With the triumph of Hamas in the recent Palestinian elections, the question is now between whether a final war between the Palestinians and Israel is inevitable, or merely virtually inevitable.
I, for absolutely no rational reason but based on sheerest optimism, think there is one last chance for peace in the Middle East. But it’s going to require a huge effort on Hamas’ behalf, and to surmount a nigh-impossible psychological barrier:
The need to look to the Jews for inspiration.
At the founding of Israel, numerous groups, factions, and gangs that had fought against the British struggled for control and to preserve their relevancy. One of the leading groups was called Irgun, led by a firebrand named Menachem Begin. Irgun wanted to be taken whole into the Israeli Defense Force as an “army within an army.” The Israeli government differed, and the disagreement came to a head when a ship — the Altalena — arrived in Israel with nearly a thousand Irgun fighters and a LOT of weapons — 5,000 rifles, 5 MILLION bullets, bazookas, machine guns, armored vehicles, and the like. The nascent Israeli government demanded Irgun surrender the weapons. Irgun stalled, negotiating to keep roughly 80% of the arms for their own units.
And then Jew fought Jew.
The Israeli Defense Force attacked the Altalena, setting her afire. The Irgun fighters fled the ship, fearing her cargo of ammunition could explode at any moment. When the dust settled, nearly 200 Irgun were arrested (although most were released in a short time).
And nearly 20 Jews were dead, at the hands of Jews. 16 Irgun and 3 IDF men were killed.
Menachem Begin, leader of Irgun, eventually became a peacemaker. Nearly 30 years later, he became Prime Minister of Israel, and signed the Camp David Accords with Egypt, the first peace treaty between Israel and any of her Arab neighbors. And in an ironic twist, the man he succeeded as Prime Minister was none other than his opponent at the Altalena battle, Yitzhak Rabin.
The Palestinians not only have to follow the example of the hated Jews, but they need to condense 30 years of work into a matter of months — which is probably a very optimistic estimate of how much time Hamas will have. They need to demonstrate to the world that they are THE government of Palestine, and they will not tolerate any other parties taking on the rights and responsibilities of a government — much like Israel did with the Altalena. And they need to publicly acknowledge Israel’s right to exist and renounce their charter-enshrined vow to destroy it.
But I fear they won’t. I strongly suspect that Hamas will be feeling their oats with their great victory, and make grandiose pronouncements about “continuing the struggle” and “obliterating the Zionist entity” and “reclaiming all the land stolen by the Jews” and the like.
And then, after one final terrorist attack, whether directly traceable to Hamas or not, Israel will state that the government of the Palestinians has committed one too many acts of war against Israel, and declare war on Palestine. At that point Hamas will be confronted with the inescapable fact that if one exercises the powers of a government, then one can be expected to take the responsibilities of a government — and allowing people to wage war in your name, from your lands, with your support, will bring down the severest of consequences.
One of the lessons I learned from the game “Risk” is that it is far easier to take territory than to hold it, and great victories can sometimes lead to greater defeats if one overextends oneself. That was the mistake Israel made before — they crushed their enemies militarily, then occupied them. Now, with Israel having pulled out of Gaza, the Palestinians have been deprived of that ready pool of potential hostages. Israel can strike with impunity, destroying military targets and what little infrastructure exists, then pull back and say “if you give us cause, we will do that again. Don’t give us cause.” Israel can spend years playing “bounce the rubble” until the Palestinians finally accept reality — Israel is here to stay.
I really, deeply, sincerely hope that the nigh-impossible happens, and Hamas comes to sanity. But I wouldn’t bet a dime on it actually happening.