Rattling The Cage: For a cease-fire with Hamas

If it breaks, the blockade can be immediately reinstated - as can the IDF's bombings.

larry derfner 88 (photo credit: )
larry derfner 88
(photo credit: )
There are reasons for Israel not to want a cease-fire with Hamas and Islamic Jihad. For one, the terrorist groups will take it as a victory; it will be a great morale booster for them. For another, it will undercut Mahmoud Abbas and the Palestinian moderates; the message they'll take from it is that their way, the way of negotiation, didn't work, while the Hamas/Islamic Jihad way, the way of terror, worked. And this conclusion will be drawn not only by Palestinians, but by much of the Muslim world, including Iran. Not good. Nevertheless, I am in favor of Israel accepting a cease-fire with Hamas. How the Palestinians and other Muslims interpret such a cease-fire would be one thing; the true import of it would be something very different - which the Palestinians and other Muslims would see soon enough. If a cease-fire worked, it would bring peace and quiet on both sides of the Israel-Gaza border, while the downside for Israel wouldn't be any steeper than it's already been for several years. By agreeing to a cease-fire we don't have anything to lose, and a lot to gain. If Hamas offers, we should accept. I KNOW some of you have questions. Such as: What if it doesn't work? What if Hamas keeps firing Kassams? Or what if Hamas upholds the cease-fire but Islamic Jihad doesn't? The answer is: Then the cease-fire is over and Israel goes back to war in Gaza like we've been doing for the last seven years. Nothing gained, but nothing lost, either. I know, right-wing skeptics are thinking: "Sure, that's what you say now, but when push comes to shove, when the terrorists break the cease-fire like they've always done, Olmert and the rest of the appeasers in the government don't do anything, they just let the terrorists shoot at us with impunity." I don't know how to convince Israelis that the Olmert government, like the Sharon government before it, is not letting Hamas and Islamic Jihad fire rockets at Sderot and ambush Israeli soldiers and security guards with impunity. Since the IDF got out of Gaza 21⁄2 years ago, we've killed about 1,000 Palestinians in Gaza. We kill them every day. Israelis just don't know it. They read it, they see it on the news, and it does not register in their minds. They still think the Olmert government "isn't doing a thing" in response to terror, it's just "sitting on its hands." ENOUGH ALREADY. The IDF, under the government's orders, is hitting the Palestinians hundreds of times worse than they're hitting Israel - and that's what will go on happening if Hamas or Islamic Jihad break a cease-fire that we agree to. So what's to lose? Yes, we would lose the peace negotiations with Abbas. We would lose the chance of reaching an agreement with a moderate Palestinian leadership, because Abbas and Fatah would be finished. But I don't think I need to persuade anyone that those negotiations have utterly no potential or value except to placate the Bush administration. What's more, Abbas and Fatah are already finished, and have been since Yasser Arafat died 3 1⁄2 years ago. Remember that Hamas won the 2006 Palestinian elections not only in Gaza but in the West Bank, too. The only thing holding Abbas up is the IDF; if the IDF were to leave the West Bank, Hamas, with massive popular support, would run Fatah out of power in no time. So if Abbas and the "moderates" were undermined by an Israeli cease-fire with Hamas and Islamic Jihad, nothing would change; they've been fatally undermined in the eyes of Palestinians for years. Likewise, the argument that a cease-fire would allow Hamas to smuggle in arms from Egypt and build up its arsenal wouldn't be anything new; they've been doing it all along even while we bomb the daylights out of Gaza. YES, HAMAS leader Khaled Mashaal said openly that a cease-fire was just a temporary "tactic" in the war against Israel; no doubt he believes that at some point in the future, Hamas will be strong enough to break the cease-fire and come at Israel with more strength. But again, how Palestinians interpret an Israeli agreement to a cease-fire and what such an agreement would actually mean are two different things. There are many Israelis who are convinced that since the government has not stopped the Palestinians from pounding Sderot, it will not stop them from doing the same to Ashkelon, then Ashdod, then anywhere else their rockets can reach. It's just a matter of time and technology, they believe. But I know instinctively that this is not so. If the Palestinians try to drive Israelis out of Ashkelon like they have in Sderot, the government will do whatever is necessary to prevent it - even if it means occupying Gaza indefinitely like we're doing in the West Bank, which might very well be necessary. For seven years, we have essentially sacrificed Sderot and the nearby kibbutzim and moshavim because the price of protecting them - a open-ended, West Bank-style occupation of Gaza - is too high. But while the pounding of Sderot and its environs is a plague on 25,000 people, the longer-range pounding of Ashkelon and its environs would be a plague on 250,000 people, on Israel's southern Mediterranean coast, and that is a different order of problem. That is a strategic attack that Israel cannot tolerate, no matter what the price - a call-up of the reserves, the deaths of hundreds of soldiers, a return to the pre-Oslo occupation of Gaza and its refugee camps. That is what will happen if Hamas one day decides to come at Israel with everything it's got. Hizbullah learned such a lesson in its war with Israel two summers ago; it's not a matter of luck that the North has been quiet ever since. It seems that what Hamas wants in return for a cease-fire is a lifting of the Israeli blockade and the opening of the Rafah border crossing with Egypt. I'm asking: Why not try? If there is no more violence coming out of Gaza at Israel, what reason does Israel have to stop goods going into Gaza? What reason does it have to stop Gazans traveling to Egypt and anywhere else they want? If Hosni Mubarak agrees to that, and it seems he would, why shouldn't Israel? Again, if Hamas or Islamic Jihad or anybody else in Gaza breaks the cease-fire, the blockade can be immediately reinstated, not to mention the IDF's bombings. Those in opposition say such an Israeli pact with Hamas would teach the Palestinians that terror pays. But if Hamas agreed to a cease-fire with Israel and then violated it, the Palestinians would learn that terror didn't pay. On the other hand, if Hamas agreed to a cease-fire and kept to it, and the Palestinians no longer had helicopters and tanks shooting at them, and they could come and go to Egypt and from there to the rest of Middle East, and they didn't live on or over the edge of destitution all the time, they would not learn that terror pays - they would learn that stopping terror pays. So why the hell not try it? A lot of Israelis are against a cease-fire because they're sure it would come back to haunt us. But if it worked - if the Kassams stopped falling on Sderot for a few weeks, for a few months, if the town came back to life, if the people there had a rebirth of hope - who in this country would have the nerve to say, "No, this is a terrible mistake. We have to find a way to end this cease-fire. We have to start bombing the terrorists again. All you people of Sderot - sorry, but it's time to go back to your bomb shelters." Nobody, obviously, would have the nerve to say that, but that is the attitude implied by being opposed to a cease-fire with Hamas - being opposed to the taking of a chance to bring security back to Sderot. I don't know whether a cease-fire would hold or not, and neither does anyone else. What we do know, however, is that after years of us bombing Gaza and killing Palestinians, the Kassams are still flying, Hamas has risen to power and the "moderates" are nowhere. This policy is not working. This policy has failed. A cease-fire with Hamas may bring us more security or it may not, but I don't see how it can bring us any less security than what we've got with the status quo.