The conflict in which Israel is currently engaged with the Hamas terror organization in Gaza is yet another painful chapter in our seemingly endless saga of two peoples destined to live next to each other in a tiny land, but unable to co-exist in peace and tranquility. What may appear to the outside observer, unversed in our peoples' outlooks, beliefs and long-term interests, as a "spiral," a "vicious cycle," or a mentality of an "eye for an eye" is in fact the continuation of the century-old conflict, once again reaching violent levels.
The conflict between us is not about land, which could have been divided between us back in 1947 when the United Nations voted on a partition plan. It is not about the West Bank and Gaza, which were under complete Arab control for 19 years from 1947 to 1967. The kingdom of Jordan could have given the Palestinians autonomy or statehood over the whole West Bank in those years. Jordan could have given the Palestinians the Eastern part of Jerusalem to serve as their capital-exactly what they are demanding today from Israel. But Jordan didn't give them the West Bank and Jerusalem. Egypt did not give them the Gaza Strip, nor did it allow the residents of Gaza to build permanent housing to replace their shacks and refugee camps. Jordan, in control of the West Bank, and Egypt in control of Gaza for almost 20 years, preferred to keep the Palestinian people as a festering sore, to perpetuate their hatred of Israel and their struggle to gain all of the land rather than half of it. The Arab world convinced the Palestinians that through the armed struggle they will conquer all of Israel and establish their independent state not only in Nablus, Hebron and Ramallah-but also in Tel Aviv, Ashdod, and Haifa.
The present conflict began with a barrage of long-range rockets and missiles fired from Palestinian-controlled Gaza into Israeli towns and cities in an indiscriminate attack of a thousand rockets against Israeli civilians. It is not in retaliation for anything. It is not revenge. It is not even a terrorist's idea of blackmailing the other side into making some kind of concession. It is yet another chapter in the ongoing Palestinian struggle to rid what they consider their land from any Jewish presence. Their armed struggle to evict the Jews from their historical land began a hundred years ago-decades before the Jewish State was established and half a century before the first settlement was built. The struggle to deny the Jews a homeland continued in the War of Independence (1948) and in five subsequent wars. It is not a struggle to build, to establish, to create. If that were the intent of the Palestinian people, they could have had statehood in 1948. It is a struggle to destroy, to kill, to deny the other side the statehood that the Palestinians crave.
The Palestinian struggle has long ago reached an impasse. Some of their leaders such as President Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) know that violence will get them nowhere and the path to statehood passes through negotiation. But the radicals in his own camp-Hamas, the Isalmic Jihad, and a myriad other organizations-have no agenda other than to perpetuate the struggle. They know that they will not achieve statehood in this way. They know that Israel is here to stay and it frustrates them. They are trying to engage their people-and the rest of the Arab world-in a useless struggle that will demand a heavy sacrifice of their own people, used as pawns and as human shields in the Gaza Strip.
Israelis by and large have reconciled themselves to the idea of some compromise being necessary in order to achieve peaceful coexistence with our neighbors. The exact terms of such a compromise and its scope are a matter of debate but the desire to reach peace and the need to pay a price for it are well understood in Israel. Sadly, the majority in the Palestinian camp have yet to reach that understanding. Instead, they perpetuate their armed struggle in a futile hope that the international community will take pity on them and that the Israeli people, under duress, will simply give up all of the land and hand it over to the Palestinians. The futility of this struggle is a source of great frustration to Israelis who seek to live in peace with our neighbors. In this conflict, this futile struggle is taking a toll in the form of hundreds of Palestinians killed, and so far about 20 Israelis as well. It is not a cycle of violence. It is a group of radical Palestinians hiding deep under the ground in fortified bunkers and determined to fight until the last drop of blood of their own people for an unachievable dream.
Ofer Bavly is the director general of the JUF Israel Office.