Once again, everything is so simple. In the battle zone in the South, as in the arena of the Second Lebanon War, as on the soccer field, numbers are the thing: The numbers of Hamas and Islamic Jihad casualties are counted up and compared to the number of Qassams fired at Sderot and the Katyushas landing on Ashkelon. The ratio of enemy losses to Israel Defense Forces losses is totted up. The degree of anxiety felt by our civilian population is measured against the suffering of the Gazans. The number of denunciations launched at Hamas by the international community is added up and the protests lodged against Israel is subtracted from the total. The final sum points to an Israeli victory, of course. The enemy has "learned its lesson." The generals love to say that we have set a "price tag" for the enemy. Until the next time.
Once again, we retreat into the inner logic of "our" conflict, as if Israel and Hamas were the only actors on the regional stage. As if the situation in the Palestinian territories had no connection to the reality across the road and as if that reality has no affect on our situation. Why should shelling Palestinian civilians in the heart of dense residential neighborhoods, as recommended by Vice Premier Haim Ramon (who was once shocked by such an idea) cripple the peace talks with Palestinian leaders? And why should the images of the shattered bodies of children broadcast from the Strip by Arab television stations disturb the efforts being made to stop Islamic extremists from taking control of the countries bordering Israel? What connection is there between the price list of the war in the southwestern Negev in the beginning of March and the Arab League summit in Damascus at month's end?
Until recently, the link between all of these events was indeed the province of a small minority on the margins of the remnants of the left. As long as Israel's governments maintained the "no partner for peace talks" approach, the only items on the Israeli-Palestinian price list were violence and occupation. But since the prime minister's announcement that a two-state solution is an existential necessity for Israel, or in his words, that without it "Israel is finished," then the price list has become more complex.
Israel can come out ahead on the casualty and suffering index and pay for it on the military, moral, demographic and foreign relations indices. Hamas, on the other hand, can turn the funeral processions in Gaza into victory parades over what is left of the Palestinian partners to a two-state solution.
The 2002 West Bank campaign Operation Defensive Shield is considered a success story that some believe should be recreated in the Gaza Strip. But in a new book, "Omdim legoralam: Hatoda'a haleumit hapalestinit, 1967-2007," [Facing their fate: Palestinian national consciousness, 1967-2007], Middle Eastern affairs expert Dr. Matti Steinberg notes the heavy price this operation extracted and continues to extract from Israel. Steinberg, a former adviser to the head of the Shin Bet security service, writes that Hamas and Islamic Jihad identified the "vacuum of governance" that the operation created in the Palestinian Authority. Hamas seeks to reproduce its June takeover of the Gaza Strip last year in the West Bank.
For Hamas, whether the confrontation in the South ends with a cease-fire agreement or whether the bloodshed continues, its path to the Muqata, the PA government headquarters in Ramallah, is paved. The path Israel will pay, in addition to the Muslim Brotherhood state that already exists in the Strip and which is eating away at relations with Egypt, is a Hamastan on the West Bank that jeopardizes the stability of Jordan.
The reciprocal effects of the Iranian crisis, the Iraqi crisis and the Islamic terror crisis (world Jihad) could trickle down into the Palestinian crisis and escalate it exponentially. Palestinian suffering will not deter peoples that have sacrificed hundreds of thousands of individuals in one of the bloodiest wars in the last century.
The Arab peace initiative, launched six years ago at the Arab League summit in Beirut and ratified in Riyadh last March, was aimed at isolating radical elements in the Arab and Muslim world. These same elements seek to exploit the escalation in Gaza in order to bury Israel's offer of normalized relations in exchange for withdrawal from the territories. It would appear, however, that the leaders of Egypt and Jordan, when asked to report on the progress in the negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians, say that all of the outposts are still in place and that one rabbi, who heads a medium-sized party, has removed Jerusalem from the talks. Instead of focusing on Iranian and Syrian efforts to take control of Lebanon, the summit will deal with the burning issued of the occupied territories. Israel, not Hamas, will be forced to pay the bill.
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