The All-force Approach Won't Help

This country does not need to listen to strategic proposals emanating from the marketplaces about wiping out Khan Yunis. This is the moment when the right thing to do is to attempt a cease-fire.

Qassam rockets raining down on Sderot in the midst of the disengagement process is an outrage. And the killing perpetrated by both sides in Gaza is yet more madness in the ongoing, savage encounter between peoples that has caused rivers of blood. It is possible to destroy, to threaten, to bury and be buried, to install devices that can spot Qassam rockets 20 seconds before they land, to spout denunciations left and right, including this nonsense of accusing the United Nations Relief and Works Agency. It is possible to go crazy. And it is possible to try a different way. The army will not be victorious there. Nor will Hamas or Islamic Jihad. As in the whole conflict, major force alone won't be of much use.

Only an agreement will make the difference. It is necessary because, in Gaza, self-respect and national pride, motivators that have always inspired millions to march to death in battle, are colliding. The initiative for a cease-fire agreement can only come from Israel. Why must we be the ones to volunteer again? Because we are the side that is less desperate, supposedly more enlightened and, above all - stronger. Israel hasn't always shown itself to possess more sophisticated thinking than its neighbors. But the humiliation of a hail of Qassam rockets falling in its territory ought to push it toward the understanding that the children of Sderot should not be the ones to pay the price for lost military honor.

This country does not need to listen to strategic proposals emanating from the marketplaces about wiping out Khan Yunis. This is the moment when the right thing to do is to attempt a cease-fire. Israel knows how. So does the other side. Cease-fires have been used in critical moments of distress between Israelis and Arabs since 1948. And in a majority of cases, they were observed. There is nothing to be ashamed of in such an initiative. After preliminary contacts, Israel will loudly announce its intention not to bomb, not to assassinate and not to demolish (though not to withdraw its forces meanwhile) for two or three weeks. During this time, the readiness of Hamas and Islamic Jihad to remain quiet will be tested in the simplest way, as will the ability of the Muqata and the bosses in Gaza, such as Mohammed Dahlan, to ensure that the quiet is maintained. Arafat's intelligent spokesman, Ziad Abu Ziad, said this week that it's difficult for the PA chairman to order Hamas to halt its attacks. International pressure would help him.

Because Israel will not seek to buttress the move by instructing UN Ambassador Danny Gillerman to call for the elimination of the UNRWA commissioner-general. Rather, it will present a clearly laid-out plan to Washington, the European Union and to the appropriate Muslim capitals, from Cairo to Riyadh. The initial part of the cease-fire would be unilateral, like the disengagement. After two to three weeks of quiet (without disturbing it to settle scores with some renegade Hamasnik), a bilateral cease-fire would go into effect until after the withdrawal and evacuation. Of course, a necessary condition for the reaping of this savings in bloodshed is a very convincing acceleration of the disengagement. A few outposts would be immediately removed following a decision by the cabinet and Knesset when it returns to session next week.

The risk: Violations on the part of the "Etzel" and "Lehi" of the Palestinian Authority. The advantages: A strengthening of public and parliamentary support for the disengagement and incentive for accelerating its execution; a weakening of the arguments put forward by settlers and Uzi Landau-types against surrender and withdrawal under fire; a nullification of the sting of potential refusal to obey orders by right-wing soldiers, which is worrying the General Staff; giving meaning to the military pressure applied by Israel up to this point, which, without a cease-fire, would be looked upon as a defeat. Not a bad balance sheet for a bold political act. And there's nothing to lose: Won't the other side cooperate under significant international pressure? The IDF will not have yet left Gaza.

This little initiative will also be important because it will grease the wheels of diplomacy that have become so rusty in the Sharon government. If it is done correctly, and sketches an outline for a continuation of the accord, don't rule out the possibility that this snatching of an achievement from the jaws of failure will expand beyond Gaza. The alternative is quite certain: More dead, a delay of the disengagement, a mass exodus from Sderot before the evacuation from Gaza, and a dangerous national confusion.