I. Palestinian duplicity did not begin the day that Yasser Arafat immigrated to Gaza City from Tunis in 1994, but the Chairman’s arrival on the scene in Israel set into motion a trend that Israel has proved unable to reverse over the ensuing two decades.
The original Oslo accord called for the nascent Palestinian Authority to create a “lightly armed” police force, in order to maintain public order but lacking the ability to pose a threat to Israelis or to Israeli police. The sides agreed that the PA police could hold 13,000 light weapons.
But that number had been exceed nearly four-fold by the time Rabin was assassinated just 16 months after Arafat’s celebrated arrival in Gaza. International observers at the time said weapons far in excess of the “light weapons” agreed upon had been smuggled into the PA.
The first time PA “police” opened fire with their brand-new, American-supplied weapons was several weeks after Arafat’s arrival. Arafat and other Palestinian spokespeople made clear that whatever peaceful process there was would be temporary.
And yet, Israel was undeterred. Senior officials such as then-Prime Minister Shimon Peres and then-Justice Minister Yossi Beilin prosecuted the Oslo process with full diligence, ignoring bus bombings and other clear signs along the way that the Palestinians were using the process to create the conditions for war, not peace. Palestinian terror was eventually met with Israeli withdrawals, and thousands of Israelis and Palestinians were maimed or killed when the storm finally hit, on September 29, 2000.
This history is relevant as Israel moves to prosecute yet another round of fighting with Hamas in Gaza. During the years Israel governed the Gaza Strip, local residents and terror operatives felt free to dig tunnels under the Egyptian border, and to smuggle weapons into the Strip from Egypt. Here, too, the process continued unabated, and the results of that police are clear. Once again, Israelis will pay the price of that police from their bomb shelters and protected rooms as the air force tries to convince Hamas to “play nice” by holding their fire.
II. Upon leaving the south Lebanon security zone in May, 2000, Prime Minister Ehud Barak warned that any attack against the international border would be treated as an act of war. At the same time, Foreign Minister David Levy warned Hezbollah not to “play with fire” by attacking Israeli civilians or troops.
But when Hezbollah responded to the Israeli pullout by kidnapping three IDF soldiers, Adi Avitan, Omer Soued and Binyamin Avraham less than six months later, Israel’s response was… non-existent.
Similarly, when Ariel Sharon evicted 1,600 Jewish families from their homes in Gush Katif five years later, he warned that the first rocket from the Judenrein Strip would be met with the “fires of hell.”
But again, it turned out that the fires of Sharon’s hell weren’t all that hot: On August 25, 2005 – less than two weeks after Sharon’s troops “disengaged” from Gaza, Arab “freedom fighters fired two Qassam rockets at Sderot. Two weeks later, on September 12, several hours after the last IDF troops left the Strip, Palestinians celebrated by burning down the synagogues in former Jewish communities and firing rockets at Sderot and Kibbutz Yad Mordechai.
Like his predecessor, however, Sharon granted a free pass to Palestinians, sending a clear message that the “fires of hell” had actually turned into something closer to a grudging acceptance of the reality of rocket fire on the Israeli home front.
In both cases, the terror groups involved understood that despite exhortations to the contrary, Israel would, indeed, resolve itself to living with the attacks on its civilian population. As the saying goes: There is no second chance to make a first impression.
III. If Israel has not managed to eliminate Hamas in previous rounds of fighting, which were no less painful for Israeli and Palestinian civilians, there is no reason to expect the political establishment to give the IDF a green light to do so now. Were the political will there, the army could complete a Hamasectomy in Gaza in short order. The unhappy truth, however, is that Israel is in a painful dance with Hamas: Of course, the current situation is untenable, but it is worth remembering that Hamas is far from the worst enemy Israel could find on the Gaza doorstep.