Some Thoughts on the Battle in Gaza

07/30/2014 04:54 pm ET | Updated Sep 29, 2014

In 2005, under the leadership of then Prime Minister "Arik" Sharon, Israel unilaterally pulled its troops and settlers out of Gaza. Between Israel's withdrawal and now, Hamas leadership has engaged in a long term strategy of allocating funds desperately needed for public use instead to acquiring missiles and building a complex structure of tunnels through which it could launch terrorist attacks against Israel. When Prime Minister Morsi's Muslim Brotherhood government, a Hamas ally, was replaced by the antagonistic government of Abdel Fatteh el-Sisi, Hamas found itself under pressure as Egypt blockaded the crossings they had previously used to access the outside world and Hamas was unable to pay salaries to its personnel.

In reaction to this pressure, Hamas' strategic decision was to use the missiles they had been stockpiling and the tunnels they had been constructing against the State of Israel. Hamas knew full well that it could not defeat Israel and that there could only be one outcome; Israel would be forced to attack Gaza to eliminate the missiles and tunnels, resulting in deaths of a large number of civilians and the destruction of parts of Gaza. From the beginning, Hamas leadership's sole strategy was to use sympathy from the deaths and maiming of its civilian population and the destruction of their homes, schools and hospitals to win favor in the international community. This extensive operation by Hamas leadership must be seen by the rest of the world for the crime it is -- a very clear case of violation of the human rights of the people of Gaza.

It is disappointing, but perhaps not surprising, that blame for the current violence has been placed on Israel rather than on Hamas. In part, this is due to misrepresentation of the realities on the ground in Israel and Gaza. Many in the international community are not familiar with the Hamas Covenant calling for the total destruction of Israel and denigration of Jews. But unfortunately, in some part, it is also a reflection of the fact that the battle in Gaza has exposed levels of anti-Semitism that have not been seen or heard for many years. On twitter, the hashtag #HitlerWasRight" was a popular discussion topic, with far too many speaking in favor of the sentiment.. In Turkey, Prime Minister Erdogan made the shocking statement that Israel "[has] surpassed Hitler in barbarism" and a newspaper called on Turkey's chief rabbi to apologize for Israel's Gaza Operation. In France, worshippers were trapped inside a Paris synagogue while protestors attacked it, and other synagogues have been bombed with Molotov cocktails. In Germany, protesters screamed "Jew, Jew, cowardly swine, come out and fight on your own!" and "Hamas, Hamas - Jews to the gas!"

"Never in our lives did we believe it possible that anti-Semitism of the most primitive kind would be heard on the streets of Germany," Dieter Graumann, President of the Central Council of Jews in Germany told reporters. My own reaction was quite similar to that of Mr. Grauman. I was shocked at the virulent open anti-Semitic rhetoric and actions, reminiscent of what I saw as a child in the 30's and 40's: anti-Semitism that I thought my children and grandchildren would never experience. This new wave of anti-Semitism underscores one of the central reasons for the Zionist movement and the founding of the State of Israel. The Jewish people need a state of their own -- a homeland where they can find sanctuary from the anti-Semitism that has beleaguered and oppressed them throughout history. In founding and building Israel, the Jewish people created just such a state; one that has welcomed Jews from every part of the world, integrating them into their new nation, finding them homes and livelihoods and a safe place to carry out their lives and raise their families.

Unfortunately, religious nationalists in Israel are ignoring the lessons of Gaza and endangering the Zionist enterprise. These religious nationalists, led by Minister of the Economy, Naftali Bennett, head of the Jewish Home Party and his allies, are motivated by the belief that "Eretz Yisroel" -- the greater Land of Israel -- was promised to the Jewish people by God. Thus, this group calls for a single state from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea with the annexation of all Israeli settler territories and the rest of the West Bank into Israel. Additionally, they call for "separate rules" for Palestinians living in the West Bank. If such a state was established, Israel would lose its Jewish character due to the large Palestinian population. And if, as Minister of the Economy Naftali Bennett implies, the Palestinians would become second-class citizens with their own "separate rules," the state would lose its democratic identity and would quickly find itself accused of apartheid and condemned by the world.

Moreover, it should be abundantly clear that incorporating an additional approximately 2.6 million Palestinians from the West Bank into the state of Israel (added to the 1.2 million Arab citizens in the state of Israel) would burden the state with huge economic and social responsibilities. The failure to satisfy those needs for the Arab population would create a distressed population that could readily demonstrate its unhappiness in physical attacks on Jewish citizens and assets. By the same token, in placing settlers among the Palestinian population in the West Bank, the Religious Zionists are adding major security problems. In the light of the Gaza experience, imagine the impossibility of fighting a war where Israeli families and children are mixed in with Palestinians.

The words and actions of the Religious Zionists are aiding the Hamas cause. At present, it is clear to see that underlying all of the conflict is the fact that by the very terms of its charter, Hamas is committed to the destruction of Israel. However, the issues become clouded when some Israelis claim Palestinian lands as part of Israel and voice their commitment to annex the Palestinian territory.

The Religious Nationalists and the settler movement have created enormous obstacles to any effort toward a two state solution. Bennett and his allies have threatened to break up the present governing coalition led by Prime Minister Netanyahu if it attempts to enter agreements leading to a two-state solution. And they have done everything in their power to undermine Secretary Kerry's efforts to bring about a deal with the Palestinians.

There is only one power that can change that situation. That power lies in the hands of the Israeli people who must vote out religious nationalists groups from the Knesset and in the government, where their actions are endangering the Zionist vision by pressing to expand settlements and frustrating any effort leading to a peaceful two state resolution of the Israel-Palestinian conflict.

The final lesson from the experience in Gaza for the Israeli public and for anyone, who like me, advocates a two-state solution to the Palestinian conflict is this: separation does not mean the resulting situation can be ignored. Any agreement for two states must include a complete security package including de-militarization that enables Israel to monitor the activities of the Palestinians to ensure that the tragedy of the past few weeks will never happen again And security must be far reaching, able to deal with the extremists on both sides of the kind who helped bring the conflict in Gaza to a boil- the Palestinians who murdered three Jewish youths and the Jews who retaliated by killing a Palestinian boy. Moreover, many hope that the Arab Peace Initiative will follow a two state solution between Israel and the Palestinians, bringing normalized, peaceful relations between Israel and all Arab States. As part of this development, it benefits all the parties to be as helpful as they can for the success of a new Palestinian state. That is the way to enrich the lives of all the people in the region, which is the best environment for peace and security for all.

Robert K. Lifton, a businessman and political activist, is a Board Member of the Israel Policy Forum. His memoir "An Entrepreneur's Journey: Stories From A Life In Business And Personal Diplomacy" was published by Author House in 2012.