Following the conclusion of Operation Pillar of Defense,
it can be said clearly that a big cloud is hanging over the political and military conduct. The perception that Israel
does not negotiate with terrorists collapsed even before the operation was launched, as long as Hamas
"delivered the goods." Way before Operation Cast Lead,
we preferred to guard Hamas and maintain calm through Hamas.
The conclusion of the operation through indirect negotiations emphasized the collapse of that perception. This conduct was a de facto recognition of the legitimacy of what has been defined as a terror organization both by the Israeli government and the US government.
This was a mistaken policy in the first place, as Hamas just maintained the calm which allowed it to build power, grow stronger and prepare the organization and its members for a possible, if not certain, conflict.
Hamas has been demonstrating remarkable endurance and fighting abilities these days. The damage caused to its people and infrastructure will not deter the organization from rebuilding its power the day after and being even more prepared for the next, inevitable round.
This ambivalent conduct by Israel's governments makes the strong and powerful weak and makes the weak strong, a phenomenon which increases from conflict to conflict.
The Israeli government must decide whether Hamas is a legitimate representative of Gaza's citizens or whether we are sticking to the opinion that it is a terror organization.
The first option forces us to negotiate with Hamas before the next conflict and set the rules, while allowing the organization to implement its full sovereignty, lift the siege on Gaza and fully disengage within a reasonable period of time.
If we stick to the stance that Hamas is a terror organization – we can, should and must defeat it. This isn't an enemy located thousands of kilometers away from our territory. This is an enemy confined in a narrow strip, which has been disrupting the lives of Israeli citizens for more than eight years.
The Strip can be captured, terrorist infrastructures can be dismantled, the Hamas government can be removed and control can be handed over to the Palestinian Authority, which is not defined as a terror organization, and to an international power. This is a complicated and long operation, which is bound to claim quite a few casualties.
Any decision made will point to an initiating and courageous leadership, which aspires to design reality rather than being dragged by occurrences. The first decision requires political leadership with a leadership vision, which does not accept or give in to constraints of time and place, but works to outline and implement a policy that will provide a remedy for both suffering people, due to the lack of such leadership on both sides. The second decision requires a General Staff which inspires confidence among the political echelon that the IDF can, is prepared and must defeat Hamas, and I believe we have such a General Staff.
Given the situation created and today's existing dynamics between all players in the arena, including Egypt
and Turkey, I recommend that Israel – out of a sense of power rather than weakness – declare that it recognizes the Hamas government and lift the siege on Gaza in exchange for a Hamas promise backed by Egyptian, Turkish and the Gulf states' guarantees.
Gaza will become the Hong Kong of the Middle East, Hamas will be the only organization allowed to possess weapons, and all other organizations will be dismantled or assimilated into Hamas. At the same time, Hamas will stop arming itself and cease all violence against Israel.
If these conditions are not accepted or realized, and if the violence against Israel's citizens' continues, the world will know and Hamas will know that the second option will be executed whenever we decide.
Major-General (Res.) Yitzhak "Jerry" Gershon, who commanded IDF forces in the West Bank during the Second Intifada and served as head of the Home Front Command during the Second Lebanon War, is the national director of the Friends of the Israel Defense Forces (FIDF) organization