Since Operation Cast Lead began, Israel has refrained from announcing far-reaching political goals. Uprooting Hamas rule from Gaza is beyond Israel's power; it cannot install a new government in Gaza. Even the powerful US is failing miserably at political engineering in Iraq and Afghanistan. Outsiders have little capacity to dramatically change realities in the Middle East. Change can come only from within.
With little chance for the emergence of a new Palestinian leadership able to grapple successfully with the challenges of modernity and state building, the Islamic forces within Palestinian society will continue to have the upper hand in the near future. The Islamists are the only group successful in providing a modicum of the services needed for society and this is the main source of their political power. Therefore, Hamas is here to stay and Israel cannot but feel sorry for the Palestinians doomed to ignorance, poverty and fanaticism - the inevitable result of Islamist rule.
While a Hamastan in Gaza is not the ideal neighbor for Israel, there are several advantages to continuous Hamas rule. First, the entrenchment of Hamas makes it crystal-clear who rejects peace in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Israel is largely off the hook. Second, the Hamas military coup of June 2007 dealt a death blow to the two-state paradigm that the world is still paying lip service, but is patently not working. A growing realization of the futility of this paradigm might allow the emergence of a more realistic approach to deal with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
In light of the depressing reality among Israel's neighbors, and in particular the Palestinians, the strategy of the Jewish state should be modest. Israel should refrain from trying to influence the societies in its vicinity. Israel is located in a truly dangerous neighborhood and the bitter truth is that the country has little to gain from cultural and economic interactions with its neighbors. Therefore, what should be of concern to Jerusalem is the ability of the neighboring Arab states to inflict harm. Israel's diplomatic and military resources should be directed toward just that objective - minimizing the damage they are capable of inflicting against Israel. This is the only realistic goal for the IDF operation in Gaza.
The writer is professor of political studies at Bar-Ilan University and the director of the Begin-Sadat (BESA) Center for Strategic Studies.