The Australian/Israel and Jewish Affairs Council, otherwise AIJAC, had invited me to Australia, but perhaps I ought to be kept away as outbreaks of Middle East violence seem to coincide with my visits. The first time I went there Saddam Hussein had invaded Kuwait and the First Gulf war erupted. Next time Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated. Now Hamas has waged its latest campaign, in the knowledge that its attack on Israel was certain to bring retaliation down on its own subjects, the Palestinians in Gaza. For Hamas, in short, massive self-destruction is worthwhile if it wreaks even a little destruction on the enemy. Irrational calculation of the kind is a measure of the ideology motivating the leaders. Unfortunately, it is rational to conclude that the cease-fire will last only until Hamas leaders again think the ideology has the chance to advance the cause and they start attacking once more.
Hamas is in a peculiar position, midway between its natural backers, the Muslim Brothers under President Morsi in Egypt, and its sponsors and armament suppliers in Iran. These two regimes, the one Sunni and the other Shiite, are testing out their mutual relationship. Egypt gives medical supplies to Hamas; Iran ships missiles. In another peculiar triangle, Hamas is in the midst of a silent coup to swallow Fatah, the Palestinian rival on the West Bank. Israel is ensuring the survival of Fatah at the very moment when its leader, Mahmoud Abbas, has won a vote in the United Nations General Assembly for Palestine to be accepted there with the status of observer rather than member. A Hamas takeover of the West Bank would bring Tel Aviv within close range of those Iranian-supplied missiles. At AIJAC functions where I spoke, I didn’t like to rub in that the two-state solution is dead for the time being and maybe the next two or three centuries.
On the final evening of my visit, AIJAC held a dinner to honor John Howard, statesman and nonpareil parliamentarian who won three consecutive elections before retiring. His lengthy speech of thanks was a brilliant blend of reminiscence, anecdote, and political generalization, all spoken without notes. “I can see that’s not the first speech you’ve ever made,” I said on being introduced afterwards. Next morning I spent an hour with him, and then flew home wishing someone of that caliber were my prime minister.