Jeff Pozmantier

Hamas Victory? Can Israel Safely Give Up The West Bank? Plus: A Heartfelt Message From an Israeli Peace Activist

Hamas Victory?

If “victory” means succeeding in a tactical maneuver — in this case, firing as many unguided missiles as possible and not caring who or what you hit near Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion airport —then, yes, Hamas won. However, while Hamas’s tactics may make fine fodder for Michael Bloomberg tweets (that, thankfully, have moved from the danger of Big Gulps to the safety of Israeli air space), and might have resulted in a minor decrease in tourism as Delta, U.S. Air, United and most other non-U.S. airlines temporarily suspended flights (while El Al, in a Zionistic in-your-face spirit, expanded service to partially make up the difference), Hamas will only achieve true victory if its strategic goals are accomplished.

The deaths, injuries and mayhem Hamas has aided and abetted in Gaza is Hamas’s singular “victory.”

Since Hamas’s only known strategic goal — as stated in its Charter —  is the elimination of Israel, it can never be much more than a high-level irritant or make sustained progress in improving the lives of its people, unless it formally adopts more realistic and achievable goals. It can’t have been particularly confidence building to Israel when Hamas political leader Khaled Meshaal  indicated to C.N.N (in 2012) that the Hamas Charter was only words (many of them highly anti-Semitic) on paper, and that Hamas would, of course, respect a Palestinian vote on a two-state agreement and demilitarized Palestine, while at the same time Hamas was actively engaged in attempts to kidnap and bomb Israelis.

Actions to date don’t just belie Meshaal’s message; they obliterate it. On the other hand, Fatah, Hamas’s former West Bank rival, has spent the last several years demonstrating its sincerity and has actively worked to assist Israel in capturing the Palestinians recently involved in killing the three Israelis hitchhiking in an Israeli-controlled part of the West Bank.

Count on this: Once the fighting ends, Hamas will claim “opening up” Gaza to minimally greater imports of goods and exports (movement) of people, perhaps expanded fishing rights, perhaps slightly less dirty water, and perhaps a few more hours of electricity — all the temporary outcomes of the last two mini-wars during the last six years — is an enormous victory that merited all Hamas’s actions.

Those Palestinians who have had  a family member killed or injured or who are part of the now over 150,000 temporarily  displaced, might beg to differ. So might the over 50 percent of the Palestinian people who are now unemployed or underemployed. So might the vast majority who, due to Egyptian and Israeli security concerns, are usually unable to leave their Gazan hell, unless they are seriously ill or injured and need advanced treatment — in Israel.

Hamas may be tactical savants when it comes to launching missiles and building tunnels, all while under heavy Israeli surveillance, but they are strategic morons when it comes to understanding that real victory will only come when, to borrow Golda Meir’s sentiments, if not her actual words, Hamas learns to value the benefits to Palestinians from an imperfect peace with Israel more than it hates the idea of giving up the struggle to destroy Israel.

Can Israel Give Up The West Bank?

You can’t judge a book by its cover, but you can tell an Israeli-Palestinian hopeful or unhopeful view by the language a person uses.

Does Israel occupy the West Bank or does Israel administer Judea and Samaria?

Are the missiles now landing throughout Israel the clear reason why Israel can’t turn over Judea and Samaria to a weak Fatah, who will soon be outflanked by Hamas, or are the missiles landing throughout Israel the reason why Israel needs to reach a peace agreement with Fatah so it can more fully control and build up the West Bank, with Arab League, U.S. and E.U. backing?

If you are in the Israel administers Judea and Samaria camp you no doubt question the wisdom of Israel ceding control. To you, the current Gaza conflict is prima facie evidence of why Israel needs to hang on and on and on. You accept as unfortunate, but necessary, that one generation of Israelis and Palestinians can now join hands with their second and third generations — who all have learned to know each other as their enemy.

If you want to end  all of this before we get to a fourth generation of mutual distrust and hatred, you are squarely in the Israel occupies the West Bank camp.  Because I am also a Israel occupies the West Bank camper, today you  get more space to explain your views, and I am going to ignore any complaints about column expansion unfairness. My decision is settled. Sound familiar?

Israel occupies the West Bank campers believe that to suggest what has been, is more likely to always be, not only ignores world history, it ignores Israel’s own historical experience. Israel’s pre-1948 Haganah, Lehi, and Irgun militant groups (terrorist groups to the British and much of the rest of the world)  fought what they saw as British occupation. Yet many of its members later became key parts of various Israeli governments and participated in building Israel’s tremendous successes. You wonder why the current Israeli leadership can’t envision Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas leading his Fatah party along a similar path.

The Israel occupies the West Bank camp believes as Israel’s lead Palestinian negotiator Tzipi Livni does: A successful West Bank Palestinian state model — which would include Israel having an already largely agreed security presence — would effectively defang Hamas. Gazans would long for the growing economic, social and political freedom they would see West Bank Palestinians enjoying.

You question how control of a few extra miles of land in the West Bank would be more protective of Israel’s future than would be a peace agreement with the Palestinians: Allowing the Palestinians to enjoy the many benefits of having their own state would lessen, not increase, the reason to fire missiles and dig tunnels. And as demonstrated by this latest Hamas-Israel battle, constantly improving technology allows missiles to travel further and further and to be more and more disruptive. Continuing to try to manage the conflict only means that missiles and rockets and ongoing world approbation could soon truly present an existential threat to Israel’s survival as the democratic homeland of the Jewish people.

A Heartfelt Israeli Message

I received the following email from someone I know in Israel. It needs no explanation or embellishment:

Painful, frightening, hopeless, horrible, terrifying – are some words that come to mind to describe the feeling in my homeland these days — but they are inadequate to describe how it really feels. My inability to change the course of events that have already cost too many lives, breaking families and hopes while seeding more hatred and despair, is truly depressing.

As an Israeli as well as a peace activist, I have lived a kind of double life for the past few weeks. I have sought ways to voice support for my country and deep admiration for our courageous soldiers in battle while also expressing my compassion for Palestinian civilians, who are paying such an awful price. I have gone out of my way to buy products from businesses in the south of Israel that have not been able to open since the start of this operation and are in dire need of financial assistance. And I have called and corresponded with my Palestinian friends and shared words of concern and comfort.

In my mind, there is no contradiction. I can both support the soldiers while also calling on my government to reach a ceasefire as soon as possible.

My husband was drafted and is taking part in this operation. I am proud of him for volunteering to protect our country and admire his courage and leadership in making sure the soldiers under his command are as safe as possible under the circumstances.

At the same time, I protest in the streets and call for the operation to end and for the IDF to leave Gaza and for the Israeli government to end occupation and negotiate a peace deal. Sometimes during protests, I have had to scramble to safety when a siren has sounded warning of a rocket attack. I have also faced opposition to our demonstration and messages that have sometimes crossed the line from abusive to violent.

Being an Israeli peace activist obliges me to hear the stories and understand the narratives as they are told on both sides of the conflict.

To be genuine and true to this cause it is also clear to me, as I explain to my family and friends, that my actions and speech are aimed first and for most to protect my family, country and nation.

While we might all love Israel and think exactly the same about the conflict and its possible solution, I recognize that we are coming to it from different positions. Still, it upsets me to know that pro-Israel pro-peace activists abroad struggle to find a space to voice their love to Israel and concern for both Israelis and Palestinians in a way that is (as it should be) accepted by the community.

About the Author
Jeff Pozmantier is a leader within the Texas and national Jewish community and currently serves on local Hillel and AJC Boards and J Street's Finance Committee. He also participates in a Jewish-Presbyterian dialogue and as a fundraiser for Hand in Hand Schools ---Israel's only integrated, bilingual schools where Jewish and Arab children are educated together. Jeff is also the developer of Bumpspot, a unique website that advocates for Israel to take specific, proactive steps that will lead to a two-state solution.
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