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(photo credit: AP [file])
Last Friday, the Security Council decided by a vote of 14 for and one (US) abstention on an immediate and durable cessation of hostilities. Almost instinctively, the Israeli cabinet said 'no' to the decision.
Had Israel accepted the decision, there would have been two possibilities: The Hamas would either accept it and cease its shelling or, alternatively, it would have ignored the decision and continue to target Israel's south. In the latter case, the war would have continued, but the burden for its continuation would fall squarely and directly on Hamas, a criminal organization which is responsible for the war in the first place. Israel would have improved her international standing, which was gravely hurt both in public opinion and among friendly governments who sponsored the decision.
On the other hand, had Hamas accepted the decision and would have stopped its rockets, this would have been a victory for Israel. After all, it was for this purpose that the whole military operation came into being. True: Hamas would have declared victory, but this would happen anyway. In Hamas' view, any survival is victory. What then was wrong with the Security Council's decision? What caused the Jerusalem's ire? The decision calls for "an immediate, durable and fully respected cease-fire." It also calls for arrangements and guarantees to prevent illicit trafficking in arms and ammunition and to ensure the sustained reopening of border crossings.
TRUE, THE decision is ambiguous and vague. It does not specify the means by which its objectives can be achieved. But anyone who is even remotely familiar with the art of diplomacy will not be deterred by such defects. On the contrary, "constructive ambiguity," to use Henry Kissinger's phrase, can serve as a good starter for further negotiations. Had the cease-fire been accepted by Israel and Hamas, the road to further negotiations with Egypt would have been easier. Such a cease-fire would have saved innocent blood on both sides of the border and would have perhaps ushered in some sort of longer cease-fire.
I have followed the explanations of Israel's negative reply and still fail to perceive them. One possible explanation is that a cease-fire would have negated Israel's war aims. But what are these aims? Not the conquest of the strip and the restoration of Israeli rule over the refugee camps. This is stated in clear, unequivocal terms. The purpose - so it is stated - is to seriously weaken Hamas. But that purpose had already been substantially achieved by the time the Council passed its decision. If, conceivably, Israel could annihilate Hamas, destroy all its missiles, rockets and launchers and prevent their return, then indeed the cease-fire would have frustrated our aims. But this assignment is impossible, nor is it part of the war aims. On the contrary, it is quite conceivable that as the war continues, so grows the political power of Hamas.
In any case, this is not the reason given by PM Olmert in Sunday's government meeting. He said that "we should not miss at the very last moment that which we have achieved in an unprecedented way." He probably meant that a cease-fire would prevent a future blow to Hamas. But failing a total conquest of the Gaza strip, such a blow would not put an end to Hamas or to its declaration of "victory."
INDEED, THE only possible reason for our nay response is the fear that a temporary cease-fire would end abruptly and the shelling resumed after the IDF's withdrawal. This, in essence what the chief of army - intelligence said this week in the cabinet. This indeed is a weighty fear: it is not easy to mobilize the army time and time again for such an operation whenever Hamas resumes its attacks. But as against this, stand all the disadvantages of continuing the war: the blood spilled - including the blood of babies and helpless civilians; a continuing deterioration of Israel's international standing, at a time when we desperately need every iota of goodwill in our future confrontation with Iran; Israel's weakness in Washington at a time when Obama is entering the White House.
Most important, the Council's decision gave Israel a good point of exit from the war. The head of military intelligence described the situation in Gaza: "The leadership is paralyzed; Hamas military arm evades battle and there are cracks in Hamas' position." This may be an overstatement, but even if partially true, what better time for Israel to accept a cease-fire proposal and concentrate on arrangements and guarantees which would prevent the smuggling of arms from Egypt into Gaza?
One cannot think of a better, more opportune point of exit.
Actually, the Security Council's decision was good for Israel and we foolishly missed it.
The writer is a Professor of Law at the Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya (Israel), a former Minister of Education and Knesset Member, as well as the recipient of the 2006 Israel Prize in Law.