The decision has apparently been taken. After we already tried all other solutions, perhaps we have come to realize that the best way to stop the attacks on the western Negev is to reach a ceasefire. This is no great bargain, and certainly no substitute for peace. The fact that we are forced to reach either a direct or indirect agreement with Hamas is unpleasant.
It was our famous friend, President George W. Bush, who during a democratic fit forced Ariel Sharon to agree to the participation of a terror group in the Palestinian elections, in contradiction to the Oslo agreement, thus bringing us democracy at its best. Later, when the world was surprised by Hamas’ victory but didn’t know how to handle it, Bush switched to a boycott, while Hamas violently took over Gaza and turned it into a Hamastan that fires Qassam rockets at us.
A ceasefire would grant Hamas a type of legitimacy, and we should admit it, even if we declare day and night that our agreement is with Egypt alone. As a result, a truce would also undermine the pragmatic elements around PLO Chairman Mahmoud Abbas. However, it’s clear that if it wasn’t for a ceasefire, Israel would embark on a wide-scale military operation in Gaza, which would have constituted a grave blow both to the diplomatic process and to Abbas and his people.
However, Israel must not remain inactive during the truce. If this is what shall materialize, those who say that the lull mostly serves Hamas, which will train and arm itself ahead of the next round of fighting, would be proven right.
We must take advantage of the ceasefire period in order to accelerate, if possible, the deployment of the “Iron Dome” anti-rocket defense system, and speed up negotiations with the PLO in order to secure the most detailed understandings in the coming six months.
Here is a reminder: The War of Attrition lasted from the end of the Six-Day War in 1967 to the ceasefire in August 7, 1970, yet in our archives it is recorded as having started in March 1969. It raged on all fronts, but mostly on the Egyptian front. IDF troops were killed on the eastern bank of the Suez Canal and their pictures were posted in the newspapers every day. We bombed the Canal’s western bank, and many Egyptians fled westward, yet the War of Attrition did not end. It left 721 Israelis dead, including 594 soldiers; the number of wounded reached 2,659.
Golda made wrong decisionThe euphoria of war victory was replaced by a bitter sensation yet even that did not bring a lull. The National unity government headed by Golda Meir debated over the question of whether to secure a ceasefire with Egypt, and when a decision to do so was reached the Likud left the government.
In retrospect it turned out that Golda Meir’s decision was wrong. Not because the alternative should have been another war, five minutes after the end of the Six-Day War, but rather, because the ceasefire was not taken advantage of. The Egyptians exploited every moment of it to improve their chances in the next round of fighting, brought missiles closer to the Canal, and managed to prevent a successful Israel Air Force performance in the Yom Kippur War after our pilots stunned the world in 1967.
Golda resisted any sign of peace and missed out on the opportunity to reach, in February 1971, a very similar agreement to the 1978 Camp David Accords, finalized by her successor, Menachem Begin.
Instead of taking advantage of the truce, Israel sank into three years of hedonism, contentment, and generals preoccupied with throwing parties. The terrible disaster of the Yom Kippur War caught us completely off guard.
If the government truly got the hint, and if it is truly preparing to secure a ceasefire, it would do well to keep in mind that Hamas won’t be going to sleep. It is worthwhile for us to also stay awake and undertake the utmost effort to surprise Hamas via a peace treaty with Syria, while preparing to neutralize future rockets.
Dr. Yossi Beilin is a Knesset member on behalf of Meretz