Bordering on Chaos

Efforts to secure the release of captured soldier Gilad Shalit evolved into an all-out campaign against the government of the Palestinian Authority.

Efforts to secure the release of captured soldier Gilad Shalit and to keep the Qassam rockets away from northern Negev communities have evolved over the past few days into an all-out campaign against the government of the Palestinian Authority.

To begin with, the political echelon ordered the arrest of a group of ministers and parliamentarians from among the Hamas leadership. Yesterday, the Israel Air Force carried out a strike on the office of Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh. And senior government spokespersons threatened that if Corporal Shalit is not released soon, additional steps can and will be taken against the Hamas leaders, who are deemed responsible for the incident at Kerem Shalom and its consequences.

Justice and Foreign Ministry officials have said that the members of Hamas' political wing were not nabbed in order to serve as bargaining chips in talks with Shalit's captors, but were arrested under suspicion of committing offenses under the Prevention of Terrorism Law. Nevertheless, the decision to arrest politicians who were elected in a vote that took place as a result of U.S. pressure and with Israel's full consent is not purely a legal matter, but rather a highly significant, strategic move.

Hamas' victory in the elections of the Palestinian Legislative Council boded ill for the future of relations between Israel and the Palestinians and for the security of civilians on both sides. However, getting rid of a central government in the territories brings with it a disaster that is sevenfold greater. In the eyes of the Palestinian public, an Israeli arrest warrant is viewed as a badge of honor for a politician. No Palestinian political leader with any sense would dare to rise to power on the turrets of Israeli tanks. Even if the Fatah bureaucrats, under the leadership of Mahmoud Abbas, decide to consider the option and are tempted to fill the vacuum - they are unlikely to remain in power for too long.

The official eradication of the Palestinian government will leave the government of Israel morally and legally responsible for the well-being of the civilians in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, too. If the government of Israel fails to understand on its own that chaos will lead to Somalization on the other side of the street, the international community will be forced to stop the rot. No wonder the neighboring states, Egypt and Jordan, are monitoring the crisis with increasing worry.

The political echelon, which is making every possible effort to secure the release of the soldier, does not have the right to be dragged into populist moves. The government must keep the State of Israel's overall political-security interests at the forefront of its concerns. Regardless of the current crisis, these interests do not in any way fall in line with quashing a neighboring government and leaving millions of civilians to the mercy of armed militias.

Media reports indicate that despite the far-reaching implications of the siege on the Hamas government, the decision to take action against the Hamas leaders was taken without a discussion in the government, and not even with the approval of the political-security cabinet. The ministers, and particularly those from the Labor Party, must demand from the prime minister and defense minister an immediate end to the attack on Hamas' political leaders, against whom there is no evidence to indicate that they are involved in planning or carrying out acts of terror.