As ever, the current conflict has seen much of the world’s media side overtly with the Palestinians, implicitly with Hamas, given that it is Hamas who is fighting and Hamas who is holding the hostages. Even pro-Israel news articles outside Israel tend to talk about “extremists on both sides.” On some level, most people in the West can’t get the idea of “moral equivalence” out of their head. It’s like there’s a kind of Newtonian Law of Violence: for every violent action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. And, conversely, for every violent action, there must have been an equal and opposite causative action. Ergo, what happened to 1,400 Israelis was, somehow, the fault of Israeli “extremists.” Binyamin Netanyahu must, on some level, be like Hamas. I dislike Netanyahu, but he has never ordered the mass raping of Palestinian women or the beheading of Palestinian babies. Or, if not him, then “settlers” or “the Occupation” or something. Something other than pure Jew hate.
But Hamas isn’t interested in settlers or the occupation of the West Bank per se. It doesn’t distinguish between Israel within and beyond the Green Line. It speaks of “seventy-five years of occupation,” going back to the foundation of the state, and of wanting Palestine from “the River to the Sea” i.e. from the Jordan River, Israel’s eastern border, to its western border, the Mediterranean, leaving no Israel at all. It regards all Israelis as settlers. I don’t approve of the settlements on the West Bank, but seeing them as the primary issue for Hamas is just incorrect, not least as there are none in Gaza. Perhaps they are more of an issue for ordinary Palestinians on the West Bank, but that’s not who murdered 1,400 Israelis.
As for the occupation – well, Gaza isn’t occupied and hasn’t been since 2005. If the West Bank was similarly unoccupied, Israel today would be facing an even more powerful enemy, in manpower and especially in strategic position, as the West Bank forms the highland looking down on the rest of Israel. The occupation does indeed pose huge moral problems for Israel, but a unilateral withdrawal would be worse on every level, not least for Palestinians, who would almost certainly end up living under an incredibly brutal Hamas theocracy, as opposed to the present mildly brutal Fatah kleptocratic autocracy.
There is no solution to this conflict that doesn’t pose some kind of moral and strategic problem for Israel. It can’t act like a small Western European country like Belgium or Holland, just keep its head down, mind its own business and assume no one will hate it. In one of the most dangerous regions of the world, surrounded by enemies and lose-lose situations, it continually has to pick least worst options just to survive.