Of all the problems in foreign policy, those involving ethnic and religious issues are among the most difficult to resolve. This includes the chronic struggle between the Israelis and the Palestinians, an issue that has involved every president since Harry Truman. All have tried to bring peace to that volatile region.
Both entities claim a historical right to the region — and both claims have merit; the Jews once ruled what we now call Palestine. Then the Romans conquered by the Jews, and the area’s Arab population moved in. When the Ottoman Empire collapsed at the end of World War I, the British took charge until after World War II, when a large number of Jews immigrated to Israel and proclaimed the State of Israel. To Jews, Israel has religious and cultural meaning as being their ancient homeland.
The same is true of Muslims; Jerusalem is a holy city to them as well. Add to that hatred of Jews in general, especially among the more radical members of Hamas, and there is a recipe for conflict. And conflict is what we have seen in recent weeks. Indeed, this cycle could continue for some time.
Some support the Palestin-ians, criticizing the Israelis for civilian deaths. I respect that opinion but do not share it. I come out on the side of Israel. After all, what country would permit another state to fire missiles into it?
Both sides, however, are at fault. Hamas’s charter makes clear that this terrorist organization is dedicated to the destruction of Israel and its Jewish population. Also noteworthy is that Hamas was democratically elected.
It is further worth noting that Israel gave up the land that is now Gaza in spite of considerable internal opposition. Now that gesture of reconciliation is being used against Israel.
Having started the war and fired more than 6,000 rockets into Israel, Hamas demands that Israel lift its blockade. Hamas also wants a seaport and free access through Egypt and Israel. Yet Israel will not agree as long as Hamas is dedicated to Israel’s destruction. Israel believes that lifting the blockade would give Hamas another opportunity to stock up on weapons to use against Israel. Besides, the 30 to 35 sophisticated tunnels the Israelis discovered convinced them that Hamas has even greater capacity to inflict harm than it once did.
Both sides also are guilty of causing “collateral damage,” yet there is a fundamental difference between the two sides.
To gain public sympathy, Hamas placed its missiles and other weapons in mosques, schools and housing projects. Then, Hamas brought in women and children to ensure that as the Israelis retaliated for Hamas’s use of missiles, the Israelis’ casualties would be women and children. That does not excuse instances in which the Israelis fired into places with no military value and killed civilians. Criticism of such actions is fully justified.
The heart of the problem is Hamas. Israel has what might be called normal relations with the Arab government on the West Bank, which is trying find a way to live with Israel. And even if Tel Aviv is not always forthcoming about settlements in areas the Palestinian Authority believes are Arab lands, open conflict has been avoided.
Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter has called for recognition of Hamas as a humanitarian organization. That should not happen. It is a terrorist organization — a creation of Iran, which provided the weapons Hamas has been using against Israel. International recognition would set a terrible precedent at a time when we are battling ISIS in Iraq.
Despite disagreements be-tween Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Presi-dent Barack Obama, Obama deserves credit for his recent comments fully supporting Israel. After all, Israel is our closest ally and the only democratic country in the region.
Watching film of the death and destruction in Gaza breaks one’s heart. However, it is important to keep in mind that when an organization like Hamas starts a war against a strong opponent like Israel, it must expect death and destruction. Hamas hopes this conflict will result in increased sympathy for its cause. I hope not, but given the reaction in Europe and on the left in the United States, Hamas may win that part of the battle.
Dale R. Herspring, a University Distinguished Professor at KSU and a member of the Council on Foreign Relations, is a retired U.S. diplomat and Navy captain.