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The armed Palestinian organizations in the Gaza Strip are demonstrating once again what has become a norm among the Palestinians - that the agreements to which their leaders commit have no value. It's enough just to listen to Palestinian citizens complaining about how the cease-fire agreements there have no meaning. Agreements are made and signed, and immediately violated.

In this latest round of violence, the warring parties have already decided on a cease-fire five times. Each time, within hours, they were back to killing each other and injuring bystanders in the process. If this is how they behave among themselves, why should they be any more scrupulous in abiding by agreements with outside elements such as Israel, Jordan, Lebanon or Egypt? This is an important lesson that Israel must learn from the recent events in Gaza.

The phenomenon did not originate in Gaza. During the civil war in Lebanon in the 1970s and '80s, the Palestinians agreed to and signed more than 90 cease-fires. Most were violated with terrible bloodshed. The desire to be rid of the Palestinians was the reason that many Shi'ites welcomed the IDF forces that entered Lebanon. The goal of stopping Palestinian unruliness was also one of the reasons behind Hafez Assad's invasion of Lebanon. In Jordan, the Palestinians continued to violate the agreements they reached with King Hussein until he sensed that the government was slipping from his hands. There, too, they caused a civil war in which they were beaten by the Jordanian army. The peak occurred not long ago, when the Palestinians crudely violated the Mecca agreement for the establishment of a Palestinian unity government even before the ink was dry.

It is obvious, therefore, that the Palestinians do not want to, or are not capable of, keeping agreements. They'll always find an excuse or a pretext, even if it ends up hurting them. Some say this happens because the Palestinians have no national entity. But Yasser Arafat had such an entity and controlled a majority of his organizations, and he continuously violated agreements.

Israel has no choice but to continue to seek agreements with the Palestinians, but it also must insist on maintaining broader margins of security. For example, by making every effort in the current situation to isolate the territories of the West Bank from the Gaza Strip and to prevent Hamas from gaining the upper hand in the West Bank. For this reason, most of the security-related sections (the acid tests) in the proposal by the American general Keith Dayton must be rejected.

Another lesson from what is going on in Gaza relates to Egypt. Something strange is happening there. Granted, the Egyptians have improved their efforts to take action against the terrorists in Sinai, but if you compare the Egyptian activity against arms smugglers with the Jordanians' efforts, the Egyptians receive a low mark. Also quite serious is the way the Egyptians are turning a blind eye to Hamas' smuggling of large amounts of money, mostly from Iran, into the Gaza Strip. All they require is that those transferring the money declare the amounts. These funds are not designated for the civilian population in the Gaza Strip but for the establishment of a Hamas army. The sense in Israel is that Egypt is playing a two-faced game in the war on terror.

Meanwhile, the war of attrition between Israel and Hamas is continuing, and it's reasonable to assume that it will expand to other Israeli communities that will come within rocket range. For now, Hamas is notching an achievement versus the citizens of Sderot who are abandoning their city, and against Israel as a whole. The blows Israel inflicts will not be that major, but it's important that they don't let up. A temporary incursion by the IDF deep into certain parts of the Gaza Strip is also a possibility.

Hamas and the other Palestinian organizations, which seek mainly to strike civilian targets in Israel, are now complaining about Palestinian civilians being harmed. Israel mustn't punish Palestinian civilians for the attacks on its communities, but it must return fire immediately to the sources of fire, even if civilians nearby are hurt. This is the most basic and natural right to defense. The fact that Russia was the first one to criticize Israel on this is utterly ridiculous. Israel should be careful not to do in the Gaza Strip what the Russians did with such horrible brutality in Chechnya. The Norwegians, Israel's erstwhile friends, are ignoring what is happening in Sderot. While the Qassams were being launched, they announced a transfer of donations to the Palestinian Authority; money that will surely find its way to Hamas. To the launchers of the Qassams, in other words. With friends like these, you don't need enemies.