One of the lessons I remember from the child-rearing “bible” I used when my children were little (Penelope Leach, for those who are interested) was to take the time to think before saying no to something your child wants – because the very worst thing you can do is say no, and then after your child has a temper tantrum, change your mind and give in. All this does is teach your child that they can get whatever they want by screaming and crying and throwing things. And for the sake of the argument, let’s add an older sibling, who has learned to ask nicely, but repeatedly gets turned down whereas her younger brother gets his way by throwing tantrums.
Let’s turn the analogy on our current situation. Hamas is often presented as only wanting one thing: to destroy Israel. But in fact Hamas wants any number of things. They want power – in other words, they want to weaken Fatah and establish themselves as the party of choice for the Palestinian people. They want to lift the remaining blockade on Gaza (and as I understand it the main issue is not getting stuff in, it’s getting produce out – because without access to international trade their economy has no possibility of flourishing). They want to open the border crossings so that people can travel in and out, and they want to cancel the 500 meter security zone that Israel has established inside the border – that takes away a significant piece of land from an already impossibly over-crowded strip.
You’ve probably worked out where I’m going with this. Hamas cannot get what it wants by asking nicely – as amply demonstrated by their older sibling, Fatah – who have renounced violence and want to negotiate, but Israel consistently ignores them. So Hamas uses the temper tantrum route – they fire missiles, or allow them to be fired by other groups; they shoot at soldiers on the border or try to kidnap them, at differing levels of intensity. They understand that eventually Israel will react – and may lash out – but at some point, Israel is forced to negotiate, and then Hamas can get a lot of what it wants: the respect of the Palestinian people, who see they get results where Fatah gets nothing, maybe a lifting of the blockade, perhaps some lightening of restrictions at the border crossings.
So rather than sit down and talk with the (relatively) well-behaved older sibling – which might teach the younger sibling a thing or two at the same time, Israel acts exactly as we shouldn’t: we refuse to talk except when Hamas misbehaves, and then, after the payment of huge and painful losses on both sides, we give them at least some of what they want.
The consequences seem clear to me: we are consistently teaching the Palestinian people that violence is the only way to get what they want; therefore whether Hamas takes over in the West Bank, or whether Fatah comes to the conclusion that violence is the only way, we can only expect more violence. The ceasefire – whether it comes in the next day or so or only after the terrible loss of human life involved in a ground operation – will not hold for long – and why should it, if we won’t negotiate in the meantime? And soon we will find ourselves dealing with another temper tantrum – except that the violent children we are raising may eventually be the end of us.
The only way to turn this to our advantage now would be to use the opportunity once a cease-fire has been established, to sit down and try to work out a comprehensive settlement. If only Netanyahu had read Penelope Leach. But then, in my experience, men of that generation rarely did.