Israel’s government is often accused of preventing a two-state solution by its actions but rarely are the decisions of Hamas or the Palestinian authority judged in the same way.
Yet Hamas’s ‘Great March of Return’ has set the cause of the two-state solution back by decades.
Whether intentionally or not, Ariel Sharon created a pilot version of a Palestinian state when he pulled every soldier and settler out of Gaza in 2005.
Had Gazans, enjoying more foreign aid per capita than anywhere else on earth, fulfilled Shimon Peres’s dream of a ‘Singapore on the Mediterranean’, had it established peaceful and fruitful relations with Israel, even modelled on the ‘cold peace’ that Israel enjoys with Egypt and Jordan, then there is no doubt that external and internal pressure on the Israeli government would have led to a similar withdrawal from the West Bank within a few years.
But it was not to be.
There is a reason that polls consistently show a large majority in Israel for a Palestinian State, while election results consistently produce a majority for the right-wing bloc, which puts security before concessions.
That reason is Gaza.
Instead of creating a Palestinian Singapore, Hamas took control of the Strip and turned it into a giant launching pad for missiles, aimed at Israeli civilians. They built tunnels rather than an economy; they crossed the border to kill soldiers and kidnap another, whose release they only granted after many years and the freeing of hundreds of terrorists (now that’s a ‘disproportionate response’!). Israelis could only imagine a similar result of withdrawing from the West Bank, but with the tunnels and the launching pads placed in the very heart of Israel and on the border of Jerusalem, and concluded that a Palestinian state will have to wait, possibly for many generations, until a new Palestinian generation has arisen that genuinely wants ‘two states side by side’ rather than two states constantly at war.
Yet, until last month, one result of the withdrawal from Gaza seemed to be working.
As left-wing Israeli politicians had wished for (and Sharon, astonishingly, supplied) there needed to be a border separating ‘them over there’ from ‘us over here’. Even though the border with Gaza was far from peaceful, it did serve to establish that separation.
But no longer. With Hamas’s explicit and oft-repeated call for the border to be stormed and breached, and for Gazans to ‘return to their homes’ on the other side, it became clear that the holy grail of an Israeli withdrawal to the 1967 borders (which are actually only the armistice lines of 1949) was not enough for Hamas.
The nations of the world pressure Israel to repeat the Gazan withdrawal in the West Bank (except for those who demand it in Gaza as well, oblivious of the fact that they are thirteen years out of date), claiming that this, and only this, will bring peace.
Yet the Gaza experience shows that the most likely outcome is continued war and real danger for Israeli citizens. And now, after the ‘Great March’, it is obvious that no border, from ‘67, from ‘49 or even from the ‘47 partition plan, will be anything more than an obstacle to be overcome on the way to the destruction of Israel.
No other country would risk its own existence or the safety of its citizens in this way.
When a true history of our times is written, Hamas will be ascribed its large share of responsibility for delaying a two-state solution, possibly indefinitely.
The Oslo process was predicated on ‘two states for two peoples’. The Palestinian authority, by refusing to accept Israel as a Jewish state, believe in ‘two states for one people’. And Hamas, by attempting to trample over the border, wants ‘one state for one people’.
Is it too much to ask for the international community to start giving it some of the blame right now?
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