Resorting to force

Israel, Hamas both fail to understand the other

Israelis and Palestinians are as physically close as neighbors can be, and yet neither the people of Israel nor the residents of Gaza seem to understand how the others live or feel their suffering, and that is a tragedy. Both sides believe they can prevail by force, and both are wrong.

The six-month “calm,” or cease-fire, that preceded this week’s bombing and rocket attacks was calm only in relative terms. Hamas still fired rockets sporadically into southern Israel, violating the agreement. Israelis felt the pain of being under attack, but most Gazans believed Israel was violating the deal, too, by constricting the supply of goods into their tiny, densely crowded area in an effort to provoke an uprising against Hamas.

Now both sides have resorted to blunt force. Hamas’ leaders declared the cease-fire over and started firing more rockets, believing apparently that they would force Israel to lift its blockade. They completely misread the Israeli leadership, which has never been inclined to show weakness, especially with elections coming up. In response, the Israelis also turned to outright force: first bombing, followed apparently by a ground attack.

Will that help Israel? It no doubt will weaken Hamas, but it also may leave Gaza in chaos and the Israeli army in charge of a million angry, well-armed people. Does anybody remember Lebanon?

There was a time, as recently as November, when the two sides had a chance to foster a Palestinian unity government, under a plan advanced by Egypt. Neither side took the chance, and now they have turned—as they too often do—to force, with results that are horrific in the short term and unlikely to benefit either side in the years to come.