Land for Peace -- or War?
The final casualty in the current Gaza war may be the endlessly repeated mantra: "Land for Peace." For forty-five years, ever since its stunning victory in the Six-Day War, Israel has confronted insistent demands to return the conquered Sinai to Egypt, the Golan Heights to Syria, and relinquish its own Biblical homeland in Judea and Samaria for a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza.
The peace treaty between Israel and Egypt in 1979 marked the first step toward implementing that beguiling vision. Then, in 2005, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon withdrew the Israeli civilian and military presence from Gaza, the 25-mile long strip that runs along the Mediterranean coast between Egypt (which occupied it between 1949 and 1967) and Israel.
Eight thousand Israelis were removed from their homes, which -- along with their synagogues -- were dismantled or demolished. Only the innovative and productive greenhouses were left behind to benefit the local Arab residents, who immediately destroyed them. Two years later Hamas became the ruling authority in Gaza and the rest, we might say, is tragedy.
Recent events in Gaza demonstrate the folly of pursuing the mirage of "land for peace," which Hamas has now effectively demolished. After a year in which 700 missiles terrorized civilians in nearby Negev communities, Israel finally had enough. With unprovoked rocket attacks increasing, it launched Operation "Pillar of Defense," conducting a precision air strike that killed Ahmed Al-Jaabari, commander of the Hamas military, and targeted its underground launching sites. Those who had celebrated the American assassination of Osama bin-Laden could hardly complain.
Within days, more Hamas missiles and rockets -- more than 1000 by Monday -- had landed in and around Beersheva and Ashkelon and, for the first time, the environs of Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. Israel's Iron Dome interceptions reduced civilian casualties, but Israeli lives remained threatened. It became evident that Hamas enjoyed an abundant supply network for sophisticated weapons and technology that originated in Iran and then made its way through Sudan and Egypt, across the Sinai and through tunnels to Gaza, where Hamas, guided by Iranian experts, prepared them for launching.
As Israeli soldiers readied for a military invasion to destroy Gaza weapons caches, predictable outrage arose from the usual sources. Even as Hamas rockets were falling, tolerance for Israel's justified response to unprovoked attacks on its civilians began to fray. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon called upon Israel -- not Hamas -- to exercise "maximum restraint."
All too predictably, Israel -- which failed dismally to make its case to world opinion for Operation Cast Lead four years ago -- now was castigated for making it too effectively. Atlantic writer Jeffrey Goldberg decried the "Hamasization of Israel's public relations campaign." It included the viral Facebook graphic "What Would You Do?" showing the Statue of Liberty, Big Ben and the Eiffel Tower under missile attack. While Hamas launched rockets into Israel, Israel was lacerated for its "tacky" bombardment of social media and reliance upon Twitter hashtags (#Pillar of Defense) to challenge its critics.
Not surprisingly, The New York Times editorialized (November 15) its august displeasure with the Israeli response. To be sure, it conceded, "no country should have to endure the rocket attacks that Israel has endured from militants in Gaza." But then it chastised Israel for responding in ways that could not advance its "long-term interests," provoked "new waves of condemnation" from Arab states, and diverted attention from the far more serious danger of Iranian nuclear weapons (which the Times had previously criticized Israel for threatening to destroy). Enumerating what Israel "could have" done to please Times editors, it cited the necessity of "serious negotiations" with the Palestinian Authority (which has rejected any negotiations for more than a year) for "a durable peace agreement." That, of course, would require the relinquishment of even more land for (less) "peace."
Left-wing American and Israeli groups such as J-Street and Americans for Peace Now relentlessly proclaim the necessity of a "two-state solution," while endlessly castigating Jewish settlers as "obstacles to peace." But with a Palestinian/Hamas state on Israel's eastern and western borders, Hezbollah to the north in Lebanon, and Iran looming ever more menacingly to the east just beyond an increasingly unstable Jordan, Israel's security would be in dire jeopardy.
Given these grim realities, now on full display in Gaza, "Land for Peace" is nothing but a recipe for the annihilation of Israel.
Jerold S. Auerbach is the author, most recently, of Against the Grain: A Historian's Journey, published by Quid Pro Books.