Hamas has already received two gifts from us. The first gift was the unilateral withdrawal from the Gaza Strip. One does not need to be a "hawk" or a "dove" in order to see that the fact that Sharon's government left the Strip without any negotiations, military agreements, or economic arrangements played into Hamas' hands.
It presented itself to the Palestinian public as an organization able to make Israel flee through the use of power and threats, without giving up on any Palestinian interest, while the PLO wastes its time on fruitless negotiations with Israel.
The second gift was given to Hamas by the American Administration and its foolish quest for global democracy, and by the Israeli government that gave in to it. It was the decision to allow Hamas to take part in elections for the Legislative Council, in complete contradiction to the Oslo Agreement.
Hamas wishes to receive the third gift now: A massive IDF incursion into the Gaza Strip in contradiction to the Israeli interest, while endangering the security of western Negev residents, only because "we must respond to this situation."
An IDF operation in Gaza will serve to reunite Hamas ranks, create a genuine common denominator for Hamas, Fatah, and Islamic Jihad, and blur the differences between those prepared for negotiations with Israel and those who will never recognize it.
The IDF will shed blood in refugee camp alleyways, the faltering Palestinian Authority will collapse, and in its place Israel will have to set up a military administration that would be responsible for providing all the Palestinian population's needs.
That way, instead of begging the world for aid, the entire responsibility will be placed on the occupier, the Oslo Agreement will be terminated in Gaza, and this may even be a harbinger for things to come in the West Bank.
I'm not sure Hamas deserves the third gift. This doesn't mean we should allow it to act as it sees fit - precise activity against Qassam rocket teams is a must. An effort to reach a West Bank ceasefire is also a must, and it was a mistake to listen to security officials who resisted it in recent months.
It was clear that a ceasefire that only takes root in Gaza cannot be maintained over time, and that Hamas will use our operations in the West Bank in order to justify "punishment" in the western Negev.
Evacuating western Negev residents who wish to leave is a justified move. Residents do not constitute a security shield, and the fact the government failed to build reinforced shelters does not obligate them to stay at home and pray that the next Qassam doesn't hit them.
Moving interested residents to guest houses in central Israel is much cheaper than a broad campaign in the Gaza Strip and would not be undermining Israel's image.
This is a rare opportunity to work vis-a-vis the world, the Arab League, and pragmatic Palestinians in an attempt to reach understandings despite Hamas resistance to them. We must press for a comprehensive ceasefire, launch negotiations with the PLO in the framework of the Arab Initiative, praise the increasing American involvement, and isolate the radicals.
It would be difficult to annul the first two gifts. It is difficult to extract ourselves from the mess we were dragged into by people who were willing to do everything in order not to engage in serious negotiations with the PLO. Yet it would be a grave mistake if, in the wake of the two needless and misguided gifts, Olmert's failed government would feel that it has no choice but to embark on a campaign it does not desire.
However, it is hard to believe that those who erred so gravely last summer will be doing the right thing in the spring of 2007.