In a column for this week’s Politico Magazine called “Israel Provoked this War,” Henry Siegman, president of the U.S./Middle East Project, argues that Israel shoulders most of the responsibility for initiating the current war in Gaza, but he ignores Israelis’ well-grounded concerns about the Hamas-dominated Gaza government.
Israel’s assault on Gaza, as pointed out by analyst Nathan Thrall in the New York Times, was not triggered by Hamas’ rockets directed at Israel but by Israel’s determination to bring down the Palestinian unity government that was formed in early June, even though that government was committed to honoring all of the conditions imposed by the international community for recognition of its legitimacy.
The Thrall piece observes that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu refused to recognize the new Fatah-Hamas unity government. Netanyahu argued that because Hamas is a terrorist organization, any government that includes its members is not an acceptable negotiating partner. To his chagrin, the United States and European Union both announced that they would work with the new government, even though both classify Hamas as a terrorist organization. China, Turkey, and India followed suit.
Optimists hope the unity government will temper the extremism of Hamas members through negotiation with allegedly more moderate Fatah members. Thrall, for instance, notes that the unity government “offered Hamas’s political adversaries a foothold in Gaza.” However, Israelis reasonably fear that such a government could expand Hamas’s influence into the West Bank.
To Thrall’s credit, he adds an important qualification to his general criticism of Israel’s policy:
Still, despite its opposition to the reconciliation agreement, Israel continued to transfer the tax revenues it collects on the Palestinian Authority’s behalf, and to work closely with the new government, especially on security cooperation.
Siegman omits this information, which hardly supports the claim that Israel is hell-bent on destroying the unity government.
Thrall mentions two other factors that make life difficult for the Palestinians in Gaza: Egypt’s refusal to allow people in Gaza to traverse its border, and a pay dispute involving some 40,000 Hamas government employees. Having gone weeks without pay, these workers hoped for better luck under the new regime. That figure indicates public sector workers make up roughly 2 percent of the total population of Gaza. Fistfights broke out when it was clear that they would not receive their wages.
These represent real problems, but they implicate actors other than Israel. Hence, none of the hardships in Thrall’s piece support Siegman’s claim that Israel’s determination to bring down the unified government is to blame for the outbreak of the war.
Siegman goes on to fault Israel for breaking current and past cease-fire agreements.