The brewing storm

We may be witnessing the establishment of a Palestinian state committed to the destruction of Israel.

gaza gunmen 224.88 (photo credit: AP)
gaza gunmen 224.88
(photo credit: AP)
On a cold and drizzly December morning the Israeli cabinet meets to approve a renewal of the cease-fire in Gaza, which has proven so successful. There have been no rocket, mortar or shooting attacks into Israel since the tahadiyeh was proclaimed by Hamas six months ago. The Erez, Karni, and Sufa border crossings, along with the Nahal Oz fuel depot, have efficiently funneled a cornucopia of supplies into the Strip from Israel, while the Rafah crossing for goods and people leaving the Strip for Egypt is functioning smoothly under the watchful eyes of Egyptian officials and Palestinian border guards loyal to Mahmoud Abbas's administration. Thanks to intensified Egyptian efforts, the flow of illicit weaponry into the Strip has been reduced to a trickle. EU officials have steadfastly rejected dealing with Hamas. The Islamist government has never been more unpopular because, despite the end of the "siege," it has proven incompetent in delivering basic services to the people. Polls indicate that in elections scheduled for January, a reformist-oriented Fatah ticket is expected to capture a majority in the Palestinian parliament. Meanwhile, Gilad Schalit's book, In Hamas Captivity, tops the best-seller lists. THIS SCENARIO is one way to envisage the evolution of the cease-fire with Hamas, which came into effect early Thursday. It is not, sadly, the way events are likely to play out. Stage one - the cease-fire - is now in effect. On Sunday, in stage two, Israel is expected to begin easing the economic blockade of Gaza by opening most of the crossing points. Stage three, the opening of Rafah, is supposedly tied to progress on the release of Gilad Schalit. Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni's pledge, however, that Rafah will not open until Schalit is released is hardly credible. Hamas has been explicit: There is no connection between the cease-fire and Schalit's freedom. It demands and will likely receive, judging by the government's lack of fortitude, hundreds of terrorists "with blood on their hands" in exchange for the IDF captive. This newspaper has argued that any trade for Schalit should be limited to enemy prisoners - such as the Hamas "parliamentarians" now in custody - taken after Schalit's capture. As for the cease-fire, it is true that Israel's dysfunctional cabinet had to choose from an unpalatable menu of choices. But it is far from clear, following the government's September 2007 designation of Gaza as a "hostile territory," that our politico-military echelon exhausted a long list of measures that could have been pursued, short of retaking the entire Strip in an Operation Defensive Shield-like campaign. These measures might have included ongoing large-scale military incursions (mostly abandoned in favor of episodic battalion or company level operations), and relentless pursuit of Hamas leaders so as to diminish their capacity to govern and hammer home the point that Jerusalem will not tolerate an Islamist regime between the Mediterranean and the Jordan. They could have been accompanied by an intensified embargo on fuel and electricity - presuming the government's willingness to stay the course in the face of unsympathetic media coverage. INSTEAD, we may be witnessing the establishment of a nascent Palestinian state uncompromisingly committed to the destruction of Israel. With Gaza in its grip, the Islamists will turn their full attention to the West Bank. Hamas can now more easily send its gunmen for specialized training abroad, while foreign "experts" will find it easier to infiltrate into the Strip. Even if the Egyptians, using newly arrived American tunnel-detection equipment and limited but better-trained forces, make a strenuous effort to intercept the flow of arms - and Cairo insists it is now genuinely committed to this goal - chances are that anti-aircraft and anti-armor missiles, long-range rockets and sophisticated explosives will find their way into the Strip. Finally, this cease-fire accelerates Hamas's ascendancy among Palestinians, and more broadly throughout the Arab world, even as the relative moderates associated with Mahmoud Abbas look ever-more impotent. Yet so long as it ostensibly adheres to the cease-fire, there will be those in the international community who will push for engaging Hamas "moderates." Israeli decision-makers have purchased temporary calm for the battered communities bordering Gaza. The fear, underlined by bitter experience, is that it comes at the cost of a devastating storm brewing over the horizon.