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(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
Prime Minister Olmert's speech at the grave of David Ben-Gurion in Sde Boker represents the ultimate burial of Israeli determination, and the military and diplomatic triumph of Hamas. Here we have the prime minister of Israel promising the earth, in more ways than one, to the Palestinian parliament and government, most of whose members belong to a terrorist organization committed by its own charter to the destruction of Israel. And all this after more than a year in which previous agreements and truces have been bloodily breached.
Hamas needs a cease-fire and an Israeli diplomatic initiative for two reasons. First of all, it will shatter what remains of the Western diplomatic boycott of Hamas, and provide legitimacy for the new unity government that will soon be set up under Hamas's direction and influence. A diplomatic initiative with the Hamas-led Palestinian Authority - even if it ultimately crashes on the rocks of terrorism and the demand to destroy Israel, by means of the right of return, like its predecessors - will leave in its wake a fundamental difference: a de facto recognition by Israel, and therefore a de jure recognition by the world, of Hamas as a partner in the international circle, without that group having made any significant and permanent change in its platform or tactics.
The second reason why the hudna appeals to Hamas is its plan to exploit the "opportunity" Olmert has given the Palestinians for a truly important aim - the ongoing strengthening of a Hizbullah-style army in the Gaza Strip, including a continual threat of rocket fire on southern Israel. Hamas heard loud and clear the political and military voices in Israel that called for an urgent military operation, "Defensive Shield 2," in Gaza - an operation that would lead to rooting out the terror infrastructure and wiping out the rocket manufacturers. A cease-fire saves Hamas from this very real danger and allows it latitude for army-building along with politics.
The cease-fire will fizzle out sooner or later, but Hamas will gain from it both on the diplomatic and military fronts.
It is interesting to see that the failure against Hamas in the South is an exact replication of the failure against Hizbullah in the North. In both cases, the IDF tried to win a war with air strikes and artillery fire, while neglecting to take over the territory of the terror organizations.
The limited operations - penetrations of a few kilometers into enemy territory - on which IDF ground forces have been sent in Lebanon and Gaza lacked any strategic purpose and could even be defined as useless wandering. Making Hamas or Hizbullah pay a price is not a substitute for a war meant to cut off the Iranian affiliates that have been established north and south of Israel. Such an approach just sends a message of weakness and hesitation to Syria, Iran, and the rest of the region.
Hamas is in a difficult position, but one that can be salvaged, and therefore has agreed to Olmert's cease-fire. Hizbullah managed not long ago to rebuild its military and political status in Lebanon, and Hamas would love to follow in the footsteps of its big brother to the north.
Israel, on the other hand, has missed a golden opportunity yet again. The brutal attacks on Sderot gave Israel a chance for a second "Defensive Shield," in Gaza, that would have allowed it to regain control of the Philadelphi Corridor and end the intensive militarization of Hamas and the other terror groups. But the weariness permeating Israel's military culture allows its enemies to every mistake possible - and yet to remain alive.
Olmert's Israel has decided, it seems, to give up any military resolve (if only temporarily) against terror, even in the face of unprecedented demands.
And so our cities are doomed, and our citizens condemned, to keep living under the growing threat of rocket fire from both the north and the south, until we recover our senses and return to our neglected culture of military resolve.
The writer is a Likud Knesset member and former head of the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee.