Israel has now evacuated Gaza. The ball, it is said, rests in the Palestinians’ court. So the question remains – Will the Palestinians seize the opportunity? To many Middle East foreign policy observers, the answer depends upon the Palestinian definition of â€œopportunity.â€ Will the withdrawal be viewed as the beginning of a process for establishing a stable, modern Palestinian state, or (as polls suggest) will it be interpreted by the Palestinians as “withdrawal under fire” and the first step in the eventual destruction of Israel. If current developments are any indication, it is the latter view that is winning the day.
On August 16, 2005, Hamas leader Mahmoud Zahar said of the Gaza evacuation that it signifies the â€œcollapse of Zionismâ€ and is â€œa sign of the final battle that will decide the conflict. It is a defeat for Israel,â€ he said. â€œWe do not recognize the State of Israel nor its right to control any of the land of Palestine. Palestine is holy Islamic landâ€¦â€¦Our national problem is not related only to the West Bank, Gaza, and al-Quds (Jerusalem)…but to Palestine, all [the territory of] Palestine.â€ By that he means Tel Aviv, Haifa and the rest of â€œthe Zionist entity.â€
A September 2003 poll conducted jointly by Public Opinion Research of Israel and the Palestinian Center for Public Opinion found that only 13% of Palestinians agreed with the statement that Hamas is a terrorist group; 82% agreed that Hamas is a freedom-fighting organization; and a mere 10% believed that bombings targeting Israeli civilians in buses and restaurants could be classified as acts of terrorism. These attitudes suggest that the ethical and moral divide between Palestinian and Israeli culture is so vast that it may have become unbridgeable.
An April 2004 poll of 506 Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza found that 76.5% of respondents supported the continuation of Hamasâ€™ suicide attacks against Israel while only 15.4% percent were opposed such attacks.
For the Palestinians, terrorism is not a weapon borne of weakness or an act of ultimate desperation, but rather a strategic choice. As Caroline Glick (writing in the Jerusalem Report) wrote recently: â€œTerrorism has come to define Palestinian society as much as moderation and humility characterize the now homeless Jews of Gaza and northern Samaria……As the IDF and police passed through the gates of Neveh Dekalim, Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Ahmed Qurei entered the gates of Damascus. There he met with the heads of Hamas and Islamic Jihad and negotiated an agreement that their forces in Gaza, Judea and Samaria will not be disarmed or harmed in any way. Exiting the meeting with Qurei, the heads of Hamas and Islamic Jihad told reporters that there is no reason for a Palestinian civil war since they share the PA’s strategy (italics added)â€¦….The PA has made its territory one of the safest havens for terrorists in the world…..â€ and across Gaza, Palestinian banners now read: â€œFour years of fighting is better than ten years of negotiations,â€ referring to the Oslo Accords signed in the early 1990s.
There is a message in all this. Israel is confronted by a Palestinian crocodile (call it Hamas, Islamic Jihad, Fatah-Al Aqsa Brigades, the PFLP-General Command, Tanzim, Hezbollah, al Qaeda or just plain Islamic terrorists) whose appetite will not be satiated until its victim has been consumed. Each time Israel has made concessions in the pursuit of peace (Oslo, Wye River, Gaza, prisoner releases, withdrawals of IDF forces, pledges of non-assassination of terrorist leaders and the like) it has paid with the blood of its children. If the Gaza evacuation changes nothing, the Palestinians had best prepare themselves to pay a terrible price for pursuing their dream of conquest.
The Lessons of War
If there is one singular lesson to be learned from the history of human conflict from antiquity to the modern age, it is that enemies (to put it rather bluntly) must be bludgeoned into submission, and the populations that support them must be convinced that their dream of conquest can never be achieved. That is because defeat is more than the verdict of the battlefield (as we have discovered in Iraq). It is the futility that comes when dreams die. Defeat, above all else, is essentially a state of mind.
Military historian Victor Davis Hanson of the Hoover Institute has written: â€œReal peace and successful reconstruction are in direct proportion to the degree to which an enemy is humiliatingly defeated – the aim being that an enemy will come to understand that it cannot go on being what it has been (italics added)â€¦..Only after that (can) its society be rebuilt.â€ In effect, an enemy must be vanquished and the mindset of the society that produced it must be changed before successful reconstruction can be undertaken. Only then can a new Phoenix rise from the ashes of the old.
To understand this principle, consider the American civil war experience. â€œNo terms except an unconditional and immediate surrender can be accepted,â€ Gen. Ulysses S. Grant famously replied to requests for conditions from the trapped Confederate defenders of Fort Donelson in February 1862. Grant’s bluntness was later reflected in Lincoln’s tough policy toward Lee’s troops after their surrender at Appomattox three years later. The result – the Confederacy was forced to acknowledge defeat, to end slavery, and to recognize the futility of pursuing its dream of an independent Confederate State.
Historically, vanquishing an enemy was seen as a critical first step in fundamentally changing its character. Only by eradicating the reasons that we had gone to war in the first place – slavery, fascism, Nazism, Japanese militarism (and now, Islamic terrorism) could real peace follow. In contrast, and with very few exceptions – armistices, accommodations, concessions, appeasement, peace processes and negotiations have proven to be no substitute for the absolute and utter defeat of an enemy. In fact, the reverse is often true. Anything short of vanquishing an enemy tends to prolong the torture chambers, the genocides and the death squads.
Until the psychology of defeat has permeated an enemyâ€™s mindset, it is premature to declare “victory” (as America did in Operation Iraqi Freedom even though Islamic insurgents continue to roam the country, murder at will and foment civil war). Absolute defeat must emanate from the vanquished. It occurs only when an enemy (and the society that spawned it) is rendered militarily and psychologically incapable and unwilling to continue the conflict. Only then can its terror apparatus be dismantled; its capacity to wage further war eliminated; its weapons seized; its weapons factories shut down; its militias disbanded; its hate propaganda terminated; its educational system reformed; its human and financial resources channeled back into massive social and economic reconstruction, and its population prepared for a new and better reality. Only then, when faced with a choice between guns and butter, will an enemy choose butter over guns.
Anything short of this is â€œstalemateâ€ – a situation where neither side has been totally vanquished and the reasons for having gone to war remain unresolved. Thus, it can be argued that neither the Korean War (1953), nor the 1991 Gulf War, nor even Operation Iraqi Freedom (at least to this point) constituted “victory” (in the traditional sense) since the enemy was never vanquished. Furthermore, despite the fact that the Arabs may have been militarily defeated by Israel in 1948-1949, 1956, 1967 and 1973, they have never been psychologically vanquished to the point where they accepted the futility of trying to destroy Israel.
Resolving the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict
If the Gaza evacuation not only fails to bring about the desired response, but results in an increase in terrorism, then the alternative becomes clear. You cannot negotiate with an enemy who wants you dead and intends to conquer your land. Concrete barriers, high-tech explosive â€œsniffersâ€ at checkpoints and bio-metric eye scans may inhibit the infiltration of suicide bombers, but they cannot and will not stop weapons tunnels from being dug or Katyusha rockets (that may one day carry chemical, biological or even tactical nuclear weapons) from being fired into the Israeli heartland.
Faced with a choice between annihilation and civilization, the government of Israel will eventually decide to take the terrorists at their word. If nothing short of Israel’s destruction will satisfy them, if rockets continue to rein down on the Israeli population, and if suicide bombers continue to penetrate Israeli defenses, then Israel will have no other choice but to reoccupy Gaza and the West Bank and remain until the transformation of Palestinian society is complete. If the Palestinians cannot (or will not) control their territory, their media, their mosques, their educational system or the terrorists in their midst, then Israel will make clear to them that there will be a terrible reckoning.
The unfortunate historical truth remains that the costlier war becomes, the sooner conflicts end. While this is offensive to our Western sensibilities of tolerance, compromise, negotiation and accommodation, it is nevertheless the primary lesson learned from human conflicts. War involves the infliction of pain and unfortunately, the greater the pain inflicted upon an enemy, the greater the likelihood the conflict will come to an end.
From any perspective, war is sordid business, made worse by human imperfections. It is neither pleasant nor desirable, but in an environment where Palestinian suicide bombers are trained from infancy to hate Jews and are revered as “martyrs,” where Palestinian children play soccer with the decapitated head of a fallen Israeli soldier, where Palestinian mothers celebrate the “martyrdom” of their children and throw candies in the air to celebrate, and where Palestinian children themselves are taught a culture of death in their textbooks, in their mosques, in their marketplaces, in their radio and television programs, and on the Internet, war becomes necessary to eradicate the system that bred the pathology.
It would not have been possible to dismantle the Hitler Youth, the gas chambers or the cult of Aryan supremacy without the complete and absolute destruction of all that was Nazi Germany. Only that policy allowed the reconstruction of Germany, Italy and Japan after World War II. Only that policy will lead to a definitive end to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. As William Safire has written: â€œSo long as Arab leaders are convinced that Israel can and will be destroyed, they will keep terrorizing it through the next ten cease-fires.â€
Just as the creation of free and democratic societies in Germany and Japan after World War II necessitated a comprehensive purge of their existing political systems, the re-education of their entire populations and the rebuilding of their societies from the ground up over many years, so Palestinian society must undergo a profound purge followed by an equally profound metamorphosis that would sweep away the military and psychological infrastructure of terrorism and sow the seeds for a new Palestinian tomorrow.
If the Palestinians cannot stop the terrorism (or choose not to do so), Israel will eventually move to do so itself. Golda Meir, the former Prime Minister of Israel, was not far wrong when she said that the hatred will stop only when the Arabs love their children more than they hate us (the Israelis).â€ But that state of affairs will not come about through negotiations and concessions. Like it or not, the Palestinian â€œdeath cultâ€ must be extirpated from Palestinian society. That will be achieved only when the Palestinians have been “bludgeoned into submission” (as were the Nazis before them) and accept, as fact, that their dream of an Islamic Palestine from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea is futile. If Palestinian society cannot be educated, then it must be re-educated.
The U.S. administration and the European Union are wrong in their belief that there is â€œno military solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict.â€ Only overwhelming military force (what the Arabs call hayba) followed by a re-occupation of the West Bank and Gaza and a return to the pre-Oslo Israeli military and civil administration can change Palestinian society and prevent its slippage back into anarchy. Eventually, Israel will be forced by circumstance to take back the powers that it erroneously transferred to the Palestinian Authority in the Oslo Accords. Before Oslo, Israel controlled the curriculum in Palestinian schools and prevented hate-mongering clerics from preaching in the mosques. Israeli military officers served as mayors in Palestinian cities and the Israeli civil administration assumed control over population movements, water and land rights as well as economic activity. A tolerable level of order and security was maintained – unlike today. A return to pre-Oslo would allow Palestinian society to be restructured and rebuilt until such time as the fundamental nature of Palestinian society was changed.
As was the case in post World War II Germany and Japan, re-occupation would permit massive political and economic reconstruction at every level of Palestinian society. In the end, (if the models of the past apply), the Palestinians would eventually learn to reject violence not because it was politically ineffective but because it was morally wrong. To achieve that level of understanding may take decades. But one thing is certain. Only a society freed from the demons of its past can achieve it. Just as Singapore, tiny as it is, has become an economic giant in the world of nations, so too can a Palestinian State become one as well – but only after a Palestinian Reformation has taken place. The scourge of Palestinian fascism must be eradicated from the Palestinian mindset. Anything short of that merely prolongs the agony, the Reformation, the reconstruction and a new Palestinian rebirth.