The Hamas bluster about having bested Israel in Operation Pillar of Defense should not be dismissed as typical Arab hyperbole.
To be sure, Hamas leaders well know what really happened. According to a study issued by The Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies, Israel confounded Hamas’s military at every turn, killed its military leader and much of its officer hierarchy and also destroyed most of its strategic assets. And the performance of the Iron Dome anti-missile system and Israel’s overall civilian defense also proved impressive.
Yet Hamas officials are peddling the notion that Israel’s decision not to invade Gaza was the direct result of Hamas’s fierce resistance – despite the fact that Israel achieved its declared goals through the use of targeted air and naval power.
But there is method to their madness. And there is a message for President Obama and the European Union.
Hamas’s claims of victory necessarily tend to diminish the stature and influence of PA President Mahmoud Abbas, who conceived and last month followed through on the UN General Assembly statehood effort. And while Mr. Abbas was hailed in the Palestinian street after his success at the UN, no one paying attention to the West Bank and Gaza can doubt that Hamas has hit on a winning strategy.
So what Hamas has to say about the Israeli- Palestinian conflict has to be listened to very carefully. And the speech Hamas leader Khaled Mashal gave in Gaza last Saturday was ominous. He reiterated his movement’s refusal to “give up one inch of the land of Palestine” and went on to declare that
Palestine from the river to the sea, from the north to the south, is our land and we will never give up one inch or any part of it…. Palestine was, still is and will always be Arab and Islamic. Palestine belongs to us and to no one else. We can never recognize the legitimacy of the Israeli occupation of Palestine. Palestine belongs to us, and not to the Zionists…. Jihad and armed resistance are the right and real way to liberate Palestine and restore our rights…. Liberating Palestine, all of Palestine, is the duty and right and goal of all Arabs and Muslims….
He also declared that the “right of return” for Palestinian refugees was “sacred” and that Jerusalem was “our eternal capital, which we will liberate inch by inch, neighborhood by neighborhood and stone by stone.”
Even if Mr. Abbas were someone who could be taken at his word (a dubious notion in itself) when he says he is interested in negotiating a settlement with Israel, it is hard to conceive of his being able to deliver, given Hamas’s principles. This is certainly so inasmuch as it is common knowledge that if Israel were to withdraw from any part of the West Bank as part of a peace deal, Hamas would quickly move in and take control as it did in Gaza.
Ironically, if anything, Mr. Abbas’s UN foray added to his problems in this regard. His claim to have succeeded in securing recognition of a Palestinian state via the adoption of the resolution he submitted to the General Assembly will make it impossible to move forward with any negotiations. As we noted last week, that resolution codifies pre-1967 lines. How can he then argue that Palestinians should accept anything less? Of course, this would preclude any negotiations.
Indeed, it will be recalled that Mr. Abbas was highly critical of President Obama over the president’s calling for and then backing off a total settlement freeze: “It was Obama who suggested a full settlement freeze. I said OK. I accept. We both went up the tree. After that he came down with the ladder and he removed the ladder and said to me, jump. Three times he did it.”
Just as he was then precluded from asking for anything less than the American president, he is now similarly proscribed. Therefore, this is no time to pressure Israel to make concessions to the Palestinians in order to bring them to the negotiating table.