In January 2009, when smoke was hanging over the Gaza Strip and Israeli soldiers were in the middle of Operation Cast Lead, U.N. Security Council Resolution No. 1860 was adopted, calling upon member states “to intensify efforts to provide arrangements and guarantees in Gaza in order to sustain a durable ceasefire and calm, including to prevent illicit trafficking in arms and ammunition.” It was a reasonable resolution: If you want to have “ceasefire and calm,” you need to make sure that no arms will be smuggled into Gaza. Reasonable—but with no subsequent action. That is, except for the actions taken by Israel and Egypt.
With events in the Middle East moving rapidly, with political landscapes shifting week to week, few observers care to remember how the situation in Gaza came about and why. Since 2007, the policy of the International Quartet has been to isolate the government that controls Gaza after Hamas forces ousted the forces loyal to the official representative of Palestinians from the Strip in a coup. An ugly and violent coup. “In five days of intense fighting,” reportedDer Spiegel, a respectable European publication, “Hamas wrested political control over the 1.4 million Palestinians living in the Gaza Strip. Fatah’s troops offered surprisingly little resistance. By the end of [the] week, victorious Hamas fighters were driving [a Fatah leader’s] few remaining men half-naked through the streets, before executing them in the desert.”
So, there were very good reasons for isolating Hamas and attempting to contain the Gaza Strip. True, the government in charge of Gaza is a headache for Israel. But it is no less of a nuisance to the legitimate representative of the Palestinians—the Palestinian Authority, headed by Mahmoud Abbas. Those who want to strengthen the parties of peace have a choice to make: Recognizing Hamas would signal that the Palestinian Authority could no longer claim to represent the people of Gaza. It would signal that the world is willing to work with a bully, with a group refusing to commit—even rhetorically—to the cause of peace, that it has given up on a better life for the Palestinians of Gaza.
And the world has, indeed, given up on them. Masquerading as peace activists, wanting to do something about Palestinian suffering without always knowing how, the flotillas of naiveté and malice have set sail. “Insofar as they were bringing food and medicine to Gaza, they were humanitarians; but insofar as they were striking a blow for the government of Gaza, they were anti-humanitarians,” wrote Leon Wieseltier in a New Republic article that was generally critical of Israel’s actions. Wieseltier identified the dangerous island of isolated self-pity in which Israelis now reside. Enumerating the justifications for this self-pity, he refers to the “leaders, states, organizations, and peoples whose hostility to the Jewish state is irrational and absolute and in some cases murderous”—but he forgets to count a no-less-important reason for this sense of isolation: the international community’s dangerous impatience and unreliability.
Yes, hostility toward Israel played a role in the festival of criticism that followed the bloody raid on the blockade-defying flotilla earlier this week. But no less problematic was the show of untrustworthiness on the part of leaders, states, and organizations. Not even the United States, generally mellow in its response to the raid, could resist the temptation to define the situation in Gaza as “unacceptable and unsustainable.” Secretary of State Hillary Clinton declared that “we have to deal with the situation in Gaza in a way that both protects Israel’s legitimate security interests and fulfills the needs of the people of Gaza.” That suggests the likely outcome of the flotilla affair will be that Israel’s security needs will be met, but less vigorously, and the “people of Gaza” will be abandoned. They will get more aid, more food and supplies, maybe some roads and buildings will be repaired—but abandoned they will be. Destined to be ruled by the ruthless and undemocratic Hamas regime without the international community’s protests or objections.
In October 2006, Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal was interviewed by the BBC. “People who want their freedom, the liberation of their land, self-determination, independence and getting rid of the occupation,” he said, “must be patient.” You can easily find hundreds of similar statements, thousands of calls for “patience” from the heads of Arab terrorist movements. “This war will not shake us. … [W]e will face it through patience and self-confidence,” Hassan Nasrallah of Lebanon’s Hezbollah declared at the beginning of this year. For Nasrallah, patience has already proved valuable. Having survived the 2006 war with Israel and the consequent U.N. resolution that called for the “disarmament of all armed groups in Lebanon,” he now has more arms than ever—arms that, according to the State Department, “can only have a destabilizing effect on the region and would pose an immediate threat to both the security of Israel and the sovereignty of Lebanon.”
All he had to do was to accept Edmund Burke’s view that “patience will achieve more than force.” He just had to wait for the world to tire of the belief that “the future of Lebanon is very important,” as former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice once put it. To be ready to accept, de facto or de jure, the presence, the influence, and the power of Hezbollah in Lebanon. Is that a nuisance for Israel? Indeed it is. But as in the case of Gaza, it is first and foremost an abandonment of the people of Lebanon—those wanting to live in the “strong, independent, and democratic Lebanon” that President Barack Obama claimed to support. The people who come on ships, who confront the Israeli blockade, who supposedly believe in a better life for the people of Gaza—a better life that they deserve—are signaling to Hamas that with a little more patience, their first goal will be achieved: Hamas’ rule in Gaza will be legitimized and Hamas’ government will receive aid, material support, visits from world dignitaries, and invitations to attend summits and gatherings. And the world’s condemnation of Israel, rather than its cooperation in preventing the convoys of defiance, signals to Israel that international patience has run out—again—much faster than the radicals’ patience. Hence the smiles on the faces of Hamas supporters, hence Israel’s supposed despair and indifference “about what anybody thinks.”
Like Slate on Facebook. Follow Slateand the Slate Foreign Desk on Twitter.