Israel's military operation aimed at silencing persistent Hamas rocket fire from Gaza provides the world with a rare moment of moral clarity.
After leaving Gaza entirely in 2005, two years later Israel saw the area taken over by Hamas, a terrorist group pledged to eliminate the Jewish state. For years, civilians in southern Israel have endured a steady barrage of rockets. These persistent attacks multiplied to about 800 over the past year, and 200 in just the last few days. In many Israeli communities, schools have had to be canceled and residents have gotten used to the shriek of sirens warning them that they have only 15 seconds to get to bomb shelters.
Finally, Israel reasserted its deterrence capacity by carrying out a pinpoint airstrike that killed Hamas commander Ahmed al-Jabari, and followed that up by pounding Hamas military targets in Gaza, several of them in the act of preparing to fire on Israel. Hamas responded with hundreds more rockets aimed at Israeli population centers well into the interior of the country, killing at least three civilians, wounding dozens others, and destroying homes and property.
Ron Prosor, Israel's ambassador to the United Nations, explained that his country's goal was not to harm innocent Gazans but "to remove a strategic threat to Israeli citizens." While Arab and other nations sought -- unsuccessfully -- to have Israel condemned at an emergency U.N. Security Council meeting for its actions, leaders of the world's democracies fully understand what Israel seeks to accomplish and agree that Hamas is responsible for the violence.
President Barack Obama announced his support for "Israel's self-defense in light of the barrage of rocket attacks being launched from Gaza against Israeli civilians." The U.S. State Department added, "There is no justification for the violence that Hamas and other terrorist organizations are employing against the people of Israel." Canada's foreign minister, John Baird, said: "We fundamentally believe that Israel has the right to defend itself and its citizens from terrorist threats," noting that "far too often, the Jewish people find themselves on the front lines in the struggle against terrorism." And German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle agreed that Israel has a "legitimate right to defend itself."
Israel's clear moral case in this conflict raises serious questions about some of the other players involved. Hamas stepped up the frequency and volume of its rockets attacks on Oct. 24, the day after the emir of Qatar, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani, became the first head of state to visit Hamas-controlled Gaza. The emir now is demanding that the international community punish Israel for its response to the escalation in Hamas rocket attacks.
Mohammed Morsi, president of Egypt, concurs with Qatar and has shown his displeasure by recalling his country's ambassador to Israel. Ominously, Morsi's party, an arm of the Muslim Brotherhood, has revealed that it is crafting a new law that would amend Egypt's 1979 peace treaty with Israel. Does Morsi intend to use this crisis as an opportunity to jettison relations with Israel and throw Egypt's support behind the Hamas terrorists? If so, he risks the loss of millions of dollars in U.S. aid, conditioned on maintaining peace with Israel, at a time of severe economic troubles in his country.
And then there is the Palestinian Authority, Hamas' rival for power among the Palestinians, which, since the Hamas takeover of Gaza, has seen its "authority" restricted to the West Bank. Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, who has avoided direct talks with Israel for years, has announced that on Nov. 29 he will bypass the negotiation route entirely and ask the U.N. General Assembly to pass a resolution declaring Palestine a nonmember state. That status will give the Palestinian Authority access to the International Court of Justice and the International Criminal Court, where it may charge Israel with war crimes for the very defensive actions it is now taking against Hamas.
Since the General Assembly is graced with a large majority of member states whose penchant to vote against Israel is a conditioned reflex, easy passage of the Palestinian status upgrade has been considered unstoppable. But in light of recent events, will the U.N. body have second thoughts? Easing the path to Palestinian statehood will not change the violent status quo in Gaza, since Hamas does not recognize the Palestinian Authority. In fact, Hamas will undoubtedly seek to undermine and ultimately destroy the new "nonmember state."
Far better to encourage the Palestinian Authority to return to the negotiating table with Israel, reach agreement on Israeli and Palestinian states living peacefully side by side, and marginalize Hamas into irrelevance.
Lee C. Shapiro is regional director of the American Jewish Committee in Cleveland.
Date: 11/17/2012 12:00:00 AM