"We do not recognize your right to exist. We reserve the right to attack you at any point. And we will surely not honor any previous agreements regarding peace and reconciliation."
These are Hamas' positions vis-à-vis Israel, which they state publicly and repeatedly. This very same organization fires rockets at Israeli civilians from among the people of the Gaza Strip, and then the whole world condemns the Israeli government for acting to defend its citizens. Western liberals condemn Israel for reacting "disproportionately," in supposed contravention of certain laws and norms, while remaining mute on the fact that Hamas is using all of Gaza - men, women, and children - as a human shield for cynical political gain.
As a Jew and as a liberal, I am appalled at what took place last month in Gaza and the tragic loss of innocent life. But, despite the recent war, the fundamentals of this crisis have not changed. First, Hamas is still not a partner in any meaningful way, certainly not for peace. The ongoing negotiations in Cairo aimed at creating a better and more stable situation for the people of Gaza is predictably being held up by Hamas' maximalist demands and machinations. All the while, rockets are still being smuggled into Gaza; their only function, as should be clear to everyone, is to instill terror and increase bloodshed.
Second, Hamas cannot demand to be engaged as a legitimate actor by the West, and in the same breath reject any responsibility towards its own people, towards its neighbors, towards signed agreements, and towards basic notions of peace and morality.
Armchair ethicist in the West would do well to imagine a Middle East that, for the past 15 years, did not have a Hamas. What would such a world look like? It wouldn't be a stretch to imagine a strong Oslo Peace Process, since the countless suicide bombers of buses and shopping malls and coffee shops would never have been dispatched in the first place for the sole purpose of undermining any progress towards peace. It wouldn't be hard, either, to imagine a Gaza Strip after Israel's 2005 pullout being built-up, not as the world's first inhabited launching pad for rockets, but as the first step in real Palestinian self-determination and self-sufficiency. And it wouldn't be difficult to imagine the tragic but unavoidable recent events in Gaza never having taken place, since thousands of Hamas rockets would not have found their way into Israeli living rooms and school yards.
That's the crucial point about Hamas that is always overlooked: at every point in their interaction with Israel and peace-seeking Palestinians, they have chosen the path of armed aggression.
On the other side, the crucial point about Israel that is often overlooked is that, for all its faults (and I have never been shy about pointing those out), a two-state solution to this conflict has been the official policy of every government since 1993. Due to Hamas' rockets, however, don't be surprised if a hard right-wing government comes to power in Tuesday's elections. That is what Hamas has wrought.
It is worth noting that the last time Israelis went to the polls, in 2006, they elected Ehud Olmert and the centrist Kadima party on an explicit platform of additional territorial pullbacks, this time from the West Bank. That kind of thinking is finished now, gone up in a trail of Hamas rocket fire and the suspicions of the Israeli electorate. Israel will not commit suicide, nor should it.
It is time for observers in the West to understand that the biggest impediment to a better future for both Palestinians and Israelis is not the actions Israel might take to defend itself, but rather Hamas' obstinate rejectionism and violence. Solve this, and then you can begin to solve the overall conflict.