Fighting Terrorism isn't "proportional" /Jason F.Isaacson

WASHINGTON – Angry Arabs, riled by the violence in Gaza, throw shoes at the Prime Minister’s office in London, and Egypt’s embassy in Washington. But not everyone in that community wants Israel to take the pressure off Islamist extremists who have been showering southern Israel with rockets.

“I don’t want to see people suffering, but Israel has to destroy Hamas,” a Lebanese Christian told me, after Israeli ground forces crossed into Gaza. A Jordanian friend, just back from his country, added, “The images on Al Jazeera, which shows bleeding children all day and all night, are horrifying. But Hamas started this, and Hamas has to be stopped.”

An Egyptian contact, seldom sympathetic with Israel, said, “This is a mess, and it makes our lives difficult. But we warned Hamas very clearly what would happen if they kept firing at Israel, and they didn’t listen to us. Israel had to stop them.”

As Israel presses forward in its targeted strikes against the infrastructure of Hamas, the terrorist junta that rules Gaza, some in the international community have expressed concern about Israel’s “disproportional” reaction relative to the Hamas rocket assaults that provoked it, and called for an immediate ceasefire.

The view that Israel is overreacting to Hamas attacks, however laudable may be the humanitarian instincts of those who propound it, is dangerously wrong. Many in the Arab world, schooled in the region’s harsh realities, understand this.

There is no “proportional” response to a well-armed terrorist movement that relentlessly attempts to murder Israeli citizens – the precise intent of more than 3,200 rockets launched against southern Israeli cities, villages and farms in the last year alone. Focused air strikes and ground assaults against missile stockpiles and launchers, commanders of suicide squads, explosives labs, and smuggling tunnels aren’t over-reaction.

A ceasefire will only make sense if Hamas is denied the wherewithal to continue its terror campaign against the 900,000 Israeli citizens living within the 20-plus-mile range of its rockets. A ceasefire that allows Hamas, with the assistance of its Iranian and Syrian patrons, to rearm, and feels at liberty to violate it with the occasional rocket launching, sets the stage for ongoing terror and bloodshed.

In fact, there can be Israeli-Palestinian peaceful cooperation, even as profound political differences remain, and mistrust and enmities linger. Over the last year, as Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert have engaged in negotiations on the outlines of a permanent settlement leading to Palestinian statehood, Israeli and Palestinian security forces resumed levels of coordination not seen in years. Palestinian police, fresh from U.S. training in Jordan, replaced Israeli forces in Jenin and Hebron; Palestinian and Israeli units have worked side by side in West Bank counter-terrorism efforts.

That cooperation, a work in progress, is undermined by Hamas, which seeks not an independent Palestinian state living beside Israel in peace and security – a formulation embraced by the international community and acceptable to Arab states. Hamas seeks the ethnic cleansing of Israel, its evacuation as a modern Jewish state and its replacement by an Islamic state under strict Sharia law.

And Hamas’s enemies aren’t only Israelis. They are all of the region’s pragmatists, all the believers in negotiated solutions to the problems of the Middle East. Their most immediate foes, beside the Jews of Israel, are Fatah leaders of the Palestinian Authority, who have staked the future Palestinian state on a political course – achieved directly with Israel, and with the Quartet as guarantors – rather than on the failed methodology of terror.

If Israel’s current campaign to weaken Hamas, and deter it from continuing its aggression, falters or stops prematurely, the cost will be high: It will be borne by hundreds of thousands of Israeli citizens, living under the intensified threat of sudden rocket attack; by the Palestinian Authority, still scarred by its violent ouster from Gaza by Hamas a year and a half ago, committed to a political process with Israel, but increasingly challenged for the loyalties of the Palestinian public; and by Arab leaders from North Africa to the Arabian Gulf, whose battles against their own extremists are set back by popular perceptions of the terrorists’ valiant “resistance.”

The region’s peoples, and all who hope for peace in the Middle East, have a stake in Israel’s success against Hamas. It will not be easy. The terrorists have embedded their weapons and personnel in the residential and communal infrastructure of densely populated Gaza, cynically putting civilians at risk and counting on a global outcry to ward off Israel’s self-defensive measures.

But success is vital. Peace between Israel and the Palestinians, key to Arab-Israeli normalization, cannot be achieved while Hamas retains its violent veto in Gaza.

Rather than seek to dissuade Israel from acting against terror, or seek an unsustainable ceasefire, the international community should insist on – and be prepared to support – Israel’s effective strategy. Dismantling the principal rejectionist obstacle to Palestinian unity, to Israel’s security, and to a
Palestinian-Israeli political process that can help fulfill the two-state dream is the only viable long-term solution to a bitter and costly conflict.

Jason F. Isaacson is director of government and international affairs for American Jewish Committee.

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