The leader of Hamas, Khaled Mashaal, made his first visit to Gaza last week and peppered his numerous pronouncements with incendiary words aimed directly at Israel. Mashaal stated falsely that the recent Hamas missile attacks on Tel Aviv had destroyed Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak’s home and the next target would be Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s residence. He was speaking metaphorically in the first case, but perhaps not so in the second. He followed these remarks the next day with a particularly rancorous public speech in which he promised he would fight on until all of Palestine was liberated.
So, yet again, a Palestinian leader has stirred up the masses with invective, has heard the crowds cheer, and has set back his people’s cause considerably.
The fact that Mahmoud Abbas, the leader of the Palestinian Authority, did not denounce Mashaal’s speech only seemed to deepen the hole the Palestinians have dug for themselves.
The Israeli prime minister’s response to the remarks was correct, if predictable: See, he told the world, look at the Palestinians. This is who they are. They wish only to destroy the Jewish state.
No exaggeration there. But Netanyahu’s repetition of this point seemed only to be a wish to say, “I told you so.”
Mixed in with all this was the earlier United Nations recognition of Palestine as a non-member observer state, a move that seemed to create another major impasse. Fast on the heels of recognition came the Israeli decision to announce more building in eastern Jerusalem, which was greeted with global condemnation.
Let’s make one thing clear: The settlements and Israeli home building are not the obstacles to peace that Palestinian leaders would like the international community to believe they are. But Netanyahu’s announcement did not particularly help matters.
What we have now is the untenable continuation of the status quo. That hardly assures the safety of Israeli citizens, who are still reeling from the mini-war waged several weeks ago in the south; nor does it help the Palestinian people move any closer to achieving what they presumably want but won’t sit down to negotiate: statehood.
With Islamic Jihad in Gaza threatening to end the fragile cease-fire and Gazans celebrating the 25th anniversary of Hamas’ founding with threats of a new armed struggle, it is incumbent on the Obama administration not to turn its back on this seemingly intractable and increasingly dangerous situation.
It would be easy to give up altogether but that would do no one, least of all Israel, any good. Even as the rest of the Middle East smolders, this problem must stay on the U.S. agenda. l