White flag, black flag
How many Palestinians and Israelis must die in the current conflict? As long as Israelis expect Palestinians to raise white flags − a black flag will fly over their own head.
Exactly one week ago I asked in this column how many Palestinians and Israelis must die before both sides hold their fire and tahadiyeh II is signed. The answer came, ostensibly, on Saturday, a few hours before the Israel Defense Forces stormed the Gaza Strip. Hamas politburo chief Khaled Meshal announced on the Iz al-Din al-Qassam Web site that he was prepared not only for a "cessation of aggression" - he proposed going back to the arrangement at the Rafah crrossing as of 2005, before Hamas won the elections and later took over the region. That arrangement was for the crossing to be managed jointly by Egypt, the European Union, the Palestinian Authority presidency and Hamas.
It seems Prime Minister Ehud Olmert did not hear such news, or did not want to hear. Once again he "looked the mothers in the eye" and pledged that he had sent their children to the battlefield only after the government had tried everything else to achieve quiet for the children of Sderot. In the best case, Olmert did not tell the whole truth. The huge force was sent to Gaza not only, and not even mainly, to hit Hamas' military infrastructure. The main goal the government gave to the IDF was to dismantle the civil infrastructure of the only organization challenging the rule of Mahmoud Abbas. It is not for nothing that Ehud Barak defined the campaign as "all-out war."
A mortal blow against Hamas and bringing it to its knees would have been imperatives if they had led to a diplomatic agreement with the secular-pragmatic faction in the territories. However, even if Meshal signs the Oslo Accords and returns control of Gaza's Muqata to Abbas, the political reality will not change. The Israeli government - like all its predecessors and, it is to be assumed, its successors - will not give up Ariel and Givat Ze'ev, not to mention the Old City of Jerusalem. And of course, not one elderly refugee will be allowed to visit his or her homeland.
It is not by coincidence that Barak, who at one time had pretenses of carrying on Yitzhak Rabin's peace legacy, does not say that Operation Cast Lead is intended to pour content into the peace process. At a meeting a few months ago in his office with a group of experts on Middle East affairs, Barak said he greatly doubted the paradigm of a two-state solution. The reality in the territories ever since the genius invention of the "Palestinian Authority" is very convenient for him. Dr. Menachem Klein, a founder of the Geneva Initiative, used to bitterly call it an "Israeli protectorate." The task will be completed after Barak does to Hamas rule in Gaza what one of his predecessors as defense minister, Benjamin Ben-Eliezer, did to Fatah rule in the West Bank in Operation Defensive Shield in April 2002.
A "new security reality" is no more than sophisticated linguistic camouflage for the old colonialist reality. The destruction and hatred Israel is sowing in the territories is turning it into the Somali reality - a magnet for extreme militias like Al-Qaida and neighborhood bullies. It is very doubtful whether Fatah will fall into the transparent trap and agree to return to the government offices in Gaza over the dead bodies of women and children and amid the stories of their heroic Palestinian brethren. After the war against Hezbollah, it could be expected that the Israelis, who are so fond of "deterrence," would understand that in wars like this, a guerrilla force considers a 1-to-10 kill ratio in favor of the enemy a glorious victory. And after the accounting in blood will come the accounting in money; sooner or later the Europeans and nongovernment organizations will tire of rehabilitating the chaos that Israel dictates in the territories.
The question that must be asked, therefore, is how many Palestinians and Israelis must die before the Israeli public wakes up from its new-old illusion that tanks and planes can perpetuate the occupation. The answer: As long as Israelis expect Palestinians to raise white flags, a black flag will fly over their own head.