Let Hamas lose

In the face of a clear and defined political horizon, Hamas could no longer claim that the use of force is the one and only option.

'If you don't know where you want to go, it doesn't matter what road you take," says the Cheshire cat to Alice, and our government, which lives in its own wonderland, has made an ideology out of this famous statement. The state leaders' reluctance to set a defined goal for the operation in Gaza is based on simple logic: As long as they present no such goal (Toppling Hamas rule? Future deterrence? Putting an end to Kassam fire?), no one can claim after the operation ends that the goal has not been reached. Therefore, every action taken - aerial attacks, a ground invasion, targeted killings - was greeted with public support as well as doubt, as no one knew whether these actions serve the goal. The objective of any military action must be determined in the context of long-term strategic interests. Israel aims to settle its relationship with the Palestinians by reaching an agreement that would guarantee its future as a Jewish and democratic state, the citizens of which enjoy complete security. Hamas objects to such an agreement and works to sabotage it, and so the goal must be to weaken Hamas as much as possible. Hurting Hamas can be done not only through killing, assassinating and destroying. Often, it is precisely these actions that can serve to strengthen the organization's status publicly and politically - both within the Palestinian population and in the regional sphere and the international arena. AT EACH and every moment throughout this operation, the government should have examined whether it could gain a political victory with the following principles: an absolute commitment to stop firing rockets and carrying out other violent attacks inside Israel, the establishment of a narrow security belt on the Palestinian side of the border with Gaza, an end to all smuggling from Egypt, a gradual opening of crossings, integrating PA President Mahmoud Abbas's security forces alongside an international observation mechanism to ensure implementation of all mutual commitments, continuous negotiations over a prisoner exchange deal that would include Gilad Schalit and resuming negotiations with the PLO over a final status agreement. Saturday's cease-fire failed to address all of these principles, but with our forces still on the ground, such a settlement must be examined now, before we delve deeper into the Gaza quagmire, deeper into our own blood and theirs. Even though most comparisons are drawn to the Second Lebanon War, further action may actually bring to mind the first war in Lebanon, and the way it trapped us for 18 long years. As long as it's quiet and we're "winning," there's no reason to get out; and as long as they're shooting and we're getting hurt, there's no way to get out. A POLITICAL victory now would not only close the chapter on the horrors of Operation Cast Lead and combat the increasing belligerence in our society; it would also produce a tangible chance that Hamas may fall. A strategic achievement, rather than a tactical victory, must include the presentation of an alternative to Hamas's ways, so that the Palestinian people can see they could benefit from abandoning their support for the terrorist organization and backing another option that guarantees them the liberty and independence they deserve. In the face of a clear and defined political horizon, Hamas could no longer claim that the use of force is the one and only option. Some within Hamas would support the suggested political move, others would reject it and others still would treat it with skepticism and caution. Hamas would be weakened and possibly divided, and the public would see an alternative that it would find much more appealing. Only then could Israel say it won Operation Cast Lead. A return from wonderland to the reality on the ground must include a strategy to pave the road from Gaza to Geneva. Israel should present a clear political plan that would prove it can triumph with Abbas at the negotiating table, and not only in demolishing the Jabalya refugee camp. Only then, will we let Hamas really lose and both peoples living here win. The writer is director-general of the joint Israeli-Palestinian Geneva Initiative, and former press secretary to prime minister Ehud Barak. www.geneva-accord.com