Hamas capture flag 298.8.
(photo credit: AP [file])
The release of kidnapped BBC journalist Alan Johnston is a happy occasion, especially given how differently such episodes have ended in the past. The contrast with another unprovoked kidnapping, however, could not be more stark: Hamas claims to have made Herculean efforts to release a hostage it did not hold, yet refuses to release Gilad Schalit, a hostage it took and does hold.
The clear message Hamas is trying to convey by Johnston's release is that it is in charge. As spokesman Abu Marzouk put it to the Associated Press in Damascus, Hamas is proving that it is "a responsible group ... preserving the people's rights, security and stability."
This is indeed how Israel and the world should treat Hamas: as the entity responsible not only for its own actions but for Gaza as a whole. Yet holding Hamas responsible is not what Israel or the international community is doing.
At a conference yesterday on the implications of Hamas's coup in Gaza, held by the Shalem Center's Institute for Strategic Studies, former national security adviser and IDF planning chief Giora Eiland argued that Israel is still mistakenly taking responsibility for Gaza, despite both Israel's total withdrawal in 2005 and Hamas's barbaric takeover.
Since the coup, Israel has affirmed that it will continue to allow goods to flow through crossings from Israel into Gaza and continue to supply much of Gaza's electricity, gasoline, and water.
Amplifying points he first made in an interview with The Jerusalem Post two weeks ago, Eiland recommends that Israel instead state that it has no interest or responsibility to assist a terrorist enclave that holds an Israeli soldier hostage, that rockets Israeli citizens, that is arming itself for war with Israel, and that is openly dedicated to Israel's destruction. Therefore, Israel should cut off all of these forms of assistance, while being willing to restore some of them in return for meeting basic immediate interests, such as the release of Schalit, a total end to rocket attacks, and a verifiable mechanism to end the flow of weaponry into Gaza from Egypt.
Eiland is absolutely right. When Ariel Sharon explained to the cabinet his plan to dismantle every settlement in Gaza and even to abandon the Philadelphi Corridor, a principal reason he gave for this extremely controversial, painful and risky act was that Israel would no longer be held responsible for Gaza. Yet Israel continued to act responsible, even as the Kassams rained down on Sderot, and even during last summer's war.
Even when the Palestinians attempted to shell the Israel power plant that was supplying them with electricity, and even after Palestinian snipers wounded an electric company worker trying to fix the power lines, the flow of electricity was only stopped for a few hours, and only then as an ad hoc protest by IEC workers.
The tactical question of whether services should be cut off immediately, whether an ultimatum should be issued first, and under what conditions these services should be restored is a valid subject of a debate. What should not be debatable is the principle that Israel will not assist a terrorist entity that is attacking our citizens with one hand and consuming our goods and services with the other.
The government claims it is doing everything to secure Schalit's release. That is not true. In theory, Israel could bomb Gaza until Schalit is released and other demands are met. This is what other countries, including democracies, would do without batting an eyelash under similar circumstances.
This week, for example, when President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan criticized an air strike which had, according to an investigation, killed 64 Taliban and 45 civilians, Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer responded, "Most of the civilian casualties have been caused by the Taliban: They target civilians, they murder civilians, they fight with the cowardly protection of the civilians, they encourage accidental civilian casualties for their propaganda purposes."
We are not suggesting that Israel take actions that could cause similar numbers of civilian casualties. But it is one thing for Israel to decide not to use "disproportionate" and lethal force in self-defense and quite another to rule out even the range of non-lethal measures that our available to defend our interests.
Egypt and Jordan are clearly concerned about Hamas having become the first Arab jihadist offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood, which they have ruthlessly suppressed, to obtain control over territory. This is why they joined in the recent summit with Israel and Mahmoud Abbas.
No one - including the Arab states and Europe, let alone the US - wants Hamas to succeed. So why is Israel sustaining Hamastan?