Let's be sure we've got this straight. Hamas has taken over the Gaza Strip, with a display of ruthless brutality toward its own people. We've seen Palestinians shoved off the roofs of buildings, by other Palestinians. We've seen Palestinians with literally dozens of bullets pumped into their heads, by other Palestinians. Palestinians murdered in front of their families, by other Palestinians. Palestinians murdered as they waited, desperate and helpless, to get out of the Strip, by other Palestinians.
Hamas's gunmen were gleefully prepared to mow down their own people. They even looted the home of the very icon of the Palestinian cause, Yasser Arafat, stealing his Nobel Prize - terrorists, farcically, snaffling the globe's most prestigious peace award from the late laureate who had so signally and duplicitously thwarted the possibility of peace. But the prime target of their murderous aspirations, of course, remains our reviled Zionist state.
Israel, to Hamas, has no right to draw breath. It must be destroyed. There can be no Jewish sovereignty here. Young Palestinian minds must be educated to murder us infidels at any and every opportunity.
Now Hamas may have cemented its hold on Gaza via the resort to barbarism, but it was the Palestinian public, of its own free will last year, that entrusted Hamas with the task of parliamentary governance.
Yes, the people wanted to be rid of the corrupt Fatah. But they knew everything about Hamas's uncompromising and violent fundamentalism, and they were not deterred. And it was that other duly elected leader of the Palestinians, Mahmoud Abbas, who chose to enter a full governing partnership with this murderous outfit.
Yet this ballot-box-rooted and now bloodily culminated rise of Islamic extremist military rule on our doorstep in Gaza is being hailed in some international circles as enabling a positive transformation. Abbas, who legitimized Hamas politically, who chose not to confront Hamas terrorism militarily, whose loyalists have often outdone Hamas in carrying out acts of terrorism and whose American-trained and American-armed forces failed to put up a fight against Hamas in Gaza - thus, incidentally, providing Hamas with great additional quantities of weaponry - has been rewarded with a renewal of Western aid. This despite the fact that some of the international funding will obviously be conveyed to Gaza, as he maintains the fiction of PA rule there, where it will be used, for instance, to pay salaries in the very education apparatuses that are so systematically teaching hatred of Israel and the West.
At the same time, Israel is now being called upon to ensure that the people of Gaza survive the Hamas takeover that they themselves helped effect. Israel is called upon to insist on delivering water and gas and food to a Gaza dominated by a leadership that doesn't merely fail to coordinate the receipt of such assistance but emphatically denies the very fact of our existence. Israel is called upon to keep supplying electricity to Gaza in the certain knowledge that such electricity will be used, among other purposes, for the manufacture of Kassam rockets and other weaponry to try and kill Israelis. And Israel, of course, does feel a moral obligation to help ordinary Palestinians in need.
Israel is also now called upon to put aside the inconvenient issue of the Hamas takeover of Gaza and the consequent emboldening of its fundamentalist ideology and that of its key state champion, the would-be nuclear, Israel-eliminating Iran. Israel is called upon to set aside, for a moment, the daily escalating threat posed by Hamas's full control of what is now an overt arms supply route via the Philadelphi Corridor from Egypt. And instead it is being urged - and its government is ostensibly endorsing the idea - to seize the moment to advance substantive peace talks with the suddenly tough-talking but hitherto demonstrably impotent Abbas over the fate of the next slice of territory Hamas is eyeing, the West Bank.
HERE, IN the words of Giora Eiland, the former national security adviser, is how Israel should be grappling with Hamastan and its repercussions.
First, suggests Maj.-Gen. (res.) Eiland, Israel might take the elementary step of setting out its immediate interests in Gaza, which he lists as 1) an end to Kassam attacks, 2) a prevention of the further arming of Hamas, mainly via the Philadelphi Corridor, and 3) a deal for the return of the captured Gilad Schalit.
Next, he recommends, Israel should recognize that it enjoys a certain leverage to try and achieve those interests. Hamas's coup damaged the Palestinians, all Palestinians, he says, "more than they understand. It broke two iron-clad rules - no civil war ("the Palestinians had always stepped back from the brink") and no differentiation between Gaza and the West Bank.
Furthermore, as the sole address in Gaza now, he notes, Hamas has a lot more to lose than in the recent past.
To that end, the last thing Israel should be doing is throwing away its leverage by declaring that it recognizes that it must provide humanitarian aid, electricity and water, and must open the border crossings and so on. Rather, on the declarative level, it must say that "Gaza is an enemy political entity, in its activity and its orientation."
As a consequence, Israel should further say that it must insist on keeping border crossings closed in order to stop arms smuggling, and that it is prepared to attack not only Kassam cells but also Gaza government targets and supply routes in order to improve security for Israel. This would prompt international protests, Eiland recognizes. "But Israel's response would be, 'Well, that's how we have to act because we are up against Hamas.'" However, Eiland goes on, Israel should also declare that "if our three immediate interests are met, we'll be able to step back."
The guiding principle, Eiland stresses, is that it is not in Israel's interest to maintain supplies to Gaza, "so why do it for nothing? Why give up on our interests? If we give Gaza all it needs, and Hamas is able to keep firing and keep rearming, we are left with no leverage."
How would this unfold practically? "Israel makes clear, discreetly if necessary, that if there is a complete halt to Kassam attacks from a given date - and it doesn't matter who is behind such attacks, because Hamas is the sole government address now - it will slowly open borders and allow supplies. But this stops if a single Kassam is fired."
Similarly, Eiland goes on, "Israel makes clear that the current situation on the Philadelphi Corridor is intolerable and that it may need to retake and widen the corridor to hundreds of meters. This would require the razing of houses, leaving people homeless. The world would protest. And Israel would say, 'Okay, we'll be prepared to pull back if the border is respected.'"
IF EILAND'S recommendations, in our phone conversation, have thus far been delivered in his familiar sober tones, his voice ratchets up a few notches when he speaks of the wider political situation. "I just don't understand this talk of diplomatic options," he says. "What are they on about? Any political deal has to apply to the West Bank and Gaza. But what can Abu Mazen do about Gaza? The last thing Israel should do is deal with Abu Mazen in the West Bank and reconcile to Hamas in Gaza.
"Abu Mazen and [Prime Minister] Olmert say they want renewed political talks," he goes on, "but how can that work? Israel will say it wants a permanent accord, but security issues have to be resolved first. Abu Mazen will say there's no chance of resolving security issues, not even in the West Bank, until there's a permanent accord. It's a dead-end."
Prime minister Ariel Sharon's national security adviser, now based at Tel Aviv University's INSS (Institute for National Security Studies), does not anticipate Hamas replicating its Gaza success in the West Bank in the near future, though he doesn't marginalize its strength there and doesn't doubt its ambitions. "Fatah is stronger in the West Bank. The West Bank is more secular and more modern than Gaza. There isn't equivalent popular support for Hamas. And Israel, of course, is deployed there and prevents Hamas gearing up in the way it did in Gaza."
In terms of the specific dangers posed by Hamas's Gaza takeover, Eiland's main concern is over the weapons flowing in, and the fighters going in and out - including for Iranian training, which proved so effective against Fatah.
As it stands, he says, the 50-100-meter-wide Philadelphi Corridor cannot be effectively sealed even if Israel were to redeploy there. "It should be at least 500 meters wide," he says, to thwart the tunnelers, and Israel should clear such a space, which would involve knocking down houses. "That sounds tough. But we need to create a new reality. To say, 'I'm here and I'm staying.' And to be prepared to rethink if the Egyptians and/or an international force are demonstrably ready to police it instead."
Indeed, Eiland reveals that after disengagement from Gaza had been announced, but before it was implemented, when Israel was insisting it would stay in the Philadelphi Corridor unless the security situation enabled its departure and the international community was pressing it to leave, an international proposal was put to Israel to resolve the issue. Under this proposal, international forces, recognizing that the corridor needs widening and effective policing, would have done the job instead of Israel. "They said, 'If you leave Philadelphi, we'll destroy the homes near the existing route and we'll rehouse those people in Gush Katif."
Of course, no such agreement was reached. "And after we'd left Gaza, in that interim period when we were still holding Philadelphi, defense minister Shaul Mofaz suddenly announced that Israel was prepared to give up Philadelphi." At that point, of course, says Eiland, the international community recognized that if Israel was ready to go anyway, there was no need to pay any such price to get the IDF out.
This, says Eiland, was symptomatic of Israel's mishandling of Gaza. "Where disengagement is concerned, we closed our eyes to reality," he charges. Sharon decided not only that Israel was going, but that it would do so one-sidedly. "He didn't give the Palestinian relative moderates the chance to take control. This strengthened Hamas and prevented any political chances."
The debate over leaving Gaza, he laments, was "so superficial" - something, as he has stressed often in the past, that typifies the decision-making process here. "What happens is that it is recognized that a certain situation is no good. Someone has an idea. And it's a case of "yes" or "no." Maybe there are other options? Well, they're not discussed."
In the case of Gaza, "Sharon announced at [the] Herzliya [strategy conference in December 2003] that leaving is good for us. That meant right away we'd get nothing for it. If you tell your neighbor you're throwing your fridge onto the trash, he's hardly going to offer to buy it from you. We decided we were leaving Gaza. We declared it had no value and so we gave it up for nothing in return. We sacrificed all leverage."
That is precisely what Eiland fears Israel risks doing again now with regard to easing Hamas rule. "And amazingly," he goes on, voice rising again, if it hadn't been for the rude awakening of the war last summer, and the collapsed credibility of unilateralism, "we'd be doing the same thing right now in the West Bank. Unbelievable."
The argument at the heart of Kadima's thinking, he notes, was that the security barrier represents Israel's best line of defense, and that troops should be pulled back to that line, unilaterally if necessary.
But the consequences of withdrawing unilaterally "would be terrible," he argues, and offers one small example. "A couple of weeks ago, you'll recall, the Israel Airports Authority wanted to shut Ben-Gurion Airport because pirate radio signals were interfering" with communications between the flights and the control tower. By extension, "if you install radio transmitters in Ramallah, you can close down the airport. So if Israel were to leave the West Bank without an agreement, before Iran even brings in the weapons, a few innocent radio transmitters will play havoc with normal life here."
"We are here and they are there," he quotes, witheringly, from the unilateralist mantra. "It's childish. And yet," he notes, "that's the platform that won Kadima more votes than any other party in the last elections."
Eiland's stillborn initiative
Giora Eiland himself, when still heading the National Security Council under Sharon three years ago, advocated leaving Gaza only as the first stage of an internationally sponsored multi-stage negotiated program leading to a permanent accord.
Specifically, Egypt would have been asked to contribute to the resolution of the conflict by allocating a 20-kilometer by 30-kilometer (230 sq. miles) rectangle of sparsely populated Sinai territory on its side of the border to allow Gaza reasonable space to grow and flourish. Conjoined with today's Strip, this enlarged Palestinian Gaza, boosted by overseas investment and support, was intended to feature a major city, major airport and major seaport - and to come to serve as an attractive potential destination for Palestinian refugees seeking a return to the new homeland. In return for its territorial generosity, Egypt would have been compensated with a strip of land perhaps a third of the size from the Israeli western Negev, with its president receiving the adulation of a grateful world.
The initiative also envisaged that tunnels from Jordan under the Negev to that new strip of Egypt, and routes up through the Sinai to the new Palestinian Gaza seaport, could carry oil and other commodities to the world from Saudi Arabia and beyond - with Jordan, Egypt and the Palestinians all benefiting financially. Jordan would also have gained from the fact that, with Gaza a newly attractive location, the dire threat of a Palestinian refugee influx to its territory would be much reduced.
Meanwhile, having pulled out of Gaza as a good-faith first step toward this negotiated solution, Israel would have completed its West Bank security barrier along the route Eiland was finalizing at the time, leaving 11 to 12 percent of the territory and some 90% of the settlers on the Israeli side. And with Egypt and Jordan deeply invested in the new arrangement, they would have had an unprecedented interest in ensuring its success.
That, at least, was the idea...