On both sides of the fence locking in the Gaza Strip, there is a war of desperation going on. Hamas is fighting against the insufferable siege that the Gaza Strip has been under for many months, and the Israel Defense Forces is mostly preoccupied with avenging Hamas' actions. Both sides are busy with displays of power and retaliation. It was sufficient to hear last week the commander of an IDF company, which lost three of its men, who called on his troops to kill as many terrorists as possible and to destroy the area from which the attacks came, to understand that the differences between the two opposing sides are increasingly becoming distorted.
The ethical differences are also being blurred. For example, if the B'tselem report is correct, and the IDF has resumed using flechette tank shells, then killing is being done without distinction, precisely as Hamas does. Both sides avoid any dialogue with the other, Israel conducts the scandalous international boycott of Hamas and anyone who tries to end this unbearable cycle, such as former U.S. president Jimmy Carter, is immediately and shamefully condemned by Israel.
The balance between the two sides is far from equal. All the scare tactics of the Israeli defense establishment - the statements that Hamas is growing stronger, is acquiring arms and equipment and the (exaggerated) descriptions that it is organizing along the lines of Hezbollah - do not alter the unequivocal fact that a war of attrition is taking place in the south between a regular army, with nearly every weapon possible in its arsenal, and a primitive organization, with few arms and a ridiculous order of battle. This must not be forgotten. The combined attack Saturday at Kerem Shalom, which was both sophisticated and daring, does not alter the fact that the the balance of power is far from even. This is expressed, in part, in the numbers of dead: The Palestinians managed to killed three soldiers in an ambush near the border fence? In response, Israel killed 20 Palestinians soon after, including a reporter and several youths. This is how gang warfare is fought.
This cycle of despair can never be broken by force. We will kill and be killed, and our security will suffer, and the chances for reaching a settlement will grow more distant than ever. The belief that the siege of the Gaza Strip will cause the support for Hamas to drop is crazy: Our experience has shown us that the opposite is true. Whenever the threat of increased terrorist attacks rose, Israeli public opinion moved to the right. Every attack only intensified our nationalism and hatred for Palestinians, so why should we believe that the siege and the killing will affect the other side differently? The thought that if we starve 1.5 million civilians, and we prevent them from having enough water, medical treatment and a livelihood, we shall influence their views in our favor, has already proved to be silly. Since the siege was put in place, there are no signs that Hamas has weakened.
However, world history is replete with examples in which moderation and compromise were the result of negotiations alone. When the sides talk to each other, they strip themselves of all the slogans of the past, the deep hatred and the extremism, and in their place emerges the willingness to compromise - even among the most extreme and violent freedom fighters or terrorists. In Ireland, and South Africa, but also here, extreme nationalist terrorists were transformed when they sat at the negotiating table. Menachem Begin, Yasser Arafat, Nelson Mandela or the IRA leadership - they did not resemble their past selves when they sat down to talk. The terrorists of yesterday all became the statesmen of tomorrow, once they came to power or became partners in negotiations.
It is a fair guess that most of us know that this will also be the case here. The question is when? Or, in other words, how many more cycles of bloodshed will we see? Hamas will not let up, the Palestinians will not disappear, they will only become more extremist if we continue to talk to them only in he language of force, as is done in gang warfare.
If the prime minister really wanted to secure quiet for the residents of the Negev; if he really wanted to achieve a significant breakthrough, Ehud Olmert would call Carter this morning and ask him about what Khaled Meshal told him. He would tell Carter that he is ready to meet with Meshal at any time, unconditionally, and in the meantime he would prepare for a mutual cease-fire in the West Bank and the Strip. Israel has nothing to fear except for the wish of gang members to avenge the loss of their comrades. One day it will happen, as it did with the PLO, and it will, in any case, be much too late.
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