A physician from Gaza bumped into an Israeli acquaintance recently. "What's up?" asked the Israeli.
"Congratulations are in order," the Palestinian responded. "We have a statistically significant rise in the number of births in the past year."
The reason, explained the doctor, was the increasing social and economic hardships. Hundreds of thousands without work - unemployment in Gaza nears 40 percent - stay at home and are totally indifferent to birth control. The result, just like in the intifada in the late 1980s, is a rise in the number of newborn Palestinian - more mouths to feed, candidates for desperation and violence.
Yesterday, on the other side of this equation, in Israel, a similar sentiment seeped from the public to the defense establishment: There is no way out. The professional ranks continued to churn out ad hoc plans, usually not too original, but all told, these plans indicate no coherent policy.
The plans, which have been discussed with the defense minister and prime minister, can be divided into two main categories - combative action and operations aimed at the public morale.
The first category includes IDF operations in Palestinian cities and refugee camps to prevent suicide bombers from launching their attacks. The second includes the capture and deportation of prominent Palestinian leaders (mainly from the West Bank to Gaza, not abroad).
The two categories differ in their impact on terror attacks. Operations that fall under the first category can, for a while, limit the ability of suicide bombers to reach targets in Israel. The capture of leaders, at the risk of them being killed in the process and their deaths generating further terror attacks, could send a momentary shockwave among their supporters, but will not stop suicide bombers from going on their deadly missions in Israel.
The Shin Bet security service is, therefore, in a bind. It is desperately seeking creative ways to strike at Palestinian symbols; but at the same time, it views a separation fence and - until it is built - fighting inside Palestinian towns as the best solutions to stop terrorists.
Although the IDF agrees with the logic underlying the concept of the fence, it has a problem with the size of the force that it requires.
This week's three serious terror attacks - two in Jerusalem and one in Itamar in the West Bank - highlight the shortage in soldiers. A 50-kilometer fence is supposed to protect the area of Jerusalem. In parts, the fence is to cut right through the city in order to leave the Arab parts outside. Settlements like Itamar will stay far outside the fence. The IDF has not yet estimated the size of the force that will be required to maintain the so-called "Fuad Line", but it will certainly take many battalions of conscript and reserve forces to secure the settlements and the roads connecting them. This is a sure-fire recipe for a slow, but certain destruction of the IDF.
In this difficult crisis, Israel nurtures one hope that may be realistic, but might take a long time to materialize - the hope that major international agencies and Palestinian factions will dissociate themselves from Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat's policy of mutual bleeding.
The European Union, which financed the advertisement of the Palestinian intellectuals against "military operations" (not, God forbid, terror attacks) in Israel is now convinced that the corruption of the PA justifies taking away contributions and giving them instead to non-governmental organizations. These are the first signs of an emerging trend.
Concurrently, the defense establishment is considering allowing more Palestinians to work in Israel. At present, 3,000 Palestinians work in Israel, and another 6,000 work in Israeli industrial plants in Gaza (Erez and Katif).
In the midst of all the bad news, 145 Israelis received word from none other than the U.S. State Department. They have won the jackpot - green cards, the track to be naturalized as U.S. citizens. Some 6.2 million men and women from more than 100 countries all around the world tried their luck in the lottery for 50,000 visas.
The results were published yesterday. Thousands from Nigeria, Ghana, Ethiopia, Albania, Bulgaria, 62 from Syria and a similar number from Lebanon all won the treasured cards. The PA, which is not a state, stayed out. Now, 145 Israelis searching for the American dream will get the peace and quiet they have yearned for.
While there still is no telling what junkie or zealot they might encounter in America, at least they will no longer have to worry when they get on a bus and can stop having nightmares that an armed Palestinian will shoot them in their beds.
Flying west, they will cross the path of President Bush's envoys, George Tenet, the CIA chief who recently failed his Israeli colleagues when he insisted that "the occupation" is the root of all evil, and Colin Powell, who was appointed in order to force the State Department to adopt Bush's policy, but was lured in instead.
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