(March 16, 2018 / JNS) The Trump administration’s conference on the situation in the Gaza Strip this week “focused on the need for the Palestinian Authority to take control over Gaza,” a White House official told the Israeli newspaper Haaretz. If that report is accurate, it means that the United States still doesn’t understand the basic problem in Gaza—or how to solve it.
The idea that Hamas is the “bad guy” and the Palestinian Authority is the “good guy” is a fallacy that began with the signing of the Oslo Accords in 1993, and is still the mindset of too many people in Washington.
The attempts to distinguish between the “moderate” P.A. and the “extremist” Hamas always foundered on the reality that the P.A. regards Hamas as its brother, not its enemy. Brothers may quarrel from time to time—they may get into a scuffle now and then, or even try to kill each other—but they remain brothers.
The P.A. leadership promised, as part of Oslo, to disband all terrorist groups, seize their weapons and outlaw them—in short, to put them out of business. But here we are, 25 years later, and Hamas still has active terrorist cells throughout the P.A.-controlled parts of Judea and Samaria.
There’s no doubt that the P.A. has the means to eliminate Hamas in the territories; it has one of the largest per-capita security forces in the world. Yet it has never even outlawed Hamas. It has never made a real effort to capture its members or confiscate its weapons. It has not extradited a single Hamas terrorist to Israel, even though the Oslo agreement obligates it to do so.
Even The New York Times, a longtime cheerleader for the P.A., has occasionally conceded that Hamas and other terrorists roam free in P.A.-run cities. On March 23, 2014, the Times reported that Israeli troops were forced to enter the Jenin refugee camp in pursuit of terrorists because although Jenin is under the “full control” of the Palestinian Authority, “the Palestinian [security forces] did not generally operate in refugee camps.”
When the P.A.’s newspapers, television and radio glorify terrorists as “martyrs” and “heroes,” they don’t talk about only Fatah terrorists. They glorify Hamas murderers, too.
When the P.A. pays salaries to imprisoned terrorists and the families of dead terrorists, they don’t give out the payments only to Fatah members. They pay Hamas murderers and their families, too.
So there’s no reason for surprise that the P.A. boycotted this week’s conference on Gaza in Washington. No matter how hard the State Department crowd wishes it, the P.A. is not going to fight Hamas for control of Gaza. In fact, it’s not going to fight Hamas at all.
The solution to Gaza’s various ills is not to pump more international money into the region. That has been tried for decades, and it hasn’t worked. The solution is regime change. But a change from Hamas to the P.A. —even if it were possible and even if the P.A. were amenable to that— would not represent genuine change. It would mean replacing one corrupt, violent Palestinian dictatorship with another corrupt, violent Palestinian dictatorship.
Not every group of people with a grievance deserves, or is ready for, self-rule. Some have too little experience with the culture of democracy to establish and run a free society; the last thing the world needs is more dictatorships. Some are too violent to live in peace with their neighbors; that is the danger Israel faces.
For years, advocates of Palestinian statehood urged Israel to grant self-rule to the Arabs in Gaza. They claimed that if the Gazans were allowed to rule themselves, they would become peaceful neighbors since surely they wouldn’t want to risk losing their self-rule. It would be an experiment to see if giving them a fully sovereign state could succeed. Yitzhak Rabin took that risk (my family paid a high price for it) and then Ariel Sharon decided to take that risk.
The tens of thousands of rockets fired from Gaza at Israel over the years have demonstrated that the experiment was an abject failure. Gaza proves that the Palestinian Arabs are not yet ready for self-rule. Neither conferences in Washington nor handouts from the international community will change that.
Stephen M. Flatow, a vice president of the Religious Zionists of America, is an attorney in New Jersey. He is the father of Alisa Flatow, who was murdered in an Iranian-sponsored Palestinian terrorist attack in 1995.