WASHINGTON -- On the evening of March 6 in Jerusalem, a heavily armed Palestinian terrorist from nearby east Jerusalem entered the Mercaz Harav yeshiva and opened fire on the unarmed teenage students studying there. Eight died, and 11 were badly wounded before another student and an off-duty soldier shot the terrorist. The atrocity ignited wild celebrations in Gaza.
If you thought that the celebrations were anomalous, you might want to know about recent findings just published by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research, an independent polling organization based on the West Bank. According to its polls, 84 percent of Palestinians approved of this attack. Moreover, 64 percent approve of Hamas randomly firing rockets and mortars from Gaza into Israeli communities, and 75 percent favor ending negotiations between their leaders and the Israeli government.
In September 2005, Israel, in an irenic gesture, withdrew its military from Gaza, but since then, it has endured about 2,500 rocket attacks from Gaza and almost an equal number of mortar attacks. I wonder whether 64 percent of the Palestinians would approve if Israel began reciprocal random attacks on Gaza. What is the old line, "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you"?
Instead of lobbing artillery randomly, the Israel Defense Forces have attempted to counter Hamas' attacks with surgical strikes against their leaders and their rocket factories. However, Hamas' leaders nestle their headquarters and rocket factories in civilian neighborhoods, and civilians suffer collateral damage. That appears to have made Palestinians angry, and not at Hamas for its bellicosity but at Israel for responding to these cruel attacks. According to Khalil Shikaki, the Palestinian pollster who headed the aforementioned poll, never in the 15 years that the poll has been conducted has a majority of Palestinians favored rocket assaults on Israel or an end to negotiations. For handing over Gaza to the Palestinians, this is the thanks Israel has received. Now Palestinians want further Israeli withdrawals from the West Bank. One does not have to be a student of the late Niccolo Machiavelli to advise against further withdrawals. Shikaki's poll demonstrates that such withdrawals only make the Palestinians angrier.
When the Israel Defense Forces withdrew from Gaza (taking with them civilian settlers), the Palestinians had an opportunity to set up a peaceful community that might encourage further accommodations from Israel. As Victor Davis Hanson observed in a recent column, "Gaza has plenty of natural advantages. It enjoys a picturesque coastline on the Mediterranean with sandy beaches and a rich classical history. There is a contiguous border with Egypt, the Arab world's largest country and spiritual home of pan-Arabic solidarity." Hanson mused imaginatively that Gaza could become another Singapore or Hong Kong. Instead the Palestinians immediately began a civil war among themselves, and after that, they began lobbing rockets and mortars into Israel. Somehow I doubt these people want peace. In fact, I suspect peace would be a disappointment to many of them.
A recent report, "The Global War on Terrorism: An Assessment," by Robert C. Martinage of the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, illuminates the problem that Israel faces with Hamas and that the West faces with Islamic terror in general. Says Martinage, "Since the death of Muhammad in 632, Islamic history has been punctuated by many periods in which various heterodox sects have emerged and clashed violently with mainstream Muslims, as well as with the West." We are living through one of those periods. Whether Israel existed or not, these Islamic terrorists still would be with us.
All that Israel and the West can do is resist the terrorists, the best way being to go on the offensive. Withdrawing from Gaza certainly has not weakened the terrorists. It has made them and their Palestinian sympathizers more eager for violence. There is one sentiment, however, in this poll that I, for one, agree with: Negotiations have been of no benefit, at least not to those who want peace.