Yossi Beilin
Photo: Alex Kolomoisky
Gaza cell launching rockets
Photo: AFP
We can always conquer Gaza
Israel has no pressing reason at this time to embark on war with Hamas

Israel’s inexplicable capitulation to President George W. Bush’s caprice to include the Hamas movement in the elections for the Palestinian Legislative Council in 2006, in complete contradiction to the Oslo Accords, just as the puzzling decision to withdraw from Gaza without an agreement, thereby boosting Hamas, brought us to the current situation in the Strip.


There is no simple “textbook answer” here. The Gaza lull saves lives. Hamas’ military buildup does not justify an Israeli return to the alleyways of Jabaliya and a guerilla war that could exact a very high price for victory. We are seeing significant military buildup beyond our borders, among states and hostile organizations, yet our objective needs to be the prevention of these weapons from being turned against us, rather than a war because the very existence of these weapons.


If Hamas’ interest – even if we are dealing with a temporary interest – is to secure quiet on the Gaza-Israel border, Israel has no reason to embark on a military operation. On the contrary: A genuine Israeli withdrawal needs to be accompanied by true disengagement from us, and that would only be possible if we open the Gaza Strip to Egypt and to the sea.


The risk won’t be considerable, Israel will free itself of the responsibility for the lives of Gazans, Hamas won’t be able to accuse us of preventing vital products from Gaza residents, and the locals would truly be able to decide if they want to continue living under the regime of such radical and zealous group, or rather, whether they prefer a more pragmatic movement. As long as the crossings are closed, it is easier to lay blame for the current miserable situation on Israel alone.


Should Qassams and Grad rockets be fired from the Gaza Strip despite the above, we will always reserve the military option, and the IDF would always be able to reoccupy this crowded and problematic place, even if this comes with a heavy price.


Far-reaching understandings

The West Bank is a different matter. Something has been happening there recently. Intense work by the Americans, Jordanians, Israelis, and Palestinians led to real change. Jenin, Hebron, and Nablus are again places ruled by law and order. Israelis who enter Area A by mistake, or not by mistake, are returned by the Palestinian police as if this is an obvious thing. A large business convention in Bethlehem hosted many Israelis and ended successfully. President Abbas reached far-reaching understandings with Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, and the axis led by Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and chief Palestinian Negotiator Ahmed Qureia has also significantly progressed.


There is no doubt that Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad contributed greatly to the emergence of a pragmatic atmosphere between the sides, and to developments on the security and economic front. We are dealing with people who understand that the future of a Palestinian state involves peace and cooperation with Israel.


Releasing prisoners on the occasion of a Muslim holiday is not the same as peace-making, freezing settlement construction, or the evacuation of about 100 unauthorized settlements. It is a symbolic and
very non-dramatic move, which conveys the following message: There is no need to abduct Israelis to prompt us to free prisoners. This move certainly strengthened Abbas vis-à-vis Hamas’ exaggerated passion, without endangering at all the prospects of securing Gilad Shalit’s release.


What the next Israeli government will have to do, with the assistance of the new American Administration, is to finalize a peace agreement with the PLO, headed by Abbas or his replacement. Israel will also need another agreement that would address the deal’s implementation as long as Hamas controls Gaza, as well as an understanding with Hamas on a long-term ceasefire. Avoiding a reoccupation of Gaza as long as this is not a must, and the release of Fatah prisoners, would make it easier for us to do the above.


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