Politico 44 reported today that President Barack Obama wasted no time diving in on Day One on what has been the most persistent and thorny issue for all his predecessors: Mideast diplomacy. Obama phoned four of the region’s most American-friendly leaders: President Mubarak of Egypt, Prime Minister Olmert of Israel, King Abdullah of Jordan, and President Abbas of the Palestinian Authority.

Obama had avoided any extended discussion about Gaza during the transition, frequently reminding reporters that there is “only one president at a time.” But even before a full day has gone by since his swearing in, Obama is sending a message that he intends to take a more active role than Bush in the region.

“He used this opportunity on his first day in office to communicate his commitment to active engagement in pursuit of Arab-Israeli peace from the beginning of his term, and to express his hope for their continued cooperation and leadership,” said Robert Gibbs in a statement. “In the aftermath of the Gaza conflict, he emphasized his determination to work to help consolidate the ceasefire by establishing an effective anti-smuggling regime to prevent Hamas from rearming, and facilitating in partnership with the Palestinian Authority a major reconstruction effort for Palestinians in Gaza. He pledged that the United States would do its part to make these efforts successful, working closely with the international community and these partners as they fulfill their responsibilities as well. The President appreciated the spirit of partnership and warm nature of these calls.”

The language sounds promising. And yet, Obama did not speak with the leaders of Hamas, which has only agreed to a one-week cease fire. Leaders from Israel and Hamas will be in Cairo Thursday to conduct meetings with Egyptians in hopes of consolidating the separate case-fires. Additionally, Israel dispatched its foreign minister, Tzipi Livni, to Europe in a bid to rally international support for an end to arms smuggling into the Hamas-ruled territory.

“Hamas is no longer in the same position to launch rockets at Israel,” Ms. Livni said. “We’re not trying to achieve an agreement on paper with Hamas, because we know that it won’t be worth the paper it’s written on. For the past three years, we have opened opportunities to talk with us. We said that we want recognition of Israel’s right to exist and an end to attacks on Israel. But the only language they understand is violence.”

The timing of the pullout from Gaza this week reflected Israeli hopes to defuse the crisis before President Obama entered the White House. The military said troops remain massed on the Israeli side of the border and are poised to take action if militants violate the fragile cease-fire. To date, the Israeli offensive has left some 1,300 Palestinians dead, according to Gaza health officials. The officials say at least half of the dead are civilians. The Israeli military says 500 Palestinian militants were killed in the fighting. Gaza’s militant groups claim only some 150 of the dead were armed fighters.

INSIDE THE GAZA CONFLICT: It’s more than just arms smuggling.
Israel launched the offensive to permanently halt years of militant rocket fire on growing numbers of Israelis and to halt the smuggling of arms that turned Hamas into a potent threat to much of southern Israel. But as the current Israeli/Hamas conflict in Gaza takes a break, the worldwide propaganda assault against Israel grows exponentially. In the light of this, it’s important to review a little history about Gaza.

In 2005, Israel unilaterally withdrew from Gaza and completely turned its administration over to the Palestinian Authority. All of the Jewish settlements were disbanded and their residents forcibly removed. The Israeli agricultural, commercial and residential assets—which were considerable—were left for the Palestinians.

The Palestinians promptly trashed and destroyed these valuable assets that would have greatly helped them feed their own people. They were given the freedom to develop what easily could have been something like a “Hong Kong” of the Mediterranean. Many nations poured billions of dollars into the coffers of the Palestinian leadership to help them realize that dream.

Instead, the Palestinians used the money to build a terrorist army. They purchased weapons and munitions to equip that army. They built a complex tunnel system beneath the Egyptian/Gaza border and smuggled into Gaza a formidable arsenal, which they used to launch daily attacks on Israel’s cities.

They didn’t even pretend to build an economic infrastructure that would enable the Gazan citizens to support themselves. That’s why the partial Israeli closure of the crossing points has made life so difficult for the average Palestinian. Most of them can only find work in Israel. There is none in Gaza because all of the economic development money was poured into terrorism. Despite this glaring fraud, the world insists on rewarding the Palestinains for their open deception.

Western nations have actually developed a “formula” for exclusive use against Israel, as illustrated by a history of U.N. and U.N. Security Council Resolutions. This formula determines under what circumstances and in what manner Israel is allowed to defend itself against terrorist attacks. First, the provocation against Israel must be many times more serious than would be necessary for other nations. Simple acts of war, such as hostage-taking or continuous missile attacks against civilian population centers, are not sufficient provocation to permit defensive measures.

Since 2005, more than 6000 rockets have rained down on Israeli cities from Gaza. In a display of remarkable restraint, only after three years and thousands of unprovoked attacks did Israel finally feel sufficiently justified to launch a defensive response on December 27, 2008.

When Israel finally moved to defend itself, the second phase of the anti-Israel propaganda assault kicked in. Led by the Arabs, the Russians, and the Muslims most of the world’s nations demanded an immediate Israeli withdrawal from its “invasion” of Gaza. Members of the United Nations charged that Israel’s response was not “proportionate” to the attacks from Hamas.

Finally, the media revved up their almost one-sided campaign. The media’s job was to spotlight the injuries and deaths of Palestinian women and children who were accidentally hit during the intense battles. They did this brilliantly, especially in the United States. Local television stations plastered scenes of Palestinian protesters all over the United States weeping, suffering in anguish, and marching in the streets against the war Israel was waging on “innocent” Palestinian men, women, and children. Apparently, the months and years of constant bombardment lavished on the Israelis by Hamas thugs didn’t trigger the media’s interest. Only when Israel struck back did the signal go out for the mainstream media to join the fray.

In Gaza, Hamas terrorists hide in classrooms and hospital basements. They store weapons in mosques and use university laboratories for bomb-making factories. They are currently hiding long-range rockets in the basement of Gaza City’s main hospital. They intentionally place women and children on the rooftops of buildings they know will soon be targets of the Israeli Air Force. Finally, when these “human shields” are killed or wounded by Israeli fire, the media vents their outrage on the Israeli gunner or pilot, not the calculating terrorist. The bodies of dead terrorists—or their human shields—are then paraded around by the ever-accommodating media as “innocent victims of Israeli aggression.” And the orchestrated calls for “proportionality” grow louder.

Following this oft-repeated formula, as the selected media images flood the nightly news and front pages of the world’s newspapers, the predictable demands for an unconditional Israeli cease-fire rise to a global crescendo. Moderate Western governments like France, Britain and other EU nations that have large Muslim populations begin to demand that Israel cease this “disproportionate war.” The worldwide cry grows until finally the United States is bullied into NOT vetoing a Security Council resolution condemning Israel as an unjustified aggressor.

This is the formula that has always worked. The Islamic fundamentalists know this formula well. Terrorist organizations like Hezbollah and Hamas have perfected the use of this formula to the point of making it a “tactic of war”. Islamic terrorists attack and fight until they begin to lose. Then the world rushes in and rescues them to fight another day.

“Proportionality” is the key word that has been especially adapted for use against Israel in order to guarantee its eventual destruction through attrition.

The historically accepted objective of defensive warfare is to eliminate an enemy’s ability to harm you. The side that does that first is the winner. And until one side has accomplished that goal, the war continues.

Hamas Seeks Only the Permanent Destruction of Israel
The one overriding goal of Hamas is the annihilation of Israel. It’s clearly spelled out in their Charter. They confirm it at every opportunity. One of the most ominous aspects of the Charter however, is this Hadith:

Moreover, if the links have been distant from each other and if obstacles, placed by those who are the lackeys of Zionism in the way of the fighters obstructed the continuation of the struggle, the Islamic Resistance Movement aspires to the realisation of Allah’s promise, no matter how long that should take. The Prophet, Allah bless him and grant him salvation, has said:

“The Day of Judgement will not come about until Muslims fight the Jews (killing the Jews), when the Jew will hide behind stones and trees. The stones and trees will say O Muslims, O Abdulla, there is a Jew behind me, come and kill him. Only the Gharkad tree, would not do that because it is one of the trees of the Jews.” (related by al-Bukhari and Muslim).

The implication is clear: Allah promised that the Jews will be murdered, and the Hamas “aspires to the realisation of Allah’s promise, no matter how long that should take.”

The western nations just can’t grasp this reality concerning Hamas. The 6000 plus rocket attacks against Israel were provoked by nothing more than Israel’s continued existence. As long as Israel exists, Hamas’ goal remains unfulfilled. The numerous state-supported Islamic terrorist organizations feel the same way.

On the other hand, Israel has demonstrated that it will absorb almost any blow before resorting to war. Israel’s one goal is to secure a lasting peace. To achieve that goal, Israel must eliminate the enemy’s ability to wage war. IF they don’t, war will continue in perpetuity. For now, that goal has been achieved. The current cease-fire is not a bi-lateral decision of Hamas and Israel. It’s a unilateral one. Israel has temporarily stopped Hamas’ ability to wage war on Israel, so Hamas has called a “cease-fire.” As Hamas is not shelling Israel, Israel has also called a “cease-fire.” There is no agreement defining how long this cease-fire will last.

Hamas Self-Defense Arguments are Unfounded
Nightly news reports and media coverage of the conflict in Gaza have rarely reported the underlying goal of Hamas to destroy Israel. It’s not surprising then when many of us wonder why there can’t be lasting peace or why it’s so difficult to call a truce. Some reports even argue that Hamas is just defending itself, and homemade missiles are the only weapons that they have against Israeli warplanes and tanks. Or that they have to smuggle in arms purchased on the Egyptian black market or through other means for their own self-defense. But Hamas is NOT defending itself against Israel when it shells Israeli cities. Israel has not occupied Gaza since its 2005 withdrawal. And if Hamas would cease firing rockets and sending suicide bombers into Israel, there would be no need to defend itself. The borders would be open and peace and prosperity would follow.

Hamas claims its attacks are in resistance to Israel’s closing of its borders. But the reason why Israel closes its borders with Gaza are never mentioned. None of Israel’s critics ever consider that every time Israel opens its borders to Palestinian workers, a flood of suicide bombers are sent in. And when Gaza’s international borders are opened, Hamas rushes in new and more powerful rockets to fire at Israel’s cities.

Hamas has vowed to rearm in defiance of any Israeli and international efforts to prevent the Islamist militant group from replenishing its arsenal of rockets and other weapons after the Gaza war. “Do whatever you want. Manufacturing the holy weapons is our mission and we know how to acquire weapons,” Abu Ubaida, a spokesman for Hamas’s armed wing, told a news conference. Addressing journalists with his face masked by a checkered Arab scarf, he said “all options would be open” if Israel failed to pull its troops out of the Gaza Strip within a week, a demand raised by Hamas on Monday when it announced a ceasefire after three weeks of fighting.

IS RESOLUTION POSSIBLE?
With such language on the part of Hamas leaders, it seems that there is little hope to a peaceful resolution no matter what phone calls President Barack Obama makes. It’s no secret that Iran backs Hamas financially and condemns Israel at every opportunity. And in addition to the sticky situation in brokering a lasting Israeli-Palestinian peace, the United States also faces a difficult challenge represented by Iran and the country’s quest for nuclear capability.

And yet, Mohammad Yaghi, a veteran Palestinian political expert based in Toronto argues in Council on Foreign Relations that he sees a possible way out.

”The Palestinians and the Israels won’t come to agreement because Palestinian Authority President Abbas lacks legitimacy and he’s very weak because Hamas is very extreme and they don’t want negotiations with Israel. The only way to bring peace to that area is to make an overall agreement with the Arab countries including a deal to end the Palestinian-Israel conflict.”

Such a deal with Arab countries may not be impossible as they all view Iran as a threat and seek their own resolutions to their own unique challenges with Iran.

Karim Sadjadpour, An associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace interviewed in Council on Foreign Relations actually recommends that President Obama initiate bi-lateral relations with Iran on issues of common interest: Iraq, Afghanistan, nuclear proliferation, terrorism and energy security, leaving the Arab-Israeli conflict off the table as Iran is inflexible on this point. However, he points out that Iran has said it will accept whatever the Palestinians themselves accept. And this is the key.
If at the same time Obama pursues bi-lateral relations with Iran, he also pursues relations with American-friendly Arab nations and can work out an agreement in that all such Arab nations demand peace and an end to hostilities and pressure Hamas, or whoever is leading the Palestinians, into abiding by a peace accord AND offer to enforce it, then it seems likely that Iran would leave it alone and cease to agitate, even if they didn’t agree with the accord.

Iran is the lynchpin. All of these nations have challenges presented by Iran. If the United States can help these Arab nations achieve their own goals in relation to Iran, then the United States positions itself to call on the Arab Nations to pressure Hamas and everyone will win.

It’s a tricky scenario. It will take virtuoso diplomatic performances. But it seems possible. Especially after the wave of hope and optimism that has spread over our nation in the wake of Barack Obama’s inauguration. I pray that it be so.

Thanks for reading.

-Matthew S. Urdan

Works Consulted for this Essay:

  • Associated Press Online, January 21, 2009
  • Ibrahim Barzak and Christopher Torchia, “Israeli leader warns Hamas of ‘iron fist’”, Associated Press, January 12, 2009
  • Greg Bruno, “The Iranian Veto on Mideast Peace,” Council on Foreign Relations, January 8, 2009
  • Noah Feldman, “Islam, Terror and the Second Nuclear Age,” The New York Times Magazine, October 29, 2006
  • Bernard Gwertzman, “Iran Supports Hamas, but Hamas Is No Iranian ‘Puppet’,” Council on Foreign Relations, January 8, 2009,
  • Bernard Gwertzman, “Obama Should Consider Inviting Arab Nations to Help Solve Israeli-Palestinian Issues,” Council on Foreign Relations, January 5, 2009
  • Hamas, http://www.DiscoverTheNetwork.org
  • ISRAEL: “We respect the UN, but we’re continuing with Gaza op,” The Jerusalem Post, January 13, 2009
  • Daniel Libit, “Obama naysayers speak out,” Politico, January 18, 2009
  • Hal Lindsey, “The formula for perpetual war,” The Hal Lindsey Report, January 13, 2009, http://www.hallindsey.com/
  • Michael Moran, “Beyond Gaza,” Council on Foreign Relations, January 9, 2009
  • Salah Nasrawi, “Egypt pushes Hamas to accept truce,” Associated Press, January 13, 2009
  • Ralph Peters, “Hamas’s Brutal Legacy,” The New York Post, January 12, 2009
  • Politico 44, January 21, 2009, http://www.politico.com/politico44
  • Ilene R. Prusher, “What’s the endgame for Israel and Hamas in Gaza?,” Christian Science Monitor, January 12, 2009
  • U.S. Department of State, “Remarks at the UN Security Council Session on the Situation in the Middle East from Secretary Condoleezza Rice”, January 8, 2009, http://www.state.gov/secretary/rm/2009/01/113698.htm
  • U.S. Department of State, “Special Briefing on the Humanitarian Situation in Gaza,”, January 9, 2009, http://www.state.gov/g/prm/rls/2009/113765.htm
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