Sunday, December 21, 2008

Try Talking

My previous post on the renewed rocketing from Gaza was, I admit, entirely cynical. (Not that that makes it untrue.) I failed to point to any solution at all.

Well, there are really only three courses of action: one untenable in the long run, one unrealistic, and one, as yet, untried.

The untenable option is to live with the status quo. It is untenable because the Israeli electorate will not (and in truth should not) put up with it. No society can long live with daily rocket attacks. It will demand leaders who promise to end them. And if they don't it will switch leaders if it can - and in Israel it can. On the Palestinian side too the situation is untenable. The residents of Gaza live in sub-third world conditions. The Israeli blockade has impoverished virtually every one. Unemployment is the norm. Clean water, electricity, phone service are intermittent. No Palestinian leader could agree to the status quo and survive. That may be the real reason Hamas has begun rocket attacks again. They need to be seen to doing something.

The unrealistic option is to overthrow Hamas: either by having the Gazans themselves do it, or by direct military intervention. Everyone in the Israeli military establishment thinks that retaking Gaza would be expensive - both in terms of the number of Israeli soldiers killed and wounded, and in terms of the number of Gazans killed - mostly civilians. It would be vicious house to house fighting, that would make Lebanon-2 or Jenin look tame by comparison. And when Israel won - then what? We couldn't prevent Hamas and Islamic Jihad rocket attacks when we fully occupied Gaza pre 2005. So the terrible cost would merely result in a showing the world that we "did something," and not much else.

Likewise, hoping that the Gazans themselves will overthrow Hamas is also pretty unrealistic. First, it is not clear where public opinion in Gaza is on Hamas. On the one hand the people are sick of the siege. On the other, they are a proud people, and not likely to abandon Hamas - davka because that is just what Israel wants them to do. No one likes to surrender. Furthermore, even if a majority of Gazans wanted to get rid of Hamas, there is no obvious way they can do so. Gaza is not planning elections any time soon, and Hamas holds virtually all the guns.

The, as yet untried, option is to talk to Hamas: officially and directly. Hamas has said it is willing to negotiate a long term (25-50 years) cease fire. Lets see if they are serious. Would this strengthen Hamas and weaken Abbas - yes: but that is just acknowledging the facts as they already are. Its worth a try. Nothing else seems to be working.

For a more in-depth look at the pros and cons of talking to Hamas read Gideon Levy's article in Haaretz.

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