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It is painful to watch Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, Defense Minister Amir Peretz and Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni try to contend with the terrible outcome of the Palestinian terror strike against the IDF on Sunday morning.
They use so many fancy and angry words. They sound so resolute. And yet, they have nothing useful to say. Two soldiers are dead, a third is now the prisoner of jihadist killers, seven are wounded, an IDF border post has been overrun, and a world view and a security doctrine have been blown to smithereens.
Olmert and his associates have four general messages. First, they tell us that Palestinian Authority Chairman and Fatah chief Mahmoud Abbas is responsible for bringing about Cpl. Gilad Shalit's release. Second, they say Hamas better watch out because they're gonna get it. Third, they say that Hamas won't get it until later. Finally, while stipulating that they will not negotiate with Hamas, Olmert and his associates are negotiating with Hamas.
None of these messages and none of the actions that attend to them have any chance of making Israel safer. They also hold little promise of bringing Cpl. Shalit home. Yet there is next to no possibility that Olmert or his associates will widen their options to include any relevant responses to Sunday's terror offensive. Doing so would involve an admission that what the Kadima and Labor parties have presented to the public as their world view is wrong.
That world view involves a denial of a basic, fundamental truth: When you empower terrorists, terrorists are empowered.
WE HAVE been in this situation before. Six years ago, in October 2000, on the eve of Yom Kippur then prime minister Ehud Barak gave Yasser Arafat an ultimatum. He was ordered to end all the violence he had fomented within 48 hours or face the consequences. When as the deadline passed Arafat continued the violence, Barak did nothing. He did nothing because he could do nothing. His entire government was based on the idea of making peace with Arafat by empowering him. When Arafat chose war, Barak had nothing to say.
Kadima and Labor insist that by empowering terrorists they are somehow weakening them. This is the notion that stands at the base of the government's insistence on reenacting the empowerment of Hamas and Fatah caused by last summer's retreat from Gaza by repeating it twenty-fold in Judea and Samaria.
Somehow, destroying Israeli communities, ordering the retreat of IDF forces and so enabling the terrorist takeover of those lands is - according to Olmert and his associates - supposed to bring about the enhancement of Israel's security through the weakening of terrorists that Israel is empowering.
Ahead of Sunday night's security cabinet meeting, Olmert reportedly told IDF Chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. Dan Halutz not to present any wide-scale military options to the cabinet. This makes sense. Any major operation, just like any real discussion of Israel's security situation or its options for contending with it would show the failure of the government's retreat policy. And so the government entertains only fictions.
The first fiction the government entertains is that of PA Chairman and Fatah Chief Mahmoud Abbas as anti-terrorist peace partner who must be empowered. Abbas is viewed as an irreplaceable resource and ally of Israel. If he goes, Israel will face nothing but Hamas. And since Hamas is bad, Abbas must be good. Unfortunately, Abbas is a terrorist too.
Abbas has pocketed the money, arms and legitimacy that Olmert, the Bush administration and the EU have given him and proceeded to buck up his terrorist credentials. He appointed Mahmoud Damra, a top Fatah terrorist as the commander of his personal army Force 17. Damra is wanted by Israel for his direct involvement in the murders of scores of Israelis since 2001.
Abbas took the thousands of rifles and millions of rounds of ammunition the US gave him last month and had his security chief Muhammad Dahlan issue a joint call with Hamas for the murder of all Palestinians suspected of assisting Israel in its counter-terror operations.
He has been negotiating a blueprint for war - authored by jailed Fatah mass murderer Marwan Barghouti - with Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh and has been touting the document as a peace plan.
And, his Fatah organization is as responsible for Sunday's strike against Israel as Hamas. The Popular Resistance Committees, a Fatah front group that also includes Hamas and Islamic Jihad terrorists claims to be holding Cpl. Shalit. Fatah has threatened to attack Israel with chemical and biological weapons and to renew shooting attacks on neighborhoods in southern Jerusalem if the IDF launches a major operation in Gaza.
But none of this can be acknowledged because acknowledging that Abbas is a terrorist would mean acknowledging that empowering him means empowering terrorists.
THEN THERE is the doctrine of the security fence. Olmert and his colleagues are big proponents of replacing defensive strategies with slogans and one of their favorite ones is "We'll be here and they will be there." Israel will build a fence and we'll never have to deal with the Palestinians again. But then those mean old Palestinians showed us on Sunday that they can dig beneath our fence. They show us daily that they can launch missiles and rockets and mortars above the fence. They can build ladders to climb over the fence. And of course, they can simply subcontract their killing to their collaborators on our side of the fence.
But this cannot be acknowledged because doing so would be tantamount to an admission that Olmert and his associates have been passing off cliches as security plans for the past four years.
The bombardment of the Western Negev that holds the population and the economy of southern Israel hostage to the whims of jihadist cells with rocket launchers has shown up another major myth that forms the basis of Olmert's world view. Olmert and his associates claim that the IDF deployment in Gaza was wasteful because all those forces were being used just to defend those annoying, fanatical settlers in Gush Katif and northern Gaza. But as the bombardment and the IDF's inability to stop the bombardment from outside Gaza shows, the IDF was not in Gaza to protect the Israelis who lived there. The IDF was in Gaza to protect Israel.
Any major IDF offensive in Gaza would constitute an admission of this truth. Yet since the government's only policy is to reenact last summer's retreat in Judea and Samaria, it cannot acknowledge this truth. It needs the public to believe that the safety of Tel Aviv and Jerusalem can be guaranteed by having IDF forces sitting in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. It needs the public to believe that settlers are the cause of their misfortunes and not the jihadists who are waging war against our country.
That is, they need the public to believe that empowering terrorists doesn't empower terrorists.
FINALLY, OLMERT cannot allow a counter-terror offensive in Gaza because doing so will lead to international condemnation of Israel. It isn't the impact of the condemnation Israel's international standing that concerns him. Olmert cannot be condemned internationally because he promised that after Israel retreated from Gaza, the international community would accept any Israeli counter-terror offensives in Gaza.
Sunday's attack and Cpl. Shalit's kidnapping are watershed events. In the coming days and weeks, it will become self-evident to the Israeli public as a whole just how indefensible Olmert's plan to empower terrorists actually is. Yet public recognition of his plan's failure is not enough.
In 2000, the public realized that Barak's terrorist empowering peace plan had brought us war. Yet rather than discard the policy of empowering terrorists, our political leaders simply repackaged it. What had formerly been called "peace" was called "separation" and "disengagement" and now is called "convergence" or "realignment." These euphemisms are sold to the public in turn as new quick-fixes that spare us the need to recognize the reality of war.
So to our fervent prayers for Cpt. Shalit's rescue, we should add another prayer. We should pray that whereas the demise of the so-called peace process did not cause the demise of its core policy of empowering terrorists, the demise of Olmert's retreat policy will also cause the burial of the notion that empowering terrorists can do anything other than make terrorists more powerful.