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For better or worse, today marks the start of a new era in Israeli-Palestinian relations. A truce has de facto legitimized the Hamas government in Gaza. Israel has, it appears, somehow lost the Gaza Monopoly game, landing in the green "Legitimize Hamas Rule" square. There is no doubt that Israel negotiated a very poor and hasty agreement, which does not prevent arms smuggling through the Rafah crossing, and doesn't even get captured soldier Gilad Shalit back.

Objectively, Israel appeared to be winning the war of attrition against Hamas, since Gaza residents were increasingly dissatisfied. On the other hand, Americans and others were expressing increasing dissatisfaction over the bogus "human rights crisis," and there were signs that the international coalition that has more or less isolated the Hamas would crack, or that the Palestinians would conclude a unity deal, which would render the Hamas government "kosher" in the eyes of the world, and give the Hamas control over the West Bank as well. A military operation in Gaza was risky and might put the Hamas in the catbird seat rather than eliminating the problem. A deal with Hamas was needed at least temporarily in order to satisfy the Egyptians and possibly the Americans.

Still, this deal seems to be very bad. If the Egyptians are not going to be active in suppressing smuggling, then their role in the negotiations was totally unjustified from the Israeli point of view - they won no real advantages for Israel, and simply acted as a legitimate front for the demands of the Hamas. Its one "advantage" is that it does not include the West Bank, where Israel is free to operate. But the bottom line of that reckoning is that the relatively moderate Palestinian Authority will be "rewarded" with strikes against wanted terrorists, while more vicious Islamic Jihad and Hamas terrorists are protected in the Gaza Strip. Very likely a way will be found for some of these West Bank terrorists to reach Gaza and find shelter there. It is not impossible either that Gilad Shalit will be smuggled out through the porous Rafah border to meet an anonymous end in some Iranian jail.

What drives the decisions that the Israeli government has taken in the past few weeks? I have believed, and want to believe, that they are based on strategic, military and technical concerns. It is still too early to give up on a successful conclusion. The road to a successful military operation that eliminates the Hamas may indeed run through a cease fire, as Ehud Barak claims. But the Hamas would have to be incredibly stupid to give Israel a reason to break a cease fire that offers them overwhelming advantages. Since the rocket fire was earning them the disapproval not only of the Western world, but of Palestinians and Arabs as well, they give up nothing by stopping it, and gain everything by appearing to be reasonable and opening the way for the good life in the Gaza strip. A woefully mistimed editorial by Ziad Assali, head of the American Task Force for Palestine, scores the Hamas for their "miscalculation" in continuing the rocket fire, which has brought misery to Gaza. Now the Hamas can demonstrate that "steadfastness" and "resistance" have led to real gains for them. The inappropriate appearance of the editorial underscores the victory of the Hamas.

The noted analysts Amos Harel and Avi Issacharoff reach some of the same conclusions regarding the drawbacks of the truce. They claim that nonetheless, the truce was viewed as a lesser evil than a military operation at this point, because Defense Minister Ehud Barak and Prime Minister Ehud Olmert believed they didn't have the political backing needed to carry out a military operation in Gaza.

On the face of it, this is a very problematic claim. A recent poll found that Israelis are very dissatisfied with the security situation. Even though the poll asked a leading question designed to elicit support for lifting the closure of the Gaza strip, the results indicated that Israelis overwhelmingly oppose lifting the closure:

11. Do you agree or disagree with the following statement: "The closure creates hardships for the residents and drives them to desperation, which is likely to cause increased violence against Israel. Therefore, Israel should ease the closure of Gaza."

Strongly agree: 16%
Somewhat agree: 18%
Somewhat disagree: 22%
Strongly disagree: 41%
Total agree: 34%
Total disagree: 63%

A poll published June 12 by the "Hakol Diburim" radio program found that the Israeli public favored a military operation over a truce with Hamas. But examination of the June 12 poll may provide the light of understanding. The crucial question and the responses:

Do you today support signing a ceasefire agreement with Hamas or a large military operation in Gaza?
Total: Ceasefire 33% Operation 44% Other 23%
Kadima voters: Ceasefire 33% Operation 38% Other 29%
Likud voters: Ceasefire 17% Operation 81% Other 2%
Labor voters: Ceasefire 64% Operation 21% Other 15%

Support for a military operation among Kadima voters was lukewarm, while Labor voters overwhelmingly favored a ceasefire. Of course, they didn't necessarily favor a ceasefire like the one that was actually achieved. However, one is led to the unpleasant suspicion that Olmert and Barak based their decision on political pressures within their own parties. Olmert's leadership is challenged by the more dovish Tzippi Livni and Barak's leadership is contested by dovish Ami Ayalon and Amir Peretz. If the decision was based on considerations of political survival, it is not an exemplary case of statesmanship to say the least.

A poll conducted one day before the "calm" went into effect yielded these results:

Do you support or oppose the calm agreement with Hamas?
Total: Support 40.6% Oppose 32.9% No position 26.5%
Kadima voters: Support 38.1% Oppose 31.8% No position 30.1%
Likud voters: Support 22.3% Oppose 60.4% No position 17.3%
Labor voters: Support 69.2% Oppose 10.1% No position 20.7%

You think that the calm will continue for a short time (days) or a long time (months)?
Total: Short 74.8% Long 17.1% Don't know 8.1%
Kadima voters: Short 81.5% Long 5.3% DK 13.2%
Likud voters:: Short 91.4% Long 2.2% DK 6.4%
Labor voters: Short 59.6% Long 12.8% DK 27.6%

A plurality of Israelis support the truce, but solid majorities of the entire political spectrum thing it won't last very long. In other words, many people buy into the argument that "we have to give peace a chance." It is also apparent that Ehud Barak was representing the sentiment of his party in supporting the truce over a military operation.

This deal should not have divided right and left in Israel. The legitimation of Hamas comes at the expense of the Palestinian Authority and Mahmoud Abbas, as we have seen above. Those who believe that the Palestinian Authority is a viable peace partner must understand that the truce with Hamas has scuttled any real chance of making a peace deal with the Palestinians, because Hamas will never acquiesce in a real peace deal. They can't.

We cannot ignore the question of the release of Gilad Shalit. The ethic of "leaving noone behind" is in itself admirable. It is enforced, in kidnapping cases, by the lobbying efforts organized by families of kidnapped soldiers and their attorneys. The desire to "bring our boys home" is a strong motivation for the prospective disastrous swap of murderer Samir Kuntar for captured Israeli soldiers Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev, and the captivity of Gilad Shalit figured heavily in the Hamas truce negotiations. It was not an illegitimate concern, especially since a large scale military operation would probably mean death for Gilad Shalit. Ehud Olmert promised that the Shalit swap was part of the deal, while the Hamas insisted that it is not. For the moment, Hamas seems to be telling the truth. To redeem his "honor," Olmert is now committed to getting back Shalit at any price. The Shalit family is threatening to bring their case to the Israel Supreme Court in order to force the government not to open the Gaza crossings until their son is freed.

Israel and the Palestinians have entered on a new era with this truce, a brave new world in which the game is apparently being played according to rules written in Tehran. In a few months, it should be apparent whether the Israeli government made a wise decision based on considerations of state or a foolish one based on political considerations and emotional sentiment, which can lead to disaster.

Ami Isseroff

Original content is Copyright by the author 2008. Posted at ZioNation-Zionism and Israel Web Log, http://www.zionism-israel.com/log/archives/00000572.html where your intelligent and constructive comments are welcome. Disributed by ZNN list. Subscribe by sending a message to ZNN-subscribe@yahoogroups.com. Please forward by e-mail with this notice, cite this article and link to it. Other uses by permission only.

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Replies: 4 Comments

It is unlikely that Egypt or Jordan would allow attacks or that there would be attacks from Syrian soil. If there is an attack, it will (one hopes) made at a time and in a way that provides for the threat posed by Hezbollah and Hamas. But this is something that must be taken into account as long as these groups are armed and are controlled by Iran.

Ami Isseroff, Saturday, June 21st

An attack on Iran, either by the U.S. or Israel, is forseeable. Does that mean that unavoidably Israel will be hit on all its borders, even by such neighbours who have a " peace" agreement with her ? What if it is kind of a blitz krieg, achieving the outing of the Ayatollahs and Ahmadinejad before the others can organize retribution ? Will they then be inclined to do so ?

Ellen, Saturday, June 21st

The trouble with the "attack on Iran" hypothesis is that it is unimaginable that in that event either Hamas or Hezbollah or Syria would think they are bound by any truce.

Ami Isseroff, Saturday, June 21st

Could it be that the lull is a necessity to avoid attacks from the enemies surrounding Israel if a strike at Iran is in the offing ?

ellen, Saturday, June 21st

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