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 unilaterally in 2005, Israel saw the area taken over two years later by Hamas, a terrorist group pledged to eliminate the Jewish state. For years, civilians in southern Israel have endured a steady barrage of rockets. In many Israeli communities, from the Negev in the south to the major population centers of Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, residents got used to the shriek of sirens warning them that they have only 15 seconds to get to bomb shelters. And the attacks do not just target Israelis. The rockets launched at Jerusalem fell in the West Bank near Palestinian communities. Hamas does not care if the rockets hit Jews, Christians or Muslims.
Finally, Israel reasserted its deterrence capacity by carrying out a pinpoint airstrike that killed Hamas commander Ahmed al-Jabari. It was followed 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 of others and destroying homes and property.
Israel's ambassador to the United Nations, Ron Proser, 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 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 Obama announced his support for "Israel's self-defense in light of the barrage of rocket attacks being launched from Gaza against Israeli civilians" before and during his trip to Asia. 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." And German Foreign Minister Guido Westervelle 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 rocket 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 recalled his country's ambassador to Israel. Ominously, Morsi's party, 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.
While cease-fire discussions continue, Hamas demands opening of the blockade. Yet food, medicine and other goods from Israel continue to cross into Gaza. And Gazans in need of medical treatment have entered Israel.
And then there is the Palestinian Authority (PA), Hamas' rival for power among the Palestinians. PA President Mahmoud Abbas, who has avoided direct talks with Israel for years, has announced on Nov. 29 he will bypass the negotiation route and ask the U.N. General Assembly to pass a resolution declaring Palestine a nonmember state.
That status will give the PA access to the International Court of Justice and the International Criminal Court, where it may charge Israel with war crimes for the defensive actions it is now taking against Hamas. Since the General Assembly is populated with a large majority of member-states whose penchant to vote against Israel is a conditioned reflex, easy passage of the Palestinian status upgrade is 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 PA. In fact, Hamas will undoubtedly seek to undermine and ultimately destroy the PA. Far better to encourage the PA 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.
Czarlinsky is AJC's Houston Region director.
Date: 11/21/2012 12:00:00 AM