Ever since the Six-Day War in 1967, Israel has been fixated on military force. To a man with a big hammer, says the proverb, every problem looks like a nail.
Israel’s siege of the Gaza Strip and Monday’s violent interception of civilian vessels carrying humanitarian aid there are the rank products of this mantra that what can’t be done by force can be done with even greater force. This view originates in the mistaken assumption that Hamas’s control of Gaza can be ended by force of arms or, in more general terms, that the Palestinian problem can be crushed instead of solved.
But Hamas is not just a terrorist organization. Hamas is an idea, a desperate and fanatical idea that grew out of the desolation and frustration of many Palestinians. No idea has ever been defeated by force — not by siege, not by bombardment, not by being flattened with tank treads and not by marine commandos. To defeat an idea, you have to offer a better idea, a more attractive and acceptable one.
Thus, the only way for Israel to edge out Hamas would be to quickly reach an agreement with the Palestinians on the establishment of an independent state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip as defined by the 1967 borders, with its capital in East Jerusalem. Israel has to sign a peace agreement with President Mahmoud Abbas and his Fatah government in the West Bank — and by doing so, reduce the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to a conflict between Israel and the Gaza Strip. That latter conflict, in turn, can be resolved only by negotiating with Hamas or, more reasonably, by the integration of Fatah with Hamas.
Every attempt to use force not as a preventive measure, not in self-defense, but instead as a means of smashing problems and squashing ideas, will lead to more disasters, just like the one we brought on ourselves in international waters, opposite Gaza’s shores.