Israel’s public image and diplomatic strategy need work. Israel should continue to aspire to the successes and talents of Abba Eban, who once famously remarked that “the Palestinians never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity.”
Whether or not that is correct today, it is clear that the Palestinians have reached a momentous crossroads in their—and Israeli—history.
Hamas has controlled the Gaza Strip since soon after Israel’s unilateral withdrawal from the territory. Hamas has used its political power and sovereignty as a platform for its virulently anti-Semitic jihadist agenda. And for volleying rockets into Israel. It has kidnapped Israeli soldiers, it has murdered Israeli civilians, and it has murdered Gazans.
For the third time in six years, Israel finds itself engaged in conflict with this terrorist group. Israel’s most ardent critics claim that Israel had another choice. I disagree. Either way, many of them fail to realize a fundamental truth. Extended IDF action and presence in the Gaza Strip is actually in Gazans’ long-term interest. Toppling Hamas would bring $50 billion of much needed relief aid from the international community, as proposed by MK Shaul Mofaz. It would mean more open borders, more job opportunities for Gazans in Israel, and more interaction with Israelis.
Until now, Operation Protective Edge has included targeted airstrikes, ground operations, and the destruction of tunnels. Israeli leadership calls it a success. But we must remember that the IDF can only go so far. In the wake of the American War on Terror, it is clear that we can never truly win a war on an idea. Not even the most surgical and aggressive military operations can depose Hamas.
Palestinians are understandably angry about civilian casualties in Gaza. Though Hamas’ use of human shields is often to blame, each and every innocent life lost is a tragedy.
But Gazans have a chance to do what the Mossad, Shin Bet, IDF, and Israeli security cabinet cannot. In 1974, political scientist Brian Jenkins said that “terrorism is theater.” Forty years later, so too is “grassroots counter-terrorism”—political demonstrations against a terrorist group. One could fairly expect the Palestinian people to criticize the immorality of Hamas. But even if they do not, surely they should be irate about Hamas’ choice to use scarce funds to build arsenals instead of hospitals and schools.
The goals of Operation Protective Edge are evolving and Israel’s troops are redeploying. Now is the time for Gazans to take to the streets to speak out against Hamas, to demand leadership that builds—not destroys—Gaza and Gazans. This is the time for Gazans to speak of Hamas’ destruction of life, including Palestinian life, and of its moral and financial corruption. This is their time to take responsibility for the better future they deserve.
This is also their chance to prove Abba Eban wrong. For Israel’s sake and theirs, I hope they succeed.