Jeremy Harvardi - Mar 13, 2012
Within the last four days, more than 160 rockets have been fired by Islamic terrorists from Gaza. As the world has looked elsewhere, nearly a million Israelis in the south have endured a daily round of terror, intimidation and disruption.
While Israel has fought back bravely against unprovoked Palestinian violence, the BBC has focused all too predictably on the unending "cycle of violence" in the region.
But if the latest escalation from Gaza teaches us anything, it is that the received wisdoms about the Arab-Israeli conflict continue to fly in the face of reality. Land for peace and Israeli disengagement is not the panacea promised by the Left, for the Palestinian version of peace is a fatal cocktail of terror, hatred and incitement.
Indeed, whenever Israel has vacated territory in recent years, she has usually paid a very steep price. In 2000, Ehud Barak ordered the IDF out of Lebanon after many years of bloody warfare. Despite the fact that the occupation of Lebanese territory had ended, Israel suffered rocket attacks and the abduction of its soldiers by Hezbollah.
The militant Shi’ite group took control of the area by forcing out UNIFIL observers, before building up a deadly arsenal of weapons. Today they are thought to possess over 40,000 missiles which can reach every city in Israel.
In 2005, Ariel Sharon ordered the disengagement from Gaza, an action that included the painful uprooting of some 9,000 Jewish residents. Within two years, Hamas had seized control in Gaza in a violent coup and thousands more rockets had been fired at communities across southern Israel.
In each case, the terror intensified the more Israel was prepared to offer concessions.
But while the West sees these concessions as a necessary part of the peace process they are viewed by militants as proof of Israeli weakening and a vindication of terrorism. The extremists who fill the vacuum are given a new launching pad to attack the Jewish state and believe that, by so doing, they are exposing the country’s "soft underbelly". Eventually, they reason, Israelis will lose the will to continue the battle.
Naturally, this underestimates the resolve of the country’s citizens, particularly during wartime. But it does reveal the contempt with which Islamists view Israeli peacemaking initiatives.
In the West Bank, Israel has not so much disengaged from the territory as handed control of its civilian population to the PA. But here too, a heavy price has been paid. Every day, there is a tirade of hatred directed towards Jews and Israelis throughout the Palestinian media. The PA glorifies terrorist murderers, such as Abu Jihad, by naming streets, schools and sports centres after them.
Programmes on Palestinian television demonise the Jews, likening them to poisonous animals and willingly reproduce the most vicious anti-Semitic images. This frenzied hatred is the fuel that helps keep the conflict going.
Many believe that Fatah’s willingness to clamp down on Hamas in recent years makes a West Bank withdrawal that much safer. Hamas, they argue, will never become the dominant power. But with the newly signed power-sharing accord between Fatah and Hamas, there is at least a chance that this could happen in the longer term.
Hamas was given a boost by the Shalit deal and the group’s ideological patron, the Muslim Brotherhood, has performed spectacularly well in Egypt’s parliamentary elections. By comparison, more moderate Palestinians, such as Salam Fayyad, have less credibility among Palestinian voters.
Ultimately, Hamas sees itself as the long term victor in Palestinian politics, hoping that when it attains an overall majority it can replace Fatah altogether. An Israeli pullback from the West Bank might add rocket fuel to the group’s sense of inevitable victory.
A Hamas takeover in the West Bank would put the entire Israeli coastal plain, with nearly 60 percent of her population, within range of rocket and missile fire. Tel Aviv could become the new Sderot -- the town in Israel that has borne the brunt of the rocket attacks. The effect of attritional warfare in the centre of the country could be traumatic, which is exactly what Hamas wants.
Their leaders view terror as a means of demoralising and weakening Israeli society. As Hamas co-founder, Mahmoud Zahar, put it: "Rockets against Sderot will cause mass migration" and "greatly disrupt daily lives". All his group needs is a more convenient launching pad against a more highly populated area.
Worse, a West Bank "Hamastan" could radically destabilise the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan with its majority Palestinian population and strong Islamist sympathies.
Of course, this is not an argument for the permanent retention of land. Under the right circumstances, it would be politically sensible and morally right for Israel to reach a territorial compromise with the Palestinians. The problem is that those circumstances barely exist today.
Fundamentally, Israel is being asked to compromise her security on a false premise. For those who will benefit from any Israeli pullback are simply not reconciled to the idea of a Jewish state in the Middle East, even if they hide their true intent when addressing gullible Western audiences.
If Gaza is anything to go by, Israel should be careful about withdrawing from the West Bank, and the West should be even more careful about demanding it.
Jeremy Havardi is a journalist and the author of two books: Falling to Pieces, and The Greatest Briton.
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