Although we think that President Biden’s rollback of some of Trump’s Mideast initiatives and the toning down of expressions of support for Israel has encouraged and will continue to encourage Palestinian terrorism, the Biden Administration is mostly saying the right things now – that Hamas picked its current fight with Israel over some Jerusalem housing evictions and rock throwers on the Temple Mount.
The State Department condemned the Hamas rocket barrage as “an unacceptable escalation” and declared: “[W]hile the U.S. urges de-escalation on all sides, we also recognize Israel’s legitimate right to defend itself, to defend is people and its territory.”
This is hardly the language appropriate to a run-up to a planned, major and sustained military confrontation (though, of course, things sometime assume a life of heir own). Rather it appears to be an acknowledgment that Hamas’s aim is to let the world know that it, not Mahmoud Abbas and his Fatah faction, is the real game in town.
But that can’t be enough. What matters is whether there will be a cost to Hamas with respect to the very issues that prompted its military gambit to deter future such efforts.
It was widely reported that Hamas was salivating, so to speak, over the impending Palestinian elections Abbas had announced would take place in late May. Hamas leaders believed their candidates would swamp those of other factions, including Fatah. Indeed, they expected a reprise of their overwhelming victory in the 2006 Palestinian parliamentary elections. That clear victory led to Abbas ignoring the electoral results and to Hamas’s subsequent violent takeover of Gaza from Abbas’s control in 2007.
However, apparently out of a belated fear of a Hamas romp, Abbas canceled the election. Not only did this close the door to a Hamas parliamentary majority, it also stood as a demonstration of Abbas’s preeminence as the driving force in the Palestinian scheme of things.
So showing that Hamas enjoyed power independent of Abbas became an urgent priority. And this was the initial message of the rockets. In fact, the rockets also indicated that Hamas could act where Abbas had no options – even in his own purported bailiwick. Thus, when Israel moved against the Palestinians who were raining rocks and stones from atop the Har Habayis on Jews in the Kotel plaza below, Abbas could only bellow out his signature hyperbole. But Hamas sent rockets flying over Israel.
A similar thing happened when Israel acted against the violent Palestinian demonstrations in anticipation of an expected Israeli Supreme Court decision ratifying the eviction of four Arab families from apartments built on Jewish-owned land in Jerusalem’s Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood. To be sure, the land was owned by Jews since the time of Alexander the Great with the only interruption coming thanks to a 1956 seizure by Jordan which was reversed in the 1967 Six-Day War. All Abbas could do was issue toothless warnings to Israel; Hamas sent more rockets Israel’s way.
And then there was the matter of how the Palestinians could get their arms around the Abraham Accords. That Trump initiative drove home to the Palestinians that they and their opposition to Israel were being overtaken by events. Four Arab states, with the prospect of several more doing so fairly soon, moved to normalize relations with Israel despite the Israel/Palestinian controversy remaining unresolved. Abbas could do nothing but cry “Foul” and question the judgment of some of his fellow Arabs.
But Hamas had rockets to send in response to Israel’s actions on the Temple Mount and force even those budding friends of Israel in the Arab world to rally to the Palestinians.
We hope that the goal of the Biden team is not just to end the Palestinian provocations and the ensuing violence, although these are certainly worthy aims. It should also be to hobble Hamas and undermine its ability to drive events in the Middle East in a violent direction.