Analysis: All quiet with Olmert, Peretz

The fighting eased off and it looks like peace talks will take place today.

peretz opposite olmert g (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
peretz opposite olmert g
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
After prolonged combat between the warring parties in which repeated salvoes were fired and heavy casualties were taken on both sides, conciliatory messages were exchanged yesterday. The fighting eased off and it looks like peace talks will take place today. That's the latest update on the Olmert-Peretz front, which flared up over the last week after the prime minister ordered his defense minister not to negotiate with Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas. By Wednesday it seemed to be settling down to a tense cease-fire; on Thursday, they plan to meet and iron out their differences. As for the six-year-old Kassam missile threat to Sderot and neighboring communities and the almost five-month-old limited IDF operation in the Gaza Strip, they're still going strong. So why should Wednesday's security cabinet meeting have been different than any previous one? Was there any reason to expect any policy conclusion other than the now-standard decision "to continue operational activity in the missile-launching areas?" Well, yes, there was. It may have been raining Kassams on Sderot for six years but there are plenty of signs that the long-suffering brave citizens of the development town are close to breaking. The two deaths in less than a week, the way so many of them were prepared to push and beg for a chance to get on one of Arkadi Gaydamak's buses to Eilat, the empty classrooms in schools and at Sapir College - these and many other ominous signals show they're near their limit. The only thing keeping most Sderot residents from leaving is a lack of funds. But if things go on for much longer, they'll simply begin marching north, leaving a ghost town behind. Sderot has taken more, and for much longer, than a country can expect of its citizens. The only thing surprising about the situation there is that it took so long for residents to descend to such a level of despair. At least someone has finally understood this: An unnamed Jihad fighter was quoted on Wednesday as saying that he and his friends would continue firing Kassams "until Sderot is evacuated of all its people." Those don't sound like empty words anymore. Back to the cabinet room in Jerusalem. No significant new plans were presented to the ministers by the IDF on Wednesday, but not because such plans don't exist in the General Staff files. Most of the working procedures between the prime minister's and defense minister's offices have broken down and no advance meeting was held to discuss the IDF's proposals. Nor is the relationship between Amir Peretz and IDF Chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. Dan Halutz good enough for a frank and creative exchange of ideas and possible solutions. Both of them are clinging to their seats and another failure down south will blow at least one of them away. This is no time to be rocking the boat. There are only two options for ending the Kassam threat. The first is reoccupying a wide swathe of the Gaza Strip, including large and dangerous built-up areas. This might eliminate the Palestinians' launch areas, but it would risk additional casualties on both sides and widespread international condemnation. The second option is surrendering to terror and giving the Palestinians widespread concessions in exchange for a promise to stop firing. Both options have their advocates but either one requires a leadership with political and military credibility. However, Israel's current leadership can only conclude that the Kassams have been falling for a long time with an "acceptable" level of casualties. Why take any unnecessary risks when everyone's gotten used to it? Everyone, that is, who doesn't live in Sderot.