A dismal pattern is emerging in Gaza and the West Bank. The Hamas government is entrenched and will continue to use Gaza and its West Bank strongholds as a platform for launching terror attacks against Israel and for kidnapping soldiers. It is not possible to talk peace with this government, since the Hamas has reiterated, on many occasions, and through many spokespersons, that it would never make peace with Israel
, despite the fantasizing of people like Robert Novak
. Hamas stand by their genocidal charter
Even if there really are different points of view in the Hamas and an emerging "softening" in its policy, as some contend
, in the unlikely event of a peace agreement, we can foresee that two or three groups would emerge in the Hamas. The first might accept the agreement. The second might agree to pretend it accepts the agreement, and then "change its stance" after Israeli had withdrawn and allowed the establishment of a Palestinian state. The third, possibly controlled by Iran and Syria, would almost certainly split off from the Hamas, either officially or de facto, and form an opposition group that did everything possible to sabotage any peace process, just as they did with the Oslo accords.
At the same time, by clever maneuvering behind the front of the "unity government," Hamas has received the legitimation afforded by the Arab Peace Initiative without endorsing it. Increasingly, the Hamas-led "unity" government is making headway in swaying public opinion against the boycott of donor nations instituted by the EU and the United States. It may be only a matter of time before much of the world accepts the Hamas government, which is committed to terror and refusal of peace with Israel. It is already beginning to happen
It is not possible to make peace with Hamas. Nor is it possible, in the near future, to make a peace deal with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and the PLO, for several reasons. The first is that the Hamas movement, or a section of it, or the Iranian controlled Islamic Jihad, would sabotage the agreement. Abbas does not have a government that can control Palestinian society and deliver a cease fire and an orderly state. Even if Abbas could do so, it would be politically impossible for him at present to make the "concessions" needed to reach an agreement. Abbas has entrenched himself behind positions that Israel cannot accept: Right of Return for Palestinian refugees and return to the borders of June 4, 1967. If he gave in on any of these issues, he and the Fatah would quickly be branded as traitors by the Hamas and other extremists.
Israeli analysts are insisting that a confrontation with Hamas in Gaza is "inevitable."
On this issue at least, Hamas agrees with Israelis
. They believe an Israeli invasion is only a matter of time, and they are, for their own reasons, doing everything possible to hasten the time, as well as to prepare for it. Hamas is provoking Israel with rocket attacks and planning more kidnappings of Israelis, like the one that was foiled recently. At the same time, they are smuggling in increasing quantities of arms, preparing either for defense or for a new "Intifada," or both. Their strategy seems to be to provoke Israel into making a massive military move that would get world opinion on the side of Hamas, and at the same time entirely discredit Palestinian moderates. There does not seem to be any peaceful, diplomatic way to end this situation, suggesting a "military solution."
The much talked about attack may seem inevitable, but it would very likely be worse than fruitless for Israel and probably impossible to implement. The barriers are not really military, but political and diplomatic and perhaps, psychological. Israel established a "norm" of allowing the rain of rocket attacks without effective retaliation, without protests to the UN or other diplomatic action. Israel has done very little to tell the world about the very real suffering of the residents of Sderot
, perhaps because this is politically inconvenient in the internal Israeli arena. Therefore, most people and their governments are not aware of the problem or minimize it. Abortive and bloody military responses to the rockets, and to the kidnapping of Gilad Shalit, only demonstrated the dangers of such "reprisals" and the cost in terms of international opinion, as well as their ineffectiveness. Limited reprisals would only result in more UN condemnations over needless deaths of Palestinian civilians.
Not the least of the obstacles in the way of any major military action in Gaza is that it would endanger the life of captive Gilad Shalit. The Palestinians have learned to exploit the very moral concern of Israeli society for the lives of our captives, a concern that has cost many more lives. In the best of all possible worlds, the game would be symmetric. But realistically, it is hard to imagine that Israel could announce that it holds the lives of Palestinian prisoners hostage against Palestinian terror attacks.
The only military action that would eliminate the rocket threat and the threat of kidnapping and other actions is total conquest of Gaza. Militarily that is not a major operation for the IDF, though it would involve a significant number of casualties. Diplomatically it is at present out of the question. If the Hamas and other extremists want Israel to make this move, they know the reason why, and Israel would be foolish to oblige them. That is probably the reasoning behind the decision
not to react dramatically to the recent Hamas provocation. The Arab states would raise a diplomatic uproar, and the US would be forced to go along with UN condemnations and possible sanctions against Israel.
Moreover, if Israel were to re-occupy the Gaza strip, what could it do with it and for how long could it occupy it? In the best of all possible worlds, Gaza would be occupied by an international force like Germany after World War II, and "de-nazified" (or de-hamas-ized) under a U.N. trusteeship. However, no countries would undertake to serve in such a force, and it would be pointless without a corresponding force in the West Bank, which Israel would not accept at present. The result of such an invasion would only be a forced withdrawal by Israel, allowing Hamas to proclaim another "victory" for "steadfastness" and "resistance."
The dilemma of Gaza epitomizes the dilemma facing Israeli policy on all fronts, but especially with respect to the Palestinians. It is frustrating that Israel's military superiority cannot best a small terrorist group, but it should not be surprising. The terrorist groups came to the fore as an adaptation to Israel's military prowess after the Six Day War
made it obvious that Israel could not be beaten easily by conventional warfare. A Gaza invasion is not a real alternative, but rather a quick-fix solution offered by demagogic opposition politicians.
It is all very well to fantasize
that this dilemma is caused by Israeli dependence on United States aid and military assistance. Financial independence of the USA is a worthy goal, but it would not give Israel a green light to overrun Gaza. Even if Israel did not get a dime in assistance from the United States, the United States would still oppose Israeli re-conquest of Gaza, just as they opposed the Israeli conquest of Gaza in 1956, when Israel was not getting US aid.
Israel thus has two bad choices. One choice is to encourage the continuation of the Hamas government, because that government is so bad that it is unlikely that Israel would be forced to negotiate with it. In this view, the best thing to do would be to try to delegitimize the moderates including Abbas, and to make no concessions of any kind. Those who doubt the sincerity of Palestinian moderates, like Rudolf Giuliani
, would adopt that policy.
This is an impossible and suicidal policy for Israel. If the Hamas become the only representatives of the Palestinian people, they will surely get the recognition of the world, just as the PLO got such recognition from most of the world, even when it still openly advocated terror. Ultimately it was this world recognition that forced Israel to negotiate with it.
The other course is to try to promote Abbas and the moderates and get them back into power in place of the Hamas. Without Hamas competition in the "hate Israel contest," Palestinians will, it is hoped move to a more moderate position, and Fatah/PLO, which has an increasingly vested interest in a genuine peace process, will help to lead them there.
Eventually there will be elections in the Palestinian authority, and the Palestinians, sick of the international boycott and sick of the chaos, will return the Fatah to power. In order for this solution to work, several improbable things must happen, but none of them seem to be happening:
Fatah must show evidence of real reorganization and of a genuine effort to curb corruption in its ranks.
Israel must give moderate Palestinians a concrete public offer that is attractive enough to provide the moderate factions with a platform.
Public opinion and international policy must be united and steadfast in understanding the real goals of the Hamas, and in refusing to grant it legitimacy as long as it upholds genocidal, racist policies and continue to practice terror. The support given Hamas by "moderate" Arab states and by the Norwegian and Swiss governments is incompatible with this goal and is sabotaging the already slim chances for peace.
Israel and the Fatah/PLO must find solutions to alleviate the genuine suffering of Palestinians and raise the standard of living, so that it is not so unbearably easy to recruit unemployed people as terrorists for tiny salaries. At the same time, it must be clear that these improvements are not due to Hamas terror and are not to be credited to Hamas policies.
In the above context, it would be helpful if US and European aid were to be directed at constructing a network of social services that the Fatah/PLO would run, paralleling the Hamas run network, and providing good schools, medical care and financial assistance to the needy. This might be a better investment than armaments. The Fatah, for its part, has to demonstrate that it is able to run these institutions efficiently, rather than putting the money in Swiss bank accounts.
And what if the above measures do not oust the Hamas from power and transform Palestinian society, or what if Fatah returns to power and proves Mr. Giuliani to be right?
In that case, Israel, with allies or alone, will have to face the task of dismantling the Hamas government and the Palestinian Authority in Gaza, by force if necessary. But this can only be carried out if Israel has won the support of at least the United States and the EU and preferably, at least the tacit support of Arab countries. At present, we are moving in the opposite direction. Every day that Israel does nothing to fulfil its commitment to remove illegal outposts, we are moving further from our policy goals. Every abortive and needlessly bloody military operation reinforces the case for the Hamas. Every new settlement and every needless announcement of "planned" new settlements that do not ever materialize helps to stamp in the picture of Israel as an oppressive colonialist power, and of the Hamas as the defenders of the rights of the downtrodden, and undermines the position of moderate Palestinians.
Hamas is slowly gaining its objective of winning legitimacy for itself, and of delegitimizing Israel, which is pictured as an "apartheid" regime that gets its way owing to the machinations of the nefarious "Israel lobby," known to previous generations as "the elders of Zion," or the Jews
. The major goal of Israeli strategy has to be to counter that trend. Ami Isseroff
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