Just like Hizbullah did on the fourth day of the war in the north, Hamas is now asking, implicitly if not explicitly, for a ceasefire.
In Hamas’ view, it achieved everything it could get: It proved its stamina, the ability to launch rockets, and the ability to fight. The time has come to rehabilitate and rearm.
In July 2006, the government insisted on ignoring the requests for a ceasefire and continuing the fighting. That was a tragic mistake. Yet Lebanon is one thing and Gaza is another thing. Israel’s dilemma vis-à-vis Hamas is fundamentally different than the dilemma it was facing vis-à-vis Hizbullah.
The government of Israel has been postponing the decision on how to handle the Hamas regime in Gaza for eight and a half bloody months.
The time has come to decide.
What Hamas is offering is in fact an understanding that would see an end to rocket attacks in exchange for the IDF ending its targeted eliminations. The smuggling of arms and munitions would continue until Hamas builds up enough strength to attack again, this time to an even longer range, all the way to Ashdod, or Tel Aviv. This is a proposal that an Israeli government cannot accept.
Israel also cannot reconcile itself to the existing reality whereby a growing number of civilians in the south are exposed to daily fire. It is immoral and illogical. We can expect Israeli citizens to sustain a certain level of risk, but it is unfair to expect them to face danger over an extended period of time without seeing light at the end of the tunnel.
At the end of the day, the debate can be narrowed down to two options: Either the IDF goes ahead and reoccupies Gaza or large sections of it, or Israel decides to enter open, direct, and serious talks with Hamas. The third way, to kill and absorb, absorb and kill, is unfortunately not bringing about the desired result: It doesn’t end the rocket fire and doesn’t curb the arms smuggling.
Gaza different than West Bank
Each option involves a high cost. The IDF would have liked to imitate the success of the 2002 operation Defensive Shield in the West Bank. During the operation, the IDF took over the West Bank without bearing the responsibility for residents’ daily lives. The power and interests of the Palestinian Authority and of mayors were sufficient to fill the immediate needs and enable life to go on under the shadow of the IDF’s bayonets.
The situation in Gaza is different. Occupying the Strip could exact a difficult human toll from both sides. An even more difficult problem for Israel is the question of controlling the area the day after it is occupied. The meager coexistence between Israel and the PA in the West Bank cannot be copied as is to Gaza.
The second option, to reconcile ourselves to Hamas’ rule in Gaza and negotiate a long-term ceasefire with it, involves prices that are just as high. Among other things, it constitutes a death sentence for Mahmoud Abbas’ regime, which Israel hoped to reach a deal with. It also ends the international boycott on Hamas, and it marks the acceptance of the existence of an Iranian base near Israel’s heartland.
Choosing between the two options is like choosing between plague and cholera. Nonetheless, it appears there is no other choice.
And so, an unpopular government, low on public credit, has been destined to make two fateful military decisions; once against Hizbullah, and now vis-à-vis Hamas. And there is still a third decision lying in wait, vis-à-vis Iran.