What is your view on a two-phased solution, I asked. In the first phase, the IDF will take over the Strip. In the second phase, it will hand it over to the control of Palestinian Authority forces.
The man looked sadly into my eyes and said: “It won’t be natural.”
Ever since then, I thought about those words many times, uttered them to myself, and discussed them with others. At the end of the day I became convinced of their wisdom: A process whereby IDF troops embark on a great fight against Hamas, spill their blood in this battle, clean up the area, and then hand it over to Mahmoud Abbas’ forces cannot materialize in reality. It would turn IDF troops into mercenaries within the internal Palestinian struggle.
What’s worse, this would turn Abbas and his government into a Palestinian version of the South Lebanon Army. It will taint them forever as collaborators. They will not agree to embark on this adventure, and it if they do agree, they would fail. The Palestinian street will reject them forever.
The last person to consider a similar move was Ariel Sharon, the architect of the first Lebanon War. The IDF was supposed to clean up Lebanon from Lebanese forces and then hand it over to Bashir Gemayel’s regime. It ended with an 18-year entanglement and another war, whose results were no less miserable than the results of the previous one.
Is Barak right this time?
The government eventually chose to go for a lull agreement with Hamas, under Egyptian auspices. The agreement’s drawbacks were known in advance: It enabled Hamas and the other organizations to build up their strength, train fighters, acquire arms, and boost their rocket range. It reinforced and stabilized the Hamas régime. However, the upsides of the agreement were also known: It averted war, spared casualties, and granted Gaza-region residents a period of relative security.
Few believed this agreement would last for more than a few weeks. It lasted five months.
In recent days, the lull agreement has been repeatedly violated. Ashkelon was hit by Grad rockets. Sderot was hit by Qassams. It was a miracle that no injuries were reported. As always, the question being asked is who started it, and why? And as always, the answer is complex.
When facing the microphones, all Israeli officials placed the full responsibility on Hamas. Yet behind closed doors, some of them spoke differently. They spoke about over-zealous IDF commanders and about too-deep incursions by our forces into Gaza, which violated the rules of the game. According to this estimate, Hamas did not initiate the fire: It responded to Israel’s operations.
Any way we look at this, the deal with Hamas is not a solution. Hamas needs to be removed. The question is whether it is possible to find a responsible party that would fill the vacuum to be left in Hamas’ wake.
This brings us back to the two-phased or three-phased notion. In the first phase, the IDF will take over Gaza. In the next phase, it will hand it over to Arab forces. In the third phase, the Arab forces will hand it over to Palestinian Authority soldiers.
The chance of success isn’t great, but the alternative – sending the IDF into Gaza in order to stay there – is less appealing. Patience, Ehud Barak tells his colleagues. Keep in mind July 12, 2006. Don’t be over-zealous. Perhaps this time he is right.