Palestinians angry 298.8.
(photo credit: AP)
The Kassams have to be stopped. That is a basic given. No country can allow its citizens to be indiscriminately rocketed and do nothing about it. This is a view shared as much by the Yossi Beilins of this country as by their counterparts on the other side of the political spectrum. The question is how should they be stopped.
For years we have believed that if the use of force did not succeed, then more force should be used, and if that did not work, then more force should be applied. That is evidently the reasoning of senior IDF officers who are up in arms against talk of a possible cease-fire with the Palestinians. "A cease-fire with the Palestinians in Gaza will be a colossal disaster," they told Ben Caspit of Ma'ariv recently. "What we need is a large-scale military operation, now."
There are, certainly, times when the use of force is needed, to thwart terrorist activity. Yet surely our military should have learned by now that we can destroy as many houses as we want, uproot as many orange groves as our hearts desire, and kill as many men women and children as have the misfortune of getting in the way of our army, and all that will not give us one iota of more security, but rather will only increase the Palestinians' hatred and determination to go on fighting, because they have nothing to lose.
We have undertaken large-scale military operations, time and again. The last one, in Beit Hanun, ended badly, to say the least. Our soldiers had hardly left the town after wreaking terrible destruction when the Kassams came crashing in again, more than ever before. That particular large-scale operation brought no results; nor, in fact, did we succeed in stopping the Kassams when our army was still stationed inside the Gaza enclave before our unilateral withdrawal.
A possible solution could be to occupy the whole of the Gaza Strip and tear the place apart to stop the Kassams, even if it means the destruction of whole towns and villages and massive casualties. "Would you agree to such a policy?" a television reporter asked the firebrand ace of the extreme right, Dr. Arye Eldad. "Certainly not," he replied vehemently. "We don't do that sort of thing."
So, if not that, then what should be done? Would a cease-fire with the Palestinians be such a "colossal disaster," as our army hawks would have us believe? Can it be achieved? Yes, it can, and it can be done even without crossing that heaven-help-us line of talking directly with Hamas. We are, after all, experts at make-believe. Yitzhak Shamir went to the Madrid conference knowing full well that the Palestinians who were part of the Jordanian delegation were under the instruction of the PLO, and Menachem Begin agreed to a cease-fire on our northern border in 1980 with the PLO, under the aegis of the US president's personal emissary, Phillip Habib. Both Shamir and Begin would have held up their hands in horror if anyone had accused them of dealing with the PLO.
There is a very good chance of reaching a hudna - a long-term cease-fire - with Hamas if we, on our side, agree to withdraw from the occupied Palestinian cities, stop incursions into Palestinian territory and, in effect, allow Hamas to govern. They, on their side, will stop all violence against us, and will, of course, return our soldier. As for their recognition of Israel, to hell with that. We will not be talking with them, we are not making peace with them, and we do not need their recognition. What we will be doing is agreeing to a long-term interim arrangement of stopping all violence on both sides, and that time can then be used to build confidence on the ground as a prerequisite for a two-state solution, which is something we need as much as they do.
I would have preferred to go straight to a full peace agreement on the lines that president Clinton had proposed and we had accepted. But the reality on the ground on the Palestinian side makes that, for the time being, impossible. An interim long-term cease-fire is a second-best, and can be achieved, and will give both sides the time and the opportunity to work for something more permanent.
That, in any event, is preferable to the present situation, characterized by more Kassams from the one side, and no political initiatives on our side. More military incursions into Beit Hanun and beyond are, at best, palliatives that will not produce any real cure; they are no alternative to a political agenda, and without any political initiative by our prime minister, others will step in, both homemade and foreign. Europe has already come up with peace plans, and it is only a question of time before we see new winds blowing from the United States.
We are quick off the mark at saying "no" - no to an international conference; no, heaven forbid, to international troops in Gaza; no to the Saudi peace plan, no to dealing with Chairman Abbas in a meaningful way. Let us try the word "yes" for a change, and start with a yes to a cease-fire, yes to a political agenda that might possibly get us out of the present dangerous stagnation in which the only solution appears to be "a large-scale military operation, now."
The writer is a former director-general of the Foreign Ministry.