into Gaza; if the rocket attacks ended, this confrontation would be over. But Hamas chose to increase the pace of firing, guaranteeing an Israeli response. . . . The economic situation in Gaza is dire, due both the reduced Iranian support and to the closure of the border with Egypt by the Egyptian Army. Gazans are unhappy with Hamas, due to the repression and corruption they see in its rule in Gaza, and to the economic situation.”)
“We need the ‘peace process’ back!” Actually, that is part of why we arrived at the current state of affairs. The Post editorial board observes, “In our view, the failed U.S. effort, with its tight timetable and disregard for the obvious unwillingness of leaders on both sides, merely raised expectations that could not be met, making a backlash inevitable.” Unfortunately “a more patient, incremental and sustainable effort to restore trust between Israelis and Palestinians, improve economic conditions in the West Bank and Gaza, and create the foundations for an eventual settlement” is impossible so long as Fatah remains locked in a “unity government” with the terrorists lobbing weapons.
The Obama administration is desperately looking for a way to establish credibility and relevance. The way to do that is not to fall back on grossly inaccurate clichés and worsen the perception that we treat common enemies of Israel and the United States as responsible actors. They are not. To minimize evil or allow its embers to keep burning, surely to flare up again, would only worsen the impression that America is uncommitted to allies and to the war against jihadists. For once, the administration should be determined to level aggressors and acknowledge there is no peace and no progress so long as Hamas acts with impunity.