Journalist Yaakov Katz discussed the current political climate in Israel and the future of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in a lecture hosted by the Chicago Friends of Israel last Wednesday.
Katz, a defense correspondent for The Jerusalem Post, has covered wartime events such as the recent conflict in Lebanon and the Israeli disengagement from the Gaza Strip, and has closely studied the Israeli military and the security status of the region.
His presentation began with a brief commentary on the present state of affairs in Israel, arguing that due to heightened Israeli security and increased raids in the West Bank, Palestinian attacks are at an all-time low. Despite this, “skepticism and pessimism accurately describe the mood in Israel’s defense establishment,” said Katz.
This skepticism mainly stems from growing threats presented by Hezbollah and Hamas. “Israel, for better or for worse, did not succeed at destroying Hezbollah,” said Katz.
According to Katz, matters are further complicated by Hamas’s adoption of Hezbollah’s war-fighting techniques, including the use of rockets, hidden bunkers, and kidnappings. Because of this, “there are cities in Israel that come under constant daily rocket attack,” he said.
The situation became more dire after Israel’s unilateral withdrawal from Gaza, which created a power vacuum that allowed Hamas to take over the region and push out more moderate leadership, Katz said. With a buildup of a powerful, nearly conventional military in Gaza, Katz believes Hamas is primed for a takeover of the West Bank and further growth of power and influence.
Although Hamas is growing, Katz believes peace may still be possible. Ehud Olmert, Israel’s prime minister, and Mahmoud Abbas, leader of Fatah, a moderate Palestinian group, are trying to organize new peace talks, which would include neighboring states such as Jordan, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia.
“Both sides are looking for the peaceful resolution,” Katz said. Yet, obstacles such as Hamas and Hezbollah might prevent such talks from occurring and lead to increased violence, and the spectre of a third major conflict between Israelis and Palestinians looms, he said.
Following his lecture, Katz fielded questions from students, speaking at length on a broad range of topics such as the threat of Iran’s nuclear program and the plight of Palestinian refugees.