Since then the Middle East has been caught in a “Boomerang Syndrome,” in which extremists on each side mount violent assaults, which ultimately lead to attacks against their own side as well. Hamas’s past shelling undermined political moderates in Israel. And Israel’s siege of Gaza destroyed a Palestinian business community that could have been a moderate counterweight to Hamas, while land grabs in the West Bank and East Jerusalem made the Palestinian leadership seem irrelevant.
It’s true that force sometimes works. In my conversations in Gaza over the years, I’ve found that many Palestinians have complicated views. Some resent Hamas as oppressive and incompetent, and many dislike missile launches at Israel because they know they will face retaliation. Then again, they have endured economic distress, fear and funerals because of Israel, so some acknowledge a bitter satisfaction to seeing missile launches and anticipating that Israeli mothers will grieve as they do.
Israel’s future security depends in part on good will in America and on some modus vivendi with Palestinians, yet Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has frittered both away. History suggests that Israel cannot consistently deter nonstate terrorists, but it can very effectively deter nation-states — so it should welcome a Palestinian state. Yet as extremism on each side foments extremism on the other, that possibility fades.
The Biden administration has been timid and restrained, slowing the U.N. Security Council’s engagement on the issue, and it has yet to name an ambassador to Israel. But the stakes are too high for evasions, and President Biden should stand with others on the Security Council to demand a cease-fire before this escalates further.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken helpfully said “it’s vital now to de-escalate.” The administration should also express strong concern about the planned evictions of Palestinians that provoked the crisis. Dithering and vacillation help no one.
A basic truth of the Middle East is that anyone who predicts with any confidence what’s going to happen is too dogmatic to be worth listening to. But for now it appears that the winners in the current fighting are Netanyahu, who may be able to use the upheaval to get another chance to continue as prime minister, and Hamas, which is showing itself relevant in a way that the Palestinian Authority is not.
Meanwhile, millions of Palestinians and Israelis lose, and the Boomerang Syndrome spirals on.
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