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A costly victory for Israel [Commentary]

IsraelWest BankArmed ConflictsHamasJudaismBenjamin NetanyahuRichard III, King of England

I am a Jewish American and have always considered myself a Zionist. As someone born shortly after World War II, I know how great a difference the founding of Israel, an independent Jewish state embodying Jewish values, made for all Jews everywhere. We all walked a little taller, felt a little safer. The disappearance of Israel would be a disaster of incalculable proportions, not just for the Israelis but for all of us.

Israel is still fighting yesterday's war, however. It cannot win this way, and when it does not win, it loses. Whatever happens with this cease-fire, Hamas will have gained.

As they say, fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me. Hamas set a trap for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and he marched right in. Israelis still haven't learned the difference between an all-out existential assault (1948, 1967, 1973) and a deliberate provocation.

Everyone understands that Israel has a powerful, modern military backed by the U.S. Hamas, a terrorist group with few friends, holding a small, besieged territory, is no match; by driving the Israelis into bunkers, by temporarily shutting down Ben Gurion airport, by killing dozens of Israelis, it has succeeding militarily beyond anyone's expectations and doubtless has garnered new respect in the Arab world — and among anti-Semites everywhere.

But this was never about military victory; it is about Israel's legitimacy. Again, Hamas dared Israel to invade Gaza and again kill hundreds of Palestinian civilians. Yes, Israel warned civilians of rockets, but with 1.8 million people in 139 square miles, with no exits and no bunkers, where are people supposed to go? Every picture of dead Palestinian children, every announcement of another hundred Palestinian casualties next to a few Israeli casualties, every damaged U.N. school or dead U.N. worker, was an international propaganda coup for Hamas.

Israel cannot "destroy" Hamas without killing an unacceptable number of Palestinian civilians. Calling them "human shields" changes nothing. Hamas is a terrorist group, it is prepared to sacrifice any number of its own people to achieve victory — that is, international condemnation of Israel. Every day, as the toll mounted, Israel looked worse.

Hamas has already won. To prevent resumption of the rockets, Israel is going to have to make concessions to Hamas, which will be part of the Palestinian delegation negotiating in Cairo. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas may be leading the delegation, but he, a moderate, has been humiliated; the Israelis responded, not to his non-violent tactics, but to Hamas' assault.

Prime Minister Netanyahu would not negotiate seriously with President Abbas, would not stop settlement building. Now he will have to deal with Hamas political chief Khaled Meshaal.

The approach of the Israeli hardliners is creating an existential crisis for Israel, much more serious than any threat from Iran. Israel can survive only as a state within its 1967 borders, living in peace with an independent (hopefully demilitarized) prosperous state of Palestine in the West Bank and Gaza that is acceptable to moderate Palestinians and the rest of the world. The only way to stop the rockets permanently is to negotiate a fair agreement with moderate Palestinians while there still are some, with rock-solid security guarantees from the U.S. while they are still available.

This means no more settlements. Americans will go a long way to secure a 1967 Israel — but not an expansionist state maintained by the periodic killing of hundreds of defenseless civilians. Americans saw the pictures too. The Israelis rudely dismissed Secretary Kerry, who went out of his way to try to negotiate an Israeli-Palestinian peace, and tried desperately to stop the killing. If we lose the support of the U.S., we have lost everything. The last time we took on the world, revolting against Roman rule, we lost the country for nearly 2,000 years.

Dr. Caroline Poplin is a lawyer, physician and health policy analyst residing in Bethesda. Her email is cmpoplin@aol.com.

To respond to this commentary, send an email to talkback@baltimoresun.com. Please include your name and contact information.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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