Viewpoint: Netanyahu, Hamas are only winners in tragic Palestinian-Israeli conflict

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Karen Rubin, Columnist

The only consensus that has come out so far in this latest Israeli-Palestinian-Hamas tragic conflagration is that both Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the Hamas terror organization that controls Gaza have cynically stoked the violence for their own political gain.

I have little sympathy for Hamas under fire from Israel in Gaza. Hamas is a “genocidal terrorist” organization whose charter calls for the destruction of Israel and the death of Jews anywhere in the world, with no interest whatsoever in peace, in preserving life or actually governing Gaza, and especially no interest in a two-state solution.

They use Gazans as human shields, placing their military infrastructure under hospitals, residential buildings and densely populated neighborhoods.

Imagine what could have been accomplished for Gazans since 2005 when Israel unilaterally withdrew, abandoning 17 settlements and forcibly removing 10,000 Jewish settlers, with the aid that it received – instead of building infrastructure, Hamas built tunnels, instead of employing Gazans in productive economy, they employ terrorists manufacturing rockets and missiles, assembled from the abandoned plumbing and smuggled arms from Iran, amassing an arsenal of 30,000 rockets.

But Gazans and Palestinians play the victim card extremely well, always managing to ignore their own provocations and murderous acts.

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But what is happening within Israel is different story, where the scale of conflict between Jewish Israelis and Arab Israelis – inter-communal conflict – is new and alarming, and is what Hamas and Hezbollah are using, opportunistically, to seize and expand power that had been fraying.

Indeed, the Palestinian cause had fallen off the front pages with Arab states largely ignoring it; four even established relations with Israel as part of the Abraham Accords. Hamas couldn’t have that.

There are 2 million Arab Israelis – 20 percent of Israel’s population – many who had been living side-by-side with Jews for decades (just like before 1948). But in recent years, as Netanyahu grew more and more reliant on support from right-wing extremists in order to keep power (much akin to Trump and White Supremacists), Arab Israelis have been turned into second-class citizens without equal rights in an ostensibly “democratic” country.

In 2018, Israel passed a law that established “national rights in Israel belong only to the Jewish people.”

The controversy that underlies the internal uprising – the eviction of six families from a neighborhood in East Jerusalem (which is being adjudicated in court, not mobs) has another side: Jews say that the Palestinian residents are squatters and that the district, which is built beside the ancient tomb of a Jewish high priest, was Jewish until 1948 when Jews were expelled.

“The decades-old legal battle over the fate of a few dozen Palestinians, which Israeli officials dismiss as ‘a real estate dispute,’ has become emblematic of a wider effort to remove thousands of Palestinians from strategic areas in East Jerusalem and a stand-in for the whole decades-long Israeli-Palestinian conflict,” Patrick Kingsley writes in the New York Times.

That was the kindling. The match was lit by two raids at the Al-Aqsa Mosque – unnecessary provocations that raise questions about Netanyahu’s motives.

Netanyahu, who is desperate to keep power to stay out of jail (sound familiar?), benefits from the hostilities with Hamas by stirring Israelis’ fears of existential threat. Indeed, Hamas’ weaponry has much improved, the rockets penetrating much further – to Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. Half the country now rushes into bomb shelters – the equivalent of 150 million Americans under missile attack.

But Bibi may have overplayed his hand – and broken the unwavering bipartisan support in the U.S. Congress that Israel had depended upon – by making support of Israel another political litmus test when he hitched his own political future to alliances with right-wing religious-nationalist extremists.

But Joe Biden is not Donald Trump (a Bibi wannabe and not the other way around) and Congressional Democrats now have a significant progressive bloc that sympathizes more with the plight of Palestinians than the Jewish state. Younger Americans – even liberal Jewish Americans – do not share the same unshakeable support of Israel.

And the scenes of bombed-out buildings, bodies being carried out, terrorized children feed a growing hostility to Israel.

“We oppose our money going to fund militarized policing, occupation and systems of violent oppression and trauma,” declared first-term Congressmember Cori Bush of Missouri, a Black Lives Matter activist.

Representative Gregory W. Meeks of New York, Foreign Affairs Committee chair, said he would ask the Biden administration to delay $735 million in precision-guided weapons to Israel that had been approved before these tensions erupted.

How naïve and dangerous that would be – it is the precision-guided weapons that have kept Gaza civilian casualties and “collateral damage” down. What other military in the history of the world phones ahead to warn people to get out of the way of a bomb attack? Hamas doesn’t have the same care, and in fact, deliberately tries to inflict as much pain as possible on Israeli civilians.

And if the U.S. cuts off funding for the Iron Dome, which has kept Israeli casualties down amid the bombardment of several thousand rockets, Israel would likely feel compelled to undertake a ground assault into Gaza, which would result in many more casualties.

It is easy for Senator Bernie Sanders to push Biden to more forcibly demand a ceasefire, using threats to withhold aid to both sides and promises of hefty Gaza reconstruction dollars to Hamas, but the problem is that Hamas uses the ceasefires to rearm, rebuild its arsenal and terror infrastructure – which is why these cycles of violence happen every few years, each time with more vicious, ruthless and effective weaponry. So Israel says it is dug in until it has decimated Hamas’ ability to terrorize Israelis.

While Bibi and Hamas are likely to be the only winners in this travesty – Gazans, Arab Israelis and liberal Israelis and Israel itself the losers – so will Biden be a victim and may well lose his Democratic majority in 2022 as a result.

But Biden’s response has been appropriate – much more even-handed, and therefore credible and constructive than Trump could be.

“Our objective is to – just like it is with other countries and our partners around the world – is to play the role we can play in the most constructive way possible to reduce the violence, to deescalate the situation on the ground. And a great deal of that is going to be through intensive, quiet diplomacy behind the scenes,” press secretary Jen Psaki stated.

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