Op-ed: Martin Sherman explains why letting Hamas take over Judea and Samaria unwise
Guy Bechor is a well-informed analyst of Middle East affairs. As a journalist his articles normally reflect a far more down-to-earth comprehension of regional realities than many of his mainstream media colleagues. This is perhaps what makes his recent column Is Hamas takeover so bad? – in which he advocates letting the “West Bank” fall to the Hamas – so disturbing.
Uncharacteristic of Bechor’s usually sober assessments, it is a piece that is marred by unrealistic optimism, astonishing short-sightedness and highly-constricted tunnel-vision.
Bechor is of course correct in noting that “Israel would never be able to live with the Palestinian Authority’s demands” and that today the “Palestinian Authority…is perceived as the ‘good guys’…(while) Hamas is considered a terrorist and part of the ‘bad guys’.”
However, virtually all subsequent inferences he makes and conclusions he draws from this observation are wildly off-track.
Thus, when Bechor claims that if the Hamas took over Judea and Samaria “The international pressure exerted on Israel would be eased and even disappear, as nobody wishes to grant a state to terrorists,” one can only wonder whether he has succumbed to terminal amnesia or has merely neglected to follow the news.
Indeed, in the case of the Palestinians, the pejorative designation of “terrorist” is alarmingly transitory. After all, the entire Oslo process was launched with “terrorists.” The PLO was formally designated as a terror organization until the early ‘90s, and only permitted to open a Mission Office in Washington in 1994 after the signature of Declaration of Principles on the White House Lawn – despite the fact that it had merely outsourced its murderous activities to its violent affiliates.
This clearly indicates that widespread international reticence in dealing with “terrorists” is not something that can be taken for granted – certainly not for any length of time. Indeed, the PLO was “sanitized” largely due to efforts by prominent Israelis. Bechor would do well to keep this in mind, for familiar-sounding voices are being raised today by a growing chorus of influential figures in the US, in the EU…and in Israel, calling for “engagement” with the Hamas.
The trouble with Gaza
Moreover, given the severe worldwide censure that Israel has been subjected to over its policy toward Hamas-governed Gaza, one can only wonder on what Bechor bases his astonishing claim that if Hamas was to govern Judea and Samaria “international pressure exerted on Israel would be eased and even disappear.”
No less astounding is Bechor’s rhetorical question:” What’s so bad about the new situation created in the Gaza Strip…?”Well, setting aside the “small detail” of the lasting damage to the moral fiber of the nation and the grotesque degradation of the Zionist ethos involved in the senseless and futile uprooting any vestige of Jewish presence, how about this for starters: Thousands of rockets and mortar shells that have rained down on civilian population centers for years!?
Indeed only poor aim on the part of the Palestinians and the sparse target-density in the arid expanses bordering the Gaza Strip have prevented these bombardments from being catastrophic.
Bechor’s facile formula for dealing with this future possibility is: “If they fire at us from there, we fire back at them.” Well, last time we “fired back at them” – after eight years of them firing at us – in Operation Cast Lead, the result was the Goldstone Report and enormous damage to Israel’s international standing, making future retaliation far more problematic and international punitive measures more likely. Can all of this have escaped Bechor’s attention?
But even if Israel decided to shrug off international condemnation and risk global censure and sanction, there are huge differences – in terms of geographical extent, topographical structure and strategic significance – between the ramifications of a Hamas takeover of Judea and Samaria, and those of a Hamas-ruled Gaza:
• The length of Israel’s frontier with the Gaza Strip is a little over 50 kilometers; that of the “West Bank is about 300 kilometers long (and longer if it is to include the large settlement blocs as Bechor envisages.)
• The Gaza border abuts a relatively remote and sparsely-populated portion of the country. The “West Bank” frontier would run barely a mile from the national parliament, along the very fringes of Israel’s most populous areas in the coastal metropolis, adjacent to the perimeter of Ben Gurion Airport and to large sections of the Trans-Israel highway.
• While the Gaza strip is generally low-lying flatlands and contains no water resources that impact on Israeli supply, the “West Bank” is an elevated mountain ridge that commands much of Israel’s vital infrastructures (both civilian and military), crucial water resources, major urban population centers and commercial hubs.
Radical Islamic state
Hamas would not have to rain down hundreds of rockets on Israel to paralyze the nation’s social and economic routine. A few sporadic firings every now and then would be sufficient for that. In fact, the mere threat of bombardment (even if inaccurate) would bring about a disastrous disruption of air traffic to Israel and catastrophic cessation of tourism.
However, this would hardly constitute an internationally credible “smoking gun” to justify massive Israel retaliation along a front several hundred kilometers long in difficult terrain – especially if the Hamas regime could claim plausible deniability by placing the blame on radical renegades.
According to Bechor, ensconcing the Hamas in will ensure “there is a master of the house there that can be presented with demands.” Well, we saw how splendidly that worked in Gaza – especially with Gilad Shalit.
But perhaps the most worrying aspect of Bechor’s analysis is the illusion that his suggested scenario would somehow exempt Israel from the burden of securing the nation. He proposes that “Israel would…allow free passage between the Hamas principality and Jordan. This would provide the Islamic principality with an outlet to the world, via Jordan, which would have to assume the burden just as Egypt did in Gaza.”
So Bechor finds the situation in Gaza – which has been flooded by weapons since the disengagement – a model to emulate? It should be remembered that unlike Egypt, Jordan has a Palestinian majority. Thus, being perceived as the “Zionist’s warder” of a “Palestinian prison” may destabilize the current regime, either forcing it into far-reaching concessions to the Islamist elements or even surrendering power completely. So rather than an isolated “principality,” what we may get is a radical Islamist state stretching from the Iraqi border in the east to suburban Israel in the west.