In a memorable scene from Goldfinger, James Bond, strapped to a gold-plated table, is about to be sliced in two by an approaching laser beam. “Do you expect me to talk?” he asks. “No, Mister Bond,” replies Goldfinger, “I expect you to die.”
I think of that scene whenever I hear a UN representative or a Vatican spokesman call for peace talks between Israel and Hamas. The point they are missing is that Hamas doesn’t want the Israelis to talk, it wants them to die. It’s there in black and white in the Hamas Charter. The Preamble calls for the “elimination” of Israel (“obliteration” in some translations). What is there to talk about? A timetable for obliteration acceptable to both sides?
It’s not that Hamas is completely unwilling to talk. They will talk if they can gain needed time or some other advantage, but their ultimate purpose is to destroy Israel, and beyond that to exterminate all Jews (see Article Seven of the Hamas Charter). Thus, any cease-fire with Hamas is bound to be only a temporary cease-fire which Hamas will use to restock its arsenal and rebuild its tunnels. A cease-fire with Hamas, even if it lasts months or years, will only serve to prolong the conflict and ensure that the next war will be even deadlier—just as the current war has resulted in more casualties than the 2008-2009 and 2012 wars combined.
Some wars can be ended through peace negotiations, but, as history suggests, some wars can only be ended by the decisive victory of one side over the other. Violence, we are told, doesn’t solve anything, but sometimes—as in the case of the Second World War—it seems that it is the only solution. We have been at peace with Germany and Japan ever since 1945. That’s seventy years—or about as close to a “permanent peace” as history allows. Still and all, it was a peace that was secured by force of arms, not by talk.
What made that conflict less amenable to negotiated peace than other wars were the extremist, religious-like ideologies that fueled Nazi and Japanese aggression. Yet Hamas is every bit as extremist as the Nazis or the Bushido-inspired Japanese generals. The Hamas charter makes Mein Kampf look mild in comparison. And the level of hate-filled indoctrination in Hamas schools and summer camps rivals anything the Hitler Youth were exposed to. The catalyst for the recent Israeli ground invasion was the discovery that Hamas had built more than thirty tunnels running under Israeli communities—tunnels that were intended for a massive assault on Israeli civilians. Some of the tunnels were packed with tons of high explosives located under Israeli kindergartens. Moreover, as is now widely acknowledged, Hamas is just as willing to sacrifice the lives of Gazan children by deliberately putting them in harm’s way.
A premature peace—that is, a peace that doesn’t require the disarming and disbanding of Hamas—will only buy Hamas time to acquire more sophisticated missiles and, perhaps, even suitcase-size nuclear weapons. Israel, in return, would strike back with even more devastating force. In view of their past record, it’s naïve to think that Hamas would not use such weapons if they had them—even if it meant death for most of their fellow Gazans. An illusory peace—such as the one Chamberlain signed at Munich—only sets the stage for a greater war.
The mistaken belief that you can have fruitful talks with Hamas is akin to the mistaken belief that you can have fruitful talks with Boko Haram, or with ISIS, or with Nazis. In all these cases, we are talking about ruthless and irrational ideologies that need to be defeated and discredited, not legitimized through dialogue.
Pope Francis seems to realize this in regard to ISIS (or IS, as it now calls itself). In his recent statement decrying the vicious assault on Iraqi Christians and other minorities, he did not plead with ISIS to come to the peace table. After all, what can you talk about with people who are executing innocent civilians, some by beheading and others by burying the alive? Rather, the pope called on the international community “to protect all those affected or threatened by the violence and to guarantee all necessary assistance…” As the pope must understand, the only way the international community can accomplish this is by bombing ISIS. And, as John Allen points out in a recent Boston Globe article, now that the bombing has begun, the Vatican reaction has been muted.
In a somewhat less muted vein, Louis Raphael Sako, the Chaldean Patriarch of Baghdad, issued a statement saying he was “disappointed” by the limited response from the US. Patriarch Sako was disappointed in President Obama’s decision “only to give military assistance to protect Erbil,” and suggested that the US ought also to “attack the ISIS in Mosul and in the Nineveh Plain.”
Meanwhile, Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue yesterday issued a statement condemning “Islamic State” jihadists, declaring that “all men and women of good will, can only unambiguously denounce and condemn these practices which bring shame on humanity,” those practices including “the massacre of people on the sole basis of their religious affiliation” and “the despicable practice of beheading, crucifying and hanging bodies in public places,” as well as many other acts of violence and destruction. “No cause, and certainly no religion,” it stated, “can justify such barbarity. This constitutes an extremely serious offense to humanity and to God who is the Creator, as Pope Francis has often reminded us.”
The Vatican, as Allen points out, must taken care in being outspoken, lest it “be perceived as calling for an armed crusade to defend Christian interests, which could be exploited for propaganda value by radical Islamists.” However, he suggests that “this is a case in which silence signifies grudging consent.” The Vatican’s relative silence may be an acknowledgement that, sometimes, when you are dealing with an intractable and ideologically driven enemy, the only way to bring peace is with missiles and mortars.
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