By Avi Dichter
This past month has made it very clear what Hamas’ strategy is: taking over the core of the Palestinian Authority in a pseudo-democratic move by entering into the unity government with PA President Mahmoud Abbas while capturing Palestinian hearts that brim with joy the moment they hear about an attack by terrorists from their organization that left three Jewish youths dead.
The rocket fire from Gaza and Hamas turning a blind eye to it confirm that Gaza is the country in which they can demonstrate to Israel and Abbas that they are like Hezbollah, while Judea and Samaria is for them an opportunity to kill Jews. In that, they are no different from Palestinian terror organizations, just more efficient.
The attempts by the United States and other Western nations (and, I regret to say, by Israelis — even public officials) to describe an imaginary situation in which the political Hamas is separate from the military Hamas range from naïve to pathetic. Israel must strike while the iron — Hamas operatives in Judea and Samaria — is still hot and implement the most effective leverage of deterrence: deportation.
About a month ago an Egyptian court sentenced 683 members of the Muslim Brotherhood to death. Hamas people officially define themselves as belonging to the Muslim Brotherhood. Israel doesn’t have the death penalty, and that’s good. But deporting the Hamas terrorist infrastructure from Judea and Samaria to Gaza is a move that will create truly significant deterrence. A deportation like this inside Palestinian Authority territory is feasible from a legal perspective, as well. As someone who has seen this from up close for decades, I’m saying that a move like this will have tremendous efficacy against terrorists and potential terrorists. This is a move that the prime minister, the defense minister, and the attorney general should promote with all their might, and quickly. A mass deportation that includes senior members of the organization — including members of its parliament and leaders in various parts of Judea and Samaria (the Hebron region would be a top priority following the attack) — will send a clear message to Hamas and to the president of the PA: We will not allow the unity government to be used as an umbrella to protect senior Hamas officials.
At the beginning of 2006, when Hamas won the elections in Gaza, Abbas decided to establish a unity government headed by Ismail Haniyeh. Even then the PA president had to make Hamas joining his government conditional upon a declaration and commitment that it would stop terrorism. The Quartet (the U.S., the EU, Russia, and the U.N.) set three conditions for stopping any and all terror. Hamas rejected the Quartet conditions and Abbas shut his eyes and prayed for the best. But Hamas didn’t answer his prayers. A year later, Hamas held a military coup in Gaza and ousted all PA officials. Since then, Abbas — the president of Palestine — has not visited the Gaza Strip.
In June 2014, Abbas once again set up a unity government with Hamas. A mere two weeks went by before Hamas kidnapped and murdered three teenagers, once again making it clear to Abbas that the reconciliation was designed to bolster Hamas.
What is he hiding?
It’s amazing to see how Abbas is portrayed as having nothing to do with the attack, despite the fact that terror operations are the essence of Hamas, with whom he reconciled and established a unity government, knowing that the group wouldn’t stop its terror activity. Abbas condemning the kidnapping and murder of the boys is no substitute for practical steps, the first and foremost of which should be removing Hamas leaders from his government.
As long as Abbas is the elected president of the PA, dialogue about the future of two states must be conducted with him and him alone. But it’s important that he show up for meetings with us and with leaders of democratic nations without his mask, which we need to tear off, anyway.
What is his mask hiding?
Under his magic wand, the PA allocates $60 million (1.5 percent of its total budget) to paying salaries of terrorists serving sentences in Israeli prisons.
On the anniversary of Fatah’s founding, Abbas praised the contribution to the Palestinian people made by terrorist leaders like Hamas founder Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine founder George Habash, Fathi Shakai (of the Islamic Jihad) and the Izzadin al-Qassem Brigades.
Abbas knows that Hamas is behind the kidnapping and murders of the Jewish teens. He knows perfectly well that making up with the group and the unity government were designed to serve Hamas in the face of difficulties presented now that the routes from Sinai to Gaza are blocked off to prevent weapons, supplies, and money from being smuggled to Hamas and other terrorist groups in the Gaza Strip.
Hamas can’t pay the salaries of its people in Gaza. So Hamas needs Abbas as a way of accessing a cash flow.
The unity government Abbas set up has an actual army. But Hamas has tens of thousands of rockets of a range troublesome to Israel, anti-tank and anti-aircraft missiles, as well as an army that numbers tens of thousands of terrorists in a hierarchical military structure. Tens of thousands of weapons, explosives, and pieces of terrorist military infrastructure complete the threat against us.
A unity government that includes a terrorist organization is a terrorist government. This definition dictates not only the need to wipe out the terrorist military infrastructure in Gaza, but also the timetable for planning the operation and executing it. Let us make no mistake — this is a campaign that won’t take a week or even a month. This is a campaign of a year or more. It requires us to conduct ourselves with caution to minimize casualties to our forces and properly prepare the home front. But giving in to the PA on weapons and military capability that violate agreements will put Israel under pressure to buckle to unreasonable compromises in the future.
The lessons learned from the ineffectiveness of Western and Arab states in the dramatic developments that recently took and are taking place in the Middle East require us to aim our sights on Gaza and the terrorist alignment.
Egypt has cut off the Gaza Strip, not out of any desire to help Israel, but to prevent weapons from moving out of the Gaza Strip back into Sinai and Egypt into the hands of the Muslim Brotherhood. We have to clear out this swamp, and do it ourselves.
Avi Dichter is a former internal security and homefront defense minister, Shin Bet security agency director, and Knesset member.