Let's Make a Deal

Israel prefers the stance of the one who is granting the cease-fire, not the one who desperately needs it.

The Levy Itzhak price list for used cars is the appropriate means by which to gauge the cease-fire with Hamas, because experience shows there is no such thing as a "list price." Payment is always either above the "list price" or a "bargain" below it. The so-called list price is merely a measure of the extent of satisfaction or frustration: how much of a patsy, or what a commercial genius either the buyer or the seller was. The big losers, according to this price list, are those who need to trade in their car to buy or sell. In this arrangement, there is no direct deal between the buyer and the seller, which is carried out by means of an intermediary, who takes a cut.

The cease-fire cooked up in Egypt with Hamas and Israel constitutes such a trade-in. It solves nothing, but is the best arrangement on the market for the price Israel is willing to pay - or for the merchandise Israel is offering.

If the deal goes through, and assuming that both sides honor it, no peace treaty will be signed, and Arab leaders will not be attending Israel's 60th birthday celebrations. But Sderot and its surrounding communities will be off the public agenda, demands to reinforce homes and public buildings will dissipate and the claim that Olmert is doing nothing to protect the citizens of the South will be shelved.

This is a mainly political achievement for which Israel is paying a minimum price, much below the list price. Israel will have to refrain from targeting wanted persons, whose assassination has, in any case, not stopped the firing of the Qassams, and it will be required to agree to the opening of the Rafah crossing (the cost of Egyptian intercession), whose closure, in any case, did not stop the arming of Hamas.

Israel will be able to claim that the great pressure it brought to bear on the Gaza Strip forced Hamas to its knees to ask for the cease-fire. However, in so doing, Israel will have to concede that the cease-fire is also an achievement for Israel. It is indeed an achievement, because when the government cannot embark on a major military operation in Gaza, and when it cannot pay for the protection of its citizens by reinforcing their homes and public places, and when a comprehensive peace agreement seems in the meantime unrealistic, quiet in one region is an achievement. Still, it is best not to admit it, because Israel prefers the stance of the one who is granting the cease-fire, not the one who desperately needs it.

But after the immediate accounting of profit and loss, a new campaign will begin over the life span of the cease-fire, with the purpose of making it customary. It is best to recognize now that a long-term cease-fire cannot coexist peaceably with the policy of sanctions Israel imposes on Gaza. While the opening of the Rafah crossing will partially rob these sanctions of meaning, the issue of commercial relations between Israel and the Strip will remain unresolved. The provision of fuel and electricity, the option of receiving medical care in Israel, the regular passage of goods from Gaza to the West Bank through Israel, and from Israel to Gaza, cannot go on being held back as if nothing has happened.

Israel should understand by now that the pressure it exerts on Gaza's citizens will not cause them to rebel against the Hamas regime. But if, in contrast, it allows the economic infrastructure to revive, schools to operate and hospitals to rehabilitate themselves - although it will not have gotten rid of Hamas in the Gaza Strip - it will have been able to greatly put off the moment when Qassam fire resumes. It will not have prevented the arming of Hamas, but it will have reduced the motivation to use those arms.

Israel has chosen the tactical means of dealing with Hamas: Not to recognize it but to conduct indirect negotiations, to treat it like a terror group but to hold talks as if it were a government responsible for the conduct of groups smaller than itself. Israel will also have to decide how to relate to Hamas as an entity that possesses the right to a political veto. The fiction by which Israel will be able to sign a peace agreement with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and at the same time remain in a state of war with one-third of the Palestinian state cannot last. Neither can the illusion hold that progress in the peace process will harm the status of Hamas. The Palestinian people will then have to take a position, and Israel, with a wise policy, could prepare them for this. The cease-fire is a good start, on condition that we do not come to Gaza with a Levy Yitzhak price list.