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No ‘Gaza Spring’

There's little chance Palestinians will take responsibility for their fate as long as they have Israel to blame

The huge crowd, more than 100,000 Gaza youngsters, cheered as a new, clean-shaven Palestinian leader announced that the hated Hamas dictators were under arrest.

With 18 days of mass demonstrations, converging on the grassy plaza in front of the Gaza City parliament building overlooking the sea, the same place where their parents greeted PLO legend Yasser Arafat 20 years earlier when he came home from exile to lead his people, these young adults had succeeded in ridding their little territory of a cadre of violent, extremist rulers who used them mercilessly in their war against Israel — Hamas’s only reason to exist.

The mass demonstrations, so reminiscent of the “Arab Spring” rallies of millions in Egypt, first driving dictator Hosni Mubarak from power, then bringing down the incompetent government of the Muslim Brotherhood’s Mohammed Morsi, were giving the young people of Gaza, held in painful poverty from the day they were born, a glimpse of freedom and progress.

“We will rebuild our land,” shouted the young leader. I didn’t catch his name. His features seemed a bit blurred. “We will rebuild with the help of Israel and the world, and we will make peace!” The plaza appeared to buckle and shimmy unnaturally as I hovered over the demonstrators, who were happily waving blue and white Palestinian flags.

As the crowd erupted in joy, it suddenly turned from day into night, police car sirens went off as an incongruous part of the celebration — and that woke me up.

The siren was wailing outside my bedroom window, warning me to run to a shelter because of another Hamas rocket attack. My tired brain was trying to keep me asleep by folding the sound into a dream, a dream that is not coming true.

There isn’t going to be a “Gaza Spring.”

Tahrir Square in Cairo, not Gaza
Tahrir Square in Cairo, not Gaza (photo credit: Mark Lavie)

Instead it’s been a hot summer. Hamas fired more than 4,000 rockets at Israel during the seven-week war. Israel hit back with thousands of airstrikes and a ground incursion to blow up Hamas tunnels. Yet if we learned anything from the latest conflict with Hamas in Gaza, it’s that the Gaza problem can’t be solved by the Israeli military.

Of course there are many who wish it were otherwise. There were calls from politicians, and more importantly, from residents of Israeli communities near Gaza, the targets of most of the rockets, to reject the cease-fire and send the army in to finish the job.

A respected if erratic historian/commentator even concluded that Iron Dome was working to Israel’s detriment, because it was protecting Israel from significant casualties by shooting down most of the rockets, hiding the need to either make peace with Hamas or finish off the terrorists once and for all.

Making peace with Hamas is so out of the question that it barely warrants mention. Sure, Israel said that about the PLO, too, but eventually the PLO changed its charter. Some question whether the PLO even actually did that, but I was in the office of Israel’s Prime Minister, watching live TV coverage of the key PLO conference, and no less a skeptic than the late David Bar Illan, a doctrinaire hardliner who served as media adviser to Benjamin Netanyahu during his first term, said at the critical point – “That’s it. They have changed the charter.” What happened afterward – Yasser Arafat and then Mahmoud Abbas rejecting viable offers of statehood – is part of history, but that has little to do with Hamas.

If you haven’t already, please read the Hamas charter. Here it is in a translation from the Yale Law School, a credible source.

This charter is not just politics. It’s also not just old-time rhetoric. It dates back to 1988, just 26 years ago. Murderous Islamic extremism and hatred of not just Israel, but the whole Jewish people, seep out of this document like so much stinking sewage. No one makes peace with that.

This leaves the other option – wiping Hamas out militarily. A friend called that his “great fantasy,” saying all of us want it, Hamas deserves it, and if only it could happen…

It can’t. “Even” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu understood that there are limits on what Israel can reasonably accomplish on its own. The quotes around “even” there signify Netanyahu’s image as a crazy, war-mongering, saber-rattling extremist who understands only the language of force. That never was the case, but it was closer to the truth in 2009, when he talked about defeating Hamas the last time Israel sent troops into Gaza.

The hardline politicians, the Israelis near Gaza and the erratic historian all think Israel can march into Gaza and clean it up. No doubt Israel could send 100,000 troops into Gaza, scour the territory from north to south and take control. The cost would be tens of thousands of dead Gazans, maybe hundreds of thousands, along with hundreds or thousands of Israeli soldiers killed – and there we would be again, ruling Gaza, ruling the million-plus angry and impoverished survivors, this time most of them also homeless.

Let’s get some history straight. Israel’s control of Gaza before the pullout in 2005 did not ensure quiet. The rocket fire started in 2000. The smuggling tunnels from Egypt date back to 1996. I spent at least one day a week in Gaza as a radio reporter for many years, and I saw the settlements getting shelled every day, settlers clamoring for tougher army action. Soldiers were being killed regularly in raids on Gaza militant strongholds, in ambushes or by roadside bombs. Settlers, the ones who so tearfully resisted evacuation in 2005, were unsafe even in their settlements, and if they wanted to go anywhere, they had to ride in special “buses” with bodies made of reinforced concrete. This might be the time to remember all that as Gaza fans spin idyllic takes of the good ol’ days in the friendly, welcoming territory. One analyst claimed that the settlements were a “civilizing” influence in Gaza. I’d laugh if it were funny.

So cooler heads, this time including Netanyahu, have concluded that there is no military fix to the Hamas-Gaza situation. So what’s the solution?

For now, there isn’t one. Though many Israelis would like to see an end to this — and who wouldn’t – until one of two things happens, there will be no end, and Israel will have to take action to defend itself from time to time and figure that into the price to be paid for the privilege of living in the Holy Land.

The first solution would be the world taking charge of Gaza and deposing Hamas, ending its threat to Israel and enabling actual peace efforts to commence, likely resulting in an imposed solution because, as mentioned before, Israel already offered the Palestinians a viable state – twice – and got only violence in response.

For now, as usual, the world seems more intent on blaming Israel for all that’s wrong in Gaza, as opposed to taking control, so that’s not going to happen.

The other solution would be the Palestinians themselves taking charge of their own lives and future, determining that terrorism and violence have reaped them nothing but poverty, destruction and despair, then removing Hamas and all the other extremists and opting for a reasonable peace deal with Israel.

That’s not going to happen, either. Palestinians, with the help of the UN and their cheery legions of worldwide supporters prepared to fight Israel to the last Palestinian, have seen to it that Palestinian victimhood is a supreme value, heaping blame on Israel is a supreme activity and promoting hate of Jews and Israel is a supreme calling.

Changing that would require a new mindset, a revolution. But there are few signs of that within Palestinian society, and few signs that the outside world recognizes that there are two sides to the conflict, Palestinian and Israel — and not everything depends on what Israel does.

If neither of those two solutions becomes reality, though, “Gaza Spring” will remain just a dream – or part of a nightmare.

Mark Lavie, the only American-Israeli Orthodox Jewish reporter to be stationed in Cairo, is the author of Broken Spring, a close-up view of how Egypt’s people lost their struggle for freedom, how the West misjudged events during Arab Spring, how Egypt’s Jewish community withered and died, and why Israeli-Palestinian peacemaking never goes anywhere. Read an excerpt of Broken Spring.

About the Author
Mark Lavie covered the Middle East as a foreign correspondent for more than 40 years.