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(photo credit: AP)
Just think of it. Mighty Israel is helpless in the face of a bunch of terrorist thugs spewing out deadly homemade, primitive rockets onto our citizens. If ever there was proof that we cannot solve our problems by the use of force alone, this is the ultimate witness to that fact.
We do, of course, have the capability to launch a massive incursion into Gaza, as our bellicose commander of the Southern front, Maj.-Gen. Yoav Galant, has been urging us to do. We may well, eventually, do his bidding.
Yet we have been down that road before, and each time we swore that this time we would smash the Kassam manufacturers and the gangs that fire them into Israel. Yet after each such attack, after the thousands of shells fired, and the hundreds of terrorists - and civilians - killed, after the death and the destruction, the Kassam workshops would spring up again, like poisonous plants after a spring rain, and our citizens in Sderot and in the Negev kibbutzim would yet once more be forced to suffer.
For seven long years we have endured the Kassam scourge. It began long before then-prime minister Ariel Sharon decided to evacuate our settlements in Gaza and to disengage. In those seven years our military has been repeatedly in action in Gaza, all to no avail. The daily barrage of Kassams on Sderot is ample evidence of that.
Yet obviously our government cannot remain passive in the face of the daily onslaught of rockets. Its solution - limited military action - has so far had the sole effect of strengthening Hamas in its fight with Fatah.
The killing of a few Hamas operatives will not deter the Hamas leadership, and even the resumption of targeted killings will not do that. Remember Sheikh Ahmad Yassin and all the other Hamas big shots we sent into the next world?
History has shown us that military might is not, on its own, an answer to the sort of situation that exists in Gaza. The French sent their mighty army into Algeria to quell the insurrection there, and were thrown out. The Americans sent their mighty army into Vietnam, and were thrown out. And even here, in what was then Palestine, the British heaved a great sigh of relief with their targeted killing of Avraham Stern after capturing him, only to be confronted by Yitzhak Shamir, who led Lehi, the so-called Stern Gang, into even more audacious attacks on them. Faced with the determination of the Jewish community, the mighty British army, like the French and the Americans in later years, was forced to leave.
SO WHAT are we supposed to do? Sit tight and do nothing while the Kassams continue to endanger the lives of our citizens in the South? I put this question a few days ago to William Morris, the president of the Next Century Foundation, a group based in London that has been discreetly involved in Middle Eastern conflict resolution, with an emphasis on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
The foundation has some very interesting members on both sides of the divide, including at least one former Likud minister. William Morris himself is an extraordinary man, a British political missionary completely devoted to converting our region to the religion of peace.
"What would you do about Gaza if you were in the shoes of our prime minister," I asked him.
"Heaven forbid," he replied, laughing.
Morris has been to Gaza many times. He has met with virtually the entire Hamas political leadership, and is one of the few foreigners who know them well enough to be able to engage in ideological arguments with them.
He fully justified a military response to the Kassam rockets, providing, he said, it was not just a reactive knee-jerk reply to Hamas initiative, but part of a strategy, of long-term thinking about what should be done with Hamas and with Gaza.
"Use a stick by all means," he said, "provided it is accompanied with carrots."
I told him that it is very difficult to feed carrots to a terrorist group that refuses to recognize you, refuses to talk to you, and is committed to an awful, racist charter based on hate.
"It is an awful Charter," he readily agreed, "but the IRA were pretty awful terrorists, too, but we engaged them in ultra-discreet private discussions and we now have had a decade of quiet in Ireland."
Despite the Hamas charter, there are some interesting ideas floating in Gaza that could bring change. Sami Abd e-Shafi, the nephew of the venerable Haidar Abd e-Shafi, one of the scions of the Gazan Palestinians, is pressing for a referendum on the recognition of Israel. Hamas stalwarts lean toward the idea of a two-state solution, which would implicitly entail recognition of Israel. The need for a return to the hudna (truce) with Israel, provided it includes the West Bank, is a widespread belief.
"These beliefs could be the basis for private discussions by intermediaries of the sort we had with the IRA," Morris suggested. "The last thing you want is for Gaza to deteriorate into a second Somalia, which would happen if you take out their infrastructure - water and electricity - which is what some of you have been advocating, or if you target political leaders. Somalia on your doorstep, a mere hour's drive from Tel Aviv, would be disastrous for Israel."
A long-term strategy must include a policy to improve the economy of Gaza, by setting up industry to create new jobs. It must entail an initiative to kick-start the moribund peace process, with the Palestinians, with the Syrians or with the Arab League, and it should include contacts with the Hamas, even if only by intermediaries.
"These are the carrots that you should dangle before their eyes," Morris declared. "And at the same time, by all means use your stick, and hit them with your military if they continue to fire Kassams."
Best of all, he concluded, ask NATO to send troops to Gaza. "That should do the trick to bring quiet to your citizens of Sderot."
Who knows, maybe we should have someone with that sort of thinking in our prime minister's shoes.