This time, it feels as though the stakes have changed. While any new outbreak of violence between Israel and Palestinian organizations is hardly surprising –it’s practically a way of life in that hard land – the Middle East has changed in recent years, potentially raising the stakes in this latest confrontation.
Syria is in the midst of a revolt. Egypt’s government – now in the hands of the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood – is criticizing Israel for attacking Gaza despite the two nations’ 1979 peace treaty. There are calls for the ouster of King Abdullah II in Jordan, which also has a peace treaty with Israel. Iran, meanwhile, is seeking to develop nuclear weapons that could destabilize the region and the world.
If the fundamental problems still apply, their perpetuation holds new challenges for the region. The problems are well known. Palestinians are understandably dissatisfied with their marginalized existence. Some of their leaders, and many others in the Islamic Middle East, insist that the only resolution is to wipe Israel off the map. Israel, understandably, resists that approach.
It has been, and to this point remains, the irresistible force meeting the immovable object. Neither side has been sufficiently willing to compromise. Indeed, the rocket attacks by Hamas began shortly after Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas suggested – intentionally or not – that to achieve peace, Palestinians might have to give up on their cherished insistence upon a right of return.
This latest conflict, which began with a rain of Hamas rockets into Israel, has now escalated, with Israel shelling Gaza and launching air strikes. Civilians, including women and children, have been killed, while Israel reports that it has struck terror sites and has significantly degraded the rocket-launching capabilities of militant groups in the Palestinian territory. Meanwhile, Israeli troops are poised for a ground invasion, a development that the international community must work hard to avoid.
Both sides are insisting that the other must give way before any cease-fire can occur. Hamas demands that Israel stop its offensive and end its blockade of Gaza, while Israel says the rocket fire into its cities must first end. Meanwhile, the death and suffering continue.
Israel has the stronger claim in this fight, if for no other reason than any attack on its territory has to be viewed as part of the Arab insistence that Israel has no right even to exist, let alone defend itself. When a nation is attacked, it has a right to respond. Still, we hope Israel will act to limit civilian deaths as it targets launching sites and the leaders and membership of Hamas.
Palestinians have legitimate grievances, but they are unlikely to be resolved as long as they support leaders who engage in terror and make demands that Israel can never meet.
Both sides need to be more forthcoming if there is ever to be an end to this conflict, but that begins with a Palestinian acknowledgment that Israel exists and isn’t going anywhere.