The Double Folly: Israel And Hamas To Discover Their Mutual Folly Assures
23 July 2014
By Alon Ben-Meir
The war between Hamas and Israel has exposed the folly
of both sides. Hamas' long-standing objective to
destroy Israel has come back to haunt it, which may
eventually spell its own demise. Conversely, Prime
Minister Netanyahu's unwillingness to end the
occupation and the blockade has also shown the folly
of his policy.
The sad irony is that Hamas' leaders know that they
will never be able to seriously threaten Israel
existentially, and every time they challenge Israel,
they subject the Palestinians in Gaza to the horror of
war, destruction, and death.
Similarly, Netanyahu does not recognize that
continuing the occupation and the blockade is
unsustainable and there is no such thing as secure
borders in the age of rockets, regardless of how
fortified they may be.
Let me first state that I distinguish between the
fanatic, violent and misguided organization Hamas, and
the vast majority of Palestinians in Gaza and the West
Bank, who want to live in peace and dignity.
The current flareup vividly demonstrates the cruelty
and degenerate morality of Hamas by using men, women
and children as human shields to safeguard its cache
of rockets, subjecting innocent Palestinians to abject
poverty and despair. This only attests to Hamas'
brutal reign, which places its twisted religious bent
above the lives of those it presumably wishes to
Driven by blind fanaticism, Hamas' leaders readily
sacrifice the precious lives of children and
heartlessly prevent ordinary, terrified Palestinians
from leaving their homes to avoid death and injuries
for the sole purpose of inviting increasing
international condemnation of Israel.
Hamas made a habit of provoking Israel, ostensibly to
end the Israeli blockade. Instead, it finds itself
marred in another bloody confrontation while the vast
majority of Palestinians in Gaza end up paying a dear
Following the formation of the Palestinian unity
government, I advocated that Israel should give Hamas
a chance to demonstrate its willingness to adhere,
albeit indirectly, to the three Quartet principles of
recognizing Israel, accepting prior agreements, and
forsaking violence, which the unity government
Instead, Hamas chose to forfeit a historic opportunity
that could have allowed the unity government to chart
a new path to bring about the eventual lifting of the
blockade and establish the conditions on which to
gradually build a durable peace.
Rather than building on Israel's concessions in the
2012 ceasefire agreement, Hamas opted to challenge
Israel again in an effort to boost its waning
political legitimacy among the Palestinians, who have
been reaping nothing from Hamas' militancy but more
pain and despondency.
While Hamas was able to generate in times of stress
sympathy from the Arab states, today Hamas finds
itself more isolated and financially strapped than
Weary of Islamic extremism, the Arab states are in
fact quietly cheering Hamas' beatings by Israeli
forces. Not surprisingly, Egypt took pleasure
witnessing Hamas' self-inflicted wounds as the
Egyptian government loathes Hamas, which has strong
affiliations with the now-outlawed Muslim Brotherhood.
Netanyahu, on the other hand, has not fared much
better. He insists that Israel is not an occupying
power and that in any case it needs defensible
borders. The new conflagration with Hamas has once
again revealed the folly of his argument as thousands
of rockets are raining on Israel, creating mayhem and
forcing thousands to scramble in fear for cover.
The argument advanced by right-wing politicians is
that the withdrawal from Gaza in 2005 demonstrates
that the Palestinians cannot be trusted, as Hamas uses
the land as a staging ground for attacks on Israel
instead of building the infrastructure of a state.
Had it not been for the fact that the withdrawal from
Gaza was precipitous, unilateral, and done without
security arrangements, economic development plans, or
in phases, the picture would be different today. Hamas
would not have been able to overthrow the PA, which
was in control of Gaza at the time, and seize control
of the Strip.
Nevertheless, the decision to withdraw was made on the
assumption that a divided Palestine is more
advantageous to Israel, and ridding itself of Gaza
would free Israel from the responsibility of
administering a densely populated area which Israel
has no affinity to, and has no ideological resonance
or geostrategic value.
The shortsightedness of successive Israeli governments
in settling for the status quo is not sustainable
given the continuing blockade of Gaza and Israel's
unwillingness to ease it in times of calm, the
occupation of the West Bank, and the continuing
expansion of settlements. A violent eruption such as
the current war was predictable and bound to occur.
Here again the Israeli folly is put on full display. A
relatively small fanatic Islamic group is able to
inflict incredible havoc all over Israel while boldly
facing down the most formidable military power in the
Now Netanyahu find himself in a box. He is torn
between his desire to crush Hamas and destroy its
infrastructure, and the international pressure to end
the hostilities. Once again, the whole world is
watching the unfolding of a Greek tragedy, except this
one is very real and unforgiving.
It is a tragedy because both Hamas and Israel are
guilty of hubris that transcends any bounds and defies
reality. The ever-present evidence of Israeli hubris
is the unending occupation while denying the
Palestinians the establishment of their own state;
with Hamas, it is its suicidal persistence to seek
Israel's total destruction.
It is clear that a ceasefire must be urgently
established to immediately provide humanitarian aid
organized by the UN, which must be followed by
negotiating a more durable accord. But no such
agreement will have any meaning unless it addresses
the causes and consequences of this never-ending
The current crisis offers an opportunity for a major
To begin with, no concession should be made to Hamas
unless it first surrenders its cache of weapons to a
UN-sponsored group in return for easing the blockade
and gradually lifting it altogether.
Security coordination between Israel and the PA should
be put in place in Gaza under the auspices of the
unity government, allowing the PA security forces to
take charge of all crossings from the Gaza side.
Israel must pledge to resume the peace negotiations in
earnest and recommit itself to the two-state solution
to give all Palestinians the hope that the occupation
will eventually come to an end.
I am not naïve to assume that Hamas and Israel will
readily accept such an agreement. But this is time to
squeeze both as they cannot have it both ways. For
Hamas, it is to be free to move people and goods in
and out of Gaza while preparing for the next battle,
and for Israel, to continue the expansion of
settlements, maintain the occupation, and keep the
blockade in place.
If the international community, led by the US, wants
to avoid a repeat of these disastrous scenarios, it
must insist on these conditions, however untenable
they may seem.
Indeed, as long as these dynamics are not
fundamentally changed, Israelis and Palestinians will
pay the price. It is time to expose the Israeli and
Both sides will discover that this mutual folly
assures a fate as described by Aeschylus: "So great
shall be new sacrifices of clotting blood... so great
the piles of bones, even to the third generation they
shall be seen by human eyes as speechless warnings
that those who must die not overreach themselves: when
stubborn pride has flowered, it ripens to
self-deception and the only harvest is a glut of
____________ Dr. Alon Ben-Meir is a professor of international
relations at the Center for Global Affairs at NYU. He
teaches courses on international negotiation and
Middle Eastern studies. firstname.lastname@example.org Web: