Groundhog Day in Gaza

Groundhog Day in Gaza
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The latest round of fighting between Israel and Hamas – the fourth since 2008 – has settled into a drearily predictable pattern. 

First, Hamas seizes on some pretext to start lobbing rockets from the Gaza Strip into Israel, aiming indiscriminately at population centers. That’s terrorism, or it’s a war crime, take your pick.  

Then outraged Israelis retaliate with air strikes and sometimes troop incursions, targeting Hamas leaders and fighters, as well as a labyrinthine network of tunnels the Islamist group has dug to move fighters, weapons and contraband beneath Gaza’s sealed borders. 

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Hamas has launched 3,000-plus rockets at Israel. Most have been intercepted by its Iron Dome missile defense system, but some do get through, and by showing it can inflict pain on Israel, Hamas burnishes its credentials as the leader of Palestinian resistance to Israel.   

Its broader goal is to win sympathy throughout the Middle East and indict Israel as the aggressor in the court of world opinion. And, sure enough, it took less than a week for the usual chorus of credulous U.S. leftists and journalists to start decrying the “occupation” as justification for Hamas attacks and posit a false moral equivalence between the combatants. 

“Do Palestinians have a right to survive?” Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-CortezAlexandria Ocasio-CortezEnhanced infrastructure plan is the best way to go WHIP LIST: How House Democrats say they'll vote on infrastructure bill Feehery: The confidence game MORE (D-N.Y.) asked disingenuously in a tweet, when the more apposite question is, does Hamas have a right to terrorize Israeli civilians with rockets? 

While condemning Israel – some even likening Israel’s attempts to suppress rockets as “an act of terrorism” – the anti-Israel left, here and in Europe, studiously ignores Hamas’s dirty little secret: To advance its political goals, Palestinian women, children and noncombatants have to die. Hamas needs martyrs to justify its forever war on Israel. 

Like other Islamist terror groups, it deliberately embeds its operatives and weapons in crowded buildings and neighborhoods. Taking your own people hostage also is a war crime under international law.  

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Yet “progressive” critics like AOC and Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersOvernight Energy & Environment — Presented by the League of Conservation Voters — EPA finalizing rule cutting HFCs Manchin fires warning shot on plan to expand Medicare Democrats steamroll toward showdown on House floor MORE (I-Vt.) heap moral opprobrium mainly on Israel. They also are attempting to transpose U.S.-style “social justice” and racialized frames to the Arab-Israel struggle over land. For example, AOC has called Israel an apartheid state, and Sanders declared that “Palestinian lives matter” in a recent New York Times op-ed. 

In contrast, President BidenJoe BidenTexas announces election audit in four counties after Trump demand Pennsylvania AG sues to block GOP subpoenas in election probe House passes sweeping defense policy bill MORE initially affirmed Israel’s right to self-defense. He knows that if anyone started raining missiles on the United States, the American people would demand a powerful military response. Although he had previously called for a ceasefire, Biden yesterday appeared to succumb to pressure to “get tough” on Israel by issuing a “blunt demand” that Israel de-escalate.

That’s a political misstep that can only whet the left’s appetite for blocking his administration’s plans to sell weapons to a key U.S. ally and beleaguered democracy in the Middle East. So far, about 219 Gazans and 12 Israelis have been killed. Despite the disparity, Israel likely will ignore U.S. and international criticism and keep pummeling Gaza until it believes it has “restored deterrence” by inflicting heavy and disproportionate losses. At best, this will only buy another brief period of relative
calm before Hamas attacks again.

The Islamist group’s 2007 forcible takeover of Gaza has made peace seem like an impossible dream to Israelis across the political spectrum. It’s demoralized a once robust peace movement and decimated the center-left, which has been out of power for two decades. As Israelis sensibly observe, you can’t make peace or reach a political settlement if the person sitting opposite you at the negotiating table seeks your extinction. 

On the West Bank, a corrupt and feckless Palestinian Authority led by Mahmoud Abbas is still committed to negotiating a two-state solution to the crisis. But it has rejected deals proposed by a succession of U.S. presidents and has little sway over the two million Palestinians living in Gaza. 

Hamas’s implacable opposition to the existence of what its political chief, Ismail Haniyeh, calls “the usurping entity” is the root cause of both Palestinian division and the recurrent fighting with Israel.  

But it’s not the only cause. Prime Minister Benjamin NetanyahuBenjamin (Bibi) NetanyahuMORE and the Israeli right also bear heavy responsibility for ignoring legitimate Palestinian grievances and aspirations. Under Netanyahu, Israel renounced the two-state solution without proposing any alternative, and provocatively gave the green light to new Jewish settlements on the West Bank and in Jerusalem. 

The government affirmed the Jewish character of the state, effectively consigning Israeli Arabs to second-class citizenship. In the West Bank and Jerusalem, it made little effort to curb the daily humiliation of checkpoints, roadblocks and other restrictions on life under occupation.

Netanyahu also egged on ex-President Donald TrumpDonald TrumpTexas announces election audit in four counties after Trump demand Schumer sets Monday showdown on debt ceiling-government funding bill Pennsylvania AG sues to block GOP subpoenas in election probe MORE’s impulsive decision to move the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem without asking Israel to offer any concessions in return. That thoughtless move, coupled with the lockstep GOP support for Israel, sent Palestinians an unmistakable message that Washington no longer cares about their plight. 

His predecessor’s strategic incoherence has made it difficult for Biden to restore America’s influence on either side. His left-wing critics aren’t helping by putting Hamas and Israel on the same moral plane, and treating the conflict like an extension of America’s culture wars.

Will Marshall is president and founder of the Progressive Policy Institute (PPI).