Gaza and the "Peace Process"

Mid-East Update

Recent fighting between Israeli forces and Hamas in the Gaza Strip has prompted much speculation about the future of the “peace process.” How will it affect U.S.-Israeli relations? Will it be a repeat of the disastrous month-long war with Hezbollah? Is it motivated by security concerns or political motives?

Since 2001, Hamas has launched more than 4,000 Qassam rockets and 2,500 mortars from Gaza against Israeli targets. Israel withdrew from Gaza in 2005 for security reasons, with the hope that it would pave the way for a peace deal. However, since the Israeli withdrawal, rocket attacks have actually increased by 500 percent.

Further evidence that giving into terrorism does not solve anything; it only encourages more terrorist activity.

The Withdrawal from Gaza

In August 2005, Israel dismantled 21 settlements in the Gaza Strip as well as four settlements in the West Bank. A total of about 9,000 settlers were forced to leave their homes; in some cases, homes they had occupied for 38 years.

For the settlers, the withdrawal from Gaza was a time of tears and heartache, but for the Palestinians it was a time of celebration. For Arabs, the Gaza withdrawal represented a victory in their armed struggle against occupation. Israel’s retreat was seen as the direct result of the actions of suicide bombers and the constant stream of mortar and rocket fire on Israeli settlements. For them, the withdrawal represented a victory for terrorism.

Alan M. Dershowitz, a criminal law professor at Harvard Law School and the author of The Case for Israel, wrote: “The primary cause of terrorism is not occupation, humiliation, or desperation... the primary cause of terrorism is that it works. And it works because the craven international community gives into it and rewards it. It also works because too many Islamic leaders praise it and too few condemn it. Terrorism will continue as long as potential terrorists believe they will benefit from using that tactic.”

In January 2006, just six months after the withdrawal, Hamas won a landslide victory in the Palestinian’s parliamentary elections —their victory completely transformed the dynamics of the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.

The militant group won 76 of 132 seats in parliament. Fatah, which prior to the elections had controlled the Palestinian Authority for nearly 40 years, won only 43 seats. Following the elections the Palestinian territories were plunged into civil war.

In June 2007, Hamas seized control of the Gaza Strip. Mahmoud Abbas still holds the office of President, but he has been stripped of most of his power and some speculate that he may soon lose control of the West Bank as well.

When Abbas came to power after Yasser Arafat’s death, he inherited the remnants of a regime that was plagued with problems and was growing in unpopularity.

During the decades of Yasser Arafat’s corrupt and incompetent leadership, crooked government officials had stashed away billions of dollars that should have gone to help the Palestinian people. While Arafat grew rich, the Palestinian people suffered and Israel was blamed for it all. Arafat’s government was often criticized for neglecting to provide Palestinians with basic social services.

Meanwhile, Hamas operates a network of schools, clinics, and mosques, which have helped it gain the support of the people.

During the last six months, despite the unofficial truce, Hamas has fired more than 200 rockets and over 100 mortar shells at Israel. Hamas recently purchased new rockets—some from Iran—and has extended the range of its striking capability.

Ensuring the safety and security of Israel and its citizens is the stated goal of the current Gaza offensive. However the timing of the incursion is no doubt linked to events taking place in Israel’s political sphere.

New Elections This Month

Israel is holding early elections this month. The most likely candidates to replace Ehud Olmert as Prime Minister are Kadima leader Tzipi Livni, Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu, and Labor leader Ehud Barak. In recent months opinion polls have consistently pegged Benjamin Netanyahu as the front-runner. However Israel’s invasion of the Gaza Strip could change that.

Already Tzipi Livni and Ehud Barak have experienced a spike in popularity. For example, in a Haaretz poll published on Thursday, 53 percent of respondents said they were satisfied with Barak’s performance, up from 34 percent six months ago.

It seems Livni and Barak are attempting to demonstrate that they aren’t afraid to confront terrorism.

The offensive will have a significant impact on the outcome of the election, which is scheduled to take place on February 10th. The outcome of the election in turn could dramatically alter the future of the Middle East.

It is clear that the tiny nation of Israel is headed into rough and perilous waters. However no matter what storms lay ahead, ultimately the future is in God’s hands. He has a plan for the nation of Israel, just as He has a plan for you and me.