When Enemies Make a Common World: Hamas, Netanyahu and the Israel-Gaza War

Israeli soldiers sit on top of an Israeli mobile artillery canon unit at an Israeli army deployment area near the Israel-Gaza
Israeli soldiers sit on top of an Israeli mobile artillery canon unit at an Israeli army deployment area near the Israel-Gaza Strip border on November 20, 2012. A ceasefire to end almost a week of violence in and around the Gaza Strip is to be announced in Cairo, Hamas and Islamic Jihad sources told AFP. AFP PHOTO/JACK GUEZ (Photo credit should read JACK GUEZ/AFP/Getty Images)

The worst enemies can make the best allies. In 1993 Yitzhak Rabin and Yasser Arafat shook hands on the White House lawn after having signed the Oslo Accords. It is the political enemies of Rabin and Arafat who are now making their common hateful history. The two rejectionist forces -- Palestinian Hamas and the Israeli Likud -- have ordered their worlds so that each provides the ballast for the violence of the other as confirmation of its world view. They together are playing out the murderous dynamics that will only confirm their apparent strength and the truth of the way they see the world.

On the Palestinian side, Hamas, which democratically won control of Gaza in 2006 after Israel withdrew its soldiers and its settlers, has steadfastly refused to cease its violent attacks against Israeli civilians. It has also refused to participate in peace negotiations that would cede the rights of the Palestinians to the lands made sacred by their conquest in the 7th century by the Prophet's armies -- containing Jerusalem, the site from which the Prophet made his "night journey" to Paradise. Instead of developing a burgeoning economy, backed by promises of capital investment from around the world, it turned to the importation of weaponry - through myriad underground tunnels into Egypt -- by which to strike at Israel and the continuous launching of rockets against Israeli civilians. Thousands of rocket attacks of ever-increasing range have been conducted, overwhelmingly by Hamas and Islamic Jihad.

Hamas elected Netanyahu. Netanyahu first secured the prime ministership in 1996, defeating pro-peace Shimon Peres after Rabin's assassination, because of a murderous wave of Palestinian suicide bombings -- again overwhelmingly conducted by Hamas and Islamic Jihad in which hundreds of Israelis were murdered. The Gazan rocket attacks will have the same effect. Having pushed out al-Fatah from its territories, the Hamas regime waited, sure that the Palestinian Authority would never get real statehood. By its violent rejection, it demonstrated its commitment to Palestinian claims and convinced Israelis that Palestinian statehood would always contain not just the risk, but the reality, of a security threat. To grant statehood to such people would be suicide. By provoking Israeli attacks in which large numbers of Palestinian civilians die, Hamas confirms the barbarity of the enemy with whom it is impossible to ever make peace.

On the Israeli side, Netanyahu, and the religious Zionist settlement movement and maximalist rejectionists with whom Netanyahu has increasingly aligned himself, refused to negotiate in good faith with the Palestinians who, as the leaked Palestine Papers make very clear, have been willing to cede to almost all Israeli demands in order to create a Palestinian state, no matter how adumbrated its territorial expanse. Although Netanyahu agreed to the principle of a demilitarized Palestinian state that would have no rights in Jerusalem, Netanyahu's government continued what is now nearly a half-century old expansion of Israeli settlement in the West Bank, cutting up the territory in which a Palestinian state would be located into little unworkable slices. When the Obama administration sought to rein in the settlement process, Netanyahu's forces effectively countered him as an enemy of Israel. When President Abbas recently made conciliatory gestures indicating willingness to cede on the Palestinian "right of return," Netanyahu treated it as a non-event. By its continuous settlement expansion, Netanyahu, like Hamas, demonstrated his commitment to Greater Israel and convinced the Palestinians that statehood would never come. By this current attack on Gaza, Netanyahu only builds the pre-eminence of Hamas, rendering the Palestinian Authority increasingly irrelevant. It will bolster the kind of enemy with which one can make a truce, not a treaty. If the religious Zionist Yigal Amir destroyed the body of Yitzhak Rabin in 1995, Prime Minister Netanyahu has sought to kill the political project for which he died.

The two enemy forces have each built up the strength and believability of the other. Hamas' relations with the pariah Shi'ite state of Iran are weakening while those with the Sunni states like Qatar, Tunisia and Turkey are rapidly strengthening. It now has a Muslim Brotherhood government in Egypt, a political movement out of which Hamas itself emerged in the first intifada. Israel, although it has the resolute backing of an American president and Congress, faces an increasingly fragile Jordanian regime, which historically nurtured the Muslim Brotherhood as a bulwark against radical Palestinian nationalists, an Egyptian regime ruled by the Muslim Brotherhood whose Prime Minister has just made a visit of solidarity to Gaza, and a Syria in which radical Islamists increasingly dominate the fighting units arrayed against Assad's despotic regime. In such circumstances Israelis will not be willing to consider any risks and naturally turn to the strong man who can defend them in such a dangerous and hostile world.

Israel has the right to defend its citizens against a continuous rain of missiles. Israel has unsuccessfully sought to starve the Gazans into ceasing their violence. But if "Operation Cast Lead," Israel's 2008 invasion of Gaza, teaches us anything, it is that there is no purely military solution to this conflict. There is only a political solution, one that will require a very strong, prosperous and democratic Palestinian state in the West Bank as a counter to the Gaza of Hamas. Hamas can reach for hegemony through continued violence because of the failure of the two-state process. The risk, and the aim of that violence, is that the West Bank will become Gaza, undercutting the Palestinian Authority which has little to show politically for its decades of concessions. Although the West Bank is now increasingly prosperous, Israel cannot indefinitely buy passivity with refrigerators and imported automobiles.

Likud Prime Minister Sharon had presumed that only Arafat's al-Fatah forces would be able to control and repress the Islamists in Gaza after Israel's unilateral disengagement. He was wrong; they failed, leading to civil war and the political partition of the West Bank and Gaza. But the principle remains: Only a legitimate Palestinian nationalist political force willing to live at peace with Israel will provide the political conditions to counter, contain and ultimately repress the Islamist violence. The prospect of an Israeli-Palestinian peace will not end Hamas violence; quite the contrary. But only the prospect of a legitimate Palestinian state will create the conditions under which Sunni Arab states will align themselves with a geo-political solution. The future alternatives are either apocalyptic or unthinkable: mass displacement of Palestinian fighters from Gaza or a bi-national state. One can expect Israel to intervene militarily on the Egyptian border to interdict the importation of armaments, increasing the probability of conflict with Egypt as well.

If geo-political forces around the world cannot create an environment where the parties must make a territorial partition, to guarantee Palestinian statehood and Israeli security, then we can expect decades of death, hatred, and increased probability of regional war. Palestinians will not have a state, but neither will Israelis have security as they become increasingly isolated in a world that only sees their subjugation of the Palestinians.

The enemies of a two-state solution have each done their part to give us this hell.