Monday, December 29, 2008

Here We Go Again

Tel Aviv
29 December 2008

Today we did not go to a Hadassah luncheon in Beersheva. And our tentative plans to head further south or up north with the friends visiting from the USA are going on a shelf. Too risky now that Hamas has missiles that can reach 30 to 40 kilometers into Israel and the Arab population is demonstrating against the attacks.

This morning a Hamas made-in-Iran missile hit a construction site in Ashkelon, killing one worker and wounding 12. The dead man is an Israeli Arab but Hamas doesn't care. The BBC/Sky News people are whining that since the casualty toll on the Gazan side is so much higher, Israel has to stop and the Gazans' attacks should be tolerated. Nonsense. 100 to 200 missiles and mortars launched indiscriminately at a civilian population (which is what has been going on since long before the so-called ceasefire ended) cannot be allowed to continue. I'm not noted for being a hawk or right winger but enough is enough. Yes, there are civilian casualties in Gaza because Hamas facilities are hopelessly interspersed with residences, schools and mosques. Resorting only to violence with no serious offer of benefits for good behavior won't solve anything. (Consider, for example, the 40 rockets launched at Israel from Gaza today.) I made this argument when Hamas first got elected, Israel shut down the borders in a futile attempt to topple the regime and violence from both sides escalated into the Second Lebanon War. (See blog posted July 15, 2006.). I'm about to make it again.

Hamas was elected to bring stability internally while prosecuting the war against Israel externally. Unlike most political parties it actually delivered on most of its promises by ending sectarian violence and continuing to attack Israel. If an election ever gets held again, Hamas will win again. Meanwhile, all those children being trained by the big Mickey Rat to want to grow up to wear bomb belts, will grow up and, given that they have no hope of doing anything else, will take over from their martyred elders and recommence firing  the missiles, mortars and dispatching suicide bombers. As the Mayor of Sderot said, if the current offensive buys us two years of quiet (and for him quiet is 3 to 6 kassams a week) it will be a success.

So why won't violence alone work for either side? Hamas is not capable of militarily defeating the Israelis. Their only hope is that terrorism will compel the Israelis to leave, just like the British left. Guess what? Won't happen. If anything, the continued violence has pushed Israel to the right and fomented a siege mentality that will last for years. For its part, Israel really can't pound Gaza into submission. Why? Because such an action can only be interpreted as genocide. Also, Israel can't retake and garrison the Gaza Strip. All that does is touch off the Third Intifada and give Hezbollah an excuse to start bombing Israel's northern cities. To say nothing of an Israeli population that will not tolerate the number of casualties that will be suffered by the IDF. As the IDF's Chief of Staff said, he knows how to go into Gaza but does not know how he'd get out again.

So, once Israel has destroyed what it can that will be the end of things for now. Both sides will return to the daily grind of attacks and retaliations, with each side claiming that the other started the violence. As for Israel's ongoing efforts to economically choke Gazans into abandoning Hamas, this has had and will have about as much success as the USA has had in eliminating the Castro regime in Cuba. Inevitably there will be another escalation, as happened this week, and we'll go through the cycle all over again. As has been the case for the past 40 years, resorting to violence will not solve the underlying problem. It will punish some but not all of the bad guys and a lot of civilians caught in the middle but violence won't bring any long lasting relief to what ails Israel, let alone the Palestinians.

Before suggesting an alternative, let's review the seemingly impenetrable barriers to any kind of long term ceasefire. First, Livni and Barak were about to be voted out of office. The hail of Hamas missiles came close to being the final nail in their political coffins. Then they struck back. Big time. The latest polls have Kadima running neck and neck with Likud and Labor is back from the brink of extinction. If they manage to restore some semblance of quiet in southern Israel, Livni and Barak might get to remain in the government while Olmert may be remembered as something more than an incompetent hack and crook. (He might even get some time off his jail terms.). Their hope is that deep down inside most people don't want Bibi to be the next Prime Minister but have, until this week, felt they had no other choice. So, Livni and Barak are in no hurry to bring a quick end to Operation Castlead.

Hamas, for its part, is religiously committed to destroying any semblance of a Jewish state, making Palestine Judenfrei or becoming martyrs in the process. Hamas steadfastly refuses to deal with Israel, even for what would seem to be practical matters such as getting enough food and fuel into Gaza. Israel, rightfully, won't deal with or recognize a regime whose very existence is predicated on Israel's destruction. But, let's be honest, Hamas gives Israel an excuse to not get too serious about a real peace deal because that would mean getting serious about helping to build an economy in Gaza or, even more critically, pulling settlers out of the West Bank. Hamas enables Israel to say they have no partner for peace by reminding the world, every day, that they refuse to be a partner for peace. Hamas also does what it can (which is a lot) to undermine the efforts of any other Palestinian faction to make peace. As for enforcing a cease fire, Hamas was serious when they said that they would not be Israel's policeman.

It has been said around here that the last ceasefire fell apart (or never actually took effect, depending upon your point of view) because there never was a meeting of the minds as to its terms. Since nothing was put in writing and signed, everyone concerned was free to announce and follow their own version of the terms. And, as there was no agreed upon enforcement mechanism, the only recourse was to resume the violence. Hamas can claim that Israel violated the cease fire by not allowing enough trucks into Gaza or by not extending the cease fire to the West Bank. Israel, for its part, can simply point to the fact that the missile fire never completely stopped and that Hamas was still trying to tunnel its way into Israel. So, for any future deal to last, both sides are going to have to agree to specific terms, put them in writing, sign them (I would insist that both Haniyah in Gaza and Meschal in Damascus sign on behalf of Hamas) and come up with some way of enforcing the deal.

It is an understatement to say that its not easy to strike a deal between parties who will not recognize, negotiate or take action on behalf of one another. As for the latter, remember, in any negotiation, at some point each negotiator has to go back to his or her own people and convince them that the other side is right about some things and the people who hired or elected the negotiator have to make concessions. Can you name anyone from Likud, Kadima or Labor who is going to tell Israelis that Hamas may be right about something? And vice versa. So if any future deal is to have a future, Egypt, Turkey. the US under an Obama Administration, someone, has got to write down the deal, make the parties sign it and figure out how to enforce it. Good luck.

I actually think that Hamas is going to blink first. Its refusal to bend makes for great sermons in the Mosque but doesn't help Joe Gazan get a job or send his kids to school or keep Hamas' leadership alive. At some point Hamas will revert to form and seek a ceasefire to give it time to reorganize and reload. But the typical Hamas ceasefire is only to buy time. Not to live in peace. So, the question is how do you get to an indeterminately long ceasefire? Behavior modification. Make compliance really worthwhile while violations are punished without resort to renewed violence.

Israel should agree that in return for one week of no hostile acts (defined, in writing, as no missiles, mortars, human attacks in any form and no importation of weapons, known terrorists or people to train terrorists), the border crossings will be opened to up to 100 trucks a day. (Israel allowed up to 90 trucks as day during the last cease fire and Hamas objected that this was less than what was promised.) In addition to the trucks, unlimited crossings should be allowed for people in need of medical care and individuals with work permits (which permits will not be unreasonably denied). For every additional week of no hostile acts Hamas gets an additional 100 trucks until the Hamas number of 900 a day is reached. After that the truck limit is a combination of whatever the crossings can handle and how much is being shipped into and out of Gaza..

If 6 months go by with no hostile acts, Israel will allow Hamas to reopen the port in Gaza. Israel keeps the right to inspect ships coming and going for arms, wanted terrorists and the like but generally allows commerce to move along. After one year Israel opens an unrestricted means of egress between Gaza and the West Bank. At this point the cease fire is extended to the West Bank for both sides to obey. Also, private parties may establish joint business ventures, reopening the industrial zones along the border that have been shut down since the Second Intifada began. After two years, Gaza gets its international airport reopened. No plane can fly over Israeli airspace and every plane has to go straight west for 200 to 300 kilometers before making a turn.

Any violation by any Palestinian closes all of this down and the one week time clock starts ticking again. Any violation by Israel results in an appropriate economic sanction. In other words, no one gets to just start shooting again but there is a definite penalty for violating the ceasefire. Honoring the ceasefire would get Gazans some concrete rewards and make it worth their while to maintain the calm. Since the stick alone does not work, it's time to try adding a real carrot.

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