This is part 2 of a 5 part series on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. You can read part 1 here.
Many of the more moderate supporters of Palestine (those who do not want to push Israel into the sea) state, as their goal, a two state solution — that is, for the land within the old British mandate to be divided between an Israeli and Palestinian state. Well, wish granted. The Gaza Strip has functioned as a de facto Palestinian state since 2005. In 2006, elections were held, which gave control of the Gaza Strip to Hamas, who solidified their power in a 2007 coup. Hamas has full political, economic, and military control over Gaza. They are under sanctions, primarily from Israel and Egypt, which prevent them from importing anything that might have a military use (which, due to the creativity of Hamas in this regard, is an expansive category) and are the frequent targets of Israeli airstrikes. The airstrikes aim to inhibit their ability to launch rockets at Israel, but there are plenty of other independent countries that are under sanctions, and international law is clear that nations, even Israel, have the right to use force to protect themselves against aggression by other states. While most of the world recognizes the Palestinian National Authority (which controls domestic affairs in the West Bank) as the legitimate government of Gaza, the very idea of a “legitimate government” implies the recognition of a legitimate state. Gaza may be a pariah state, like Iran or North Korea, but for all practical purposes it is an independent Palestinian state.
So, why aren’t Israel’s critics satisfied with the Palestinian state they have long asked for? One reason is that, at 140.9 square miles, Gaza is only about 1/16th the size of the West Bank — the semi-autonomous region within Israel that makes up the lion’s share of the land, which would likely make up Palestine in a stable two state solution. But why aren’t Palestine’s supporters happy that they now have a state, however small? Because, from the perspective of every fair-minded critic of Israel, the people of Gaza are out of the frying pan and into the fire: they have escaped Israeli “oppression” only to fall victim to the far worse oppression of Hamas. And Hamas is very oppressive. They violently repress dissent, shoot unarmed protesters, and subject poltical dissidents to arbitrary arrest and torture. Further, their economic mismanagement has resulted in a massive humanitarian crisis. Palestinian leaders and civilians alike have criticized its lack of respect for democracy and human rights. And, let us not forget, it expressly aims to kill Israeli civilians, Jews and Arabs alike, and attempts to put its own civilians in the way of IDF (Israeli Defence Forces) airstrikes for the purpose of garnering international support.
There are, of course, people who argue that Hamas is perfectly justified in doing this because they are acting in self-defense and Israel does bad things as well. They argue that, were Americans forced out of our homeland, we would react the same way the Palestinians have. Of course, the fact that injustices were done to you in the past does not give you the right to commit injustice in the present. But even if you believe that Hamas’s effort to push the Jewish people into the sea is morally justified (which is their stated goal and the aim of all their policies) you should still see Hamas as the prime roadblock to the freedom of Palestine, because their tactics just do not work. That is because there can never be any true Palestinian state without it being acceptable to the rest of the world, and the internal oppression and external recklessness with which Hamas governs is unacceptable.
On the other hand, suppose Palestinians turned their wrath against Hamas, forced them out of Gaza, and elected a more moderate faction, such as Fatah, to lead them. Fatah has problems as well, but it is at least possible for Israel and the world to work with them. Then suppose that Fatah announced, since the whole point of the free Palestine movement is to improve the lives of Palestinians, that this and not its hopeless jihad against Israel would be its prime objective. It would, of course, maintain its position that Israel was illegally occupying the West Bank, but it would adopt the nonviolent tactics of MLK or Gandhi. Both of these men faced far worse oppression than the PA (Palestinian Authority) does, but both took strict vows of nonviolence, not just because of ethical reasons, but because nonviolence was simply more effective. No more would they launch rockets at Israeli civilians, meaning there would be no reason for the IDF to launch airstrikes on Gaza. One of the biggest complaints of the free Palestine movement, Israeli airstrikes which kill civilians, would be resolved unilaterally by the PA. Meanwhile, since they would no longer be using imports to build rockets, international pressure would mount on Israel and Egypt to further ease their blockade of Gaza, which they would be more likely to do as it would no longer endanger their security. This would, in turn, revitalize the Gazan economy, easing the economic suffering of its people.
On the international stage, seeing Gaza functioning like a responsible nation would build pressure on Israel to reach a peaceful solution to the conflict, while Israel’s defenders could no longer “distract” everyone by pointing out that the government of Gaza sees killing Israeli civilians as a policy goal in and of itself. The so-called “Israel has a right to defend itself canard” would now be an irrelevant distraction, rather than a true statement of fact. Meanwhile, Israel would release some security restrictions on the West Bank, as there would be far less violence to protect itself from. A world in which Gaza has a responsible government is a world in which a two state solution, along the lines of what Israel has previously offered but Palestinians repeatedly rejected, would be one massive step closer to reality.
This is, sadly, a pipe dream. Hamas will not just go away, and it is worth remembering that Hamas was elected to rule Gaza in free and fair elections, which means that its actions, at least theoretically, were approved by the people of Palestine. Hamas knows enough history to know that the best way for an oppressive government to keep power is to stoke anger at a common enemy, so they stoke anger at Israel to distract from their own mismanagement. Until the people of Gaza accept that Israel is here to stay, reject the fear and hatred spread by Hamas, and commit to a path of nonviolent resistance, then there will be no free Palestine. Unless this happens, a free Palestine would mean death for Israel, and Israel will, naturally, not let that happen.
Some people will argue that my solution is unjust, as it puts the burden of solving the crisis on the heads of Palestinians, but there is no other solution. If you truly care about Palestinians, rather than making them a proxy to accuse your political enemies of insensitivity, then you should accept a solution, however imperfect it may seem, over the status quo.
The Palestinian people have suffered greatly over the past half-century, and the world should hope to see a peaceful solution to the conflict. But, whether or not you think it is fair, the first move towards peace must be made by Palestine, and that move must be to reject the violent extremism of Hamas. Otherwise, the status quo will continue.