A great disaster has suddenly come upon Israel: The cease-fire has gone into effect. Cease-fire, cease-Qassams, cease-assassiations, at least for now. This good, hopeful news was received in Israel dourly, gloomily, even with hostility. As usual, politicians, the military brass and pundits went hand in hand to market the cease-fire as a negative, threatening and disastrous development.
Even from the people who forged the agreement - the prime minister and defense minister - you heard not a word about hope; just covering their backsides in case of failure. No one spoke of the opportunity, everyone spoke of the risk, which is fundamentally unfounded. Hamas will arm? Why of all times during the cease-fire? Will only Hamas arm? We won't? Perhaps it will arm, and perhaps it will realize that it should not use armed force because of calm's benefits.
It is hard to believe: The outbreak of war is received here with a great deal more sympathy and understanding, not to say enthusiasm, than a cease-fire. When the warmongers get started, our unified tom-toms drum out only encouraging messages; when the all-clear is sounded, when people in Sderot can sleep soundly, even if only for a short time, we are all worried. That says something about society's sick face: Quiet is muck, war is the most important thing.
Even before the cease-fire was attained, everyone was raising the blackest of black scenarios: The agreement will not hold, it will be broken immediately, Hamas will arm, Israel has given in. Not one of these assumptions is necessarily reality. Not one prophet of doom could suggest a better alternative to the cease-fire, except more and more unnecessary bloodshed on both sides.
Calm will be maintained only if it is a prelude to further positive developments; therefore, more than anything, calm needs the tailwind of goodwill and constructive statements, not destructive ones. If we continue being so dour, the pessimism will fulfill itself. Much depends on us.
Hamas wants the calm because it serves its goals. That is not necessarily bad for Israel. A few months of quiet and the lifting of the terrible siege on Gaza could create a new reality. Noam Shalit's protest is understandable, but the new atmosphere of calm is precisely the time to finally secure the release of his son Gilad and hundreds of Palestinian prisoners - two positive developments for the two peoples.
Yes, the zero-sum game between us and them ended long ago. It is a shame we are the only ones not to have internalized it. And yes, even the release of Palestinian prisoners, a step always presented on our side as a "price," can be an Israeli achievement, not only a Palestinian one. A new and somewhat better life in Gaza will assure a new life for Israel, too. It is not for nothing that the days when the fence was breached between Gaza and Egypt were the quietest days the Negev had known in two years.
In the wake of the cease-fire, a Palestinian government of national unity may arise and be a real and not virtual partner, the representative of the entire Palestinian people and not half of it. True, Hamas will not quickly abandon its hard-line positions, but under the aegis of a unity government it may surprise people, at least in a passive way. An agreement with such a government will not be an agreement of puppets between Ramallah and Jerusalem, the one known as the "shelf agreement." If it is attained, it will be a real agreement. The cease-fire has already proven that not only is Israel willing to negotiate with Hamas, Hamas is willing to negotiate with Israel. Is this not good news?
If I were prime minister, the kind that believes that without a two-state solution Israel cannot continue to exist, as Ehud Olmert has declared, I would do everything to extend the cease-fire immediately to the West Bank. It is not at all clear why the attainment of calm in Gaza, without extending it to the West Bank, is considered an achievement for Israel. An achievement? A disaster. As long as calm is not achieved in the West Bank, calm in Gaza will totter. In Gaza they will not be able to keep quiet over violent acts by Israel in the West Bank. Is that the reason Israel does not want to extend the cease-fire?
The very thought that has taken root among us, that calm is surrender, should be rethought. Is our strength only in assassinations? Are we headed only toward bloodshed? The opposition to extending the cease-fire to the West Bank also shows, again, that Israel only understands the language of force: It will agree to calm in the West Bank only after Qassams are fired from there as well. What message does that send the Palestinians? You want calm in the West Bank? Please fire Qassams at Kfar Sava, too.
So this about something much deeper than only a cease-fire. This is about Israel's image. The negative Israeli response to the cease-fire once again raises a deep suspicion: Perhaps Israel actually does not want peace?
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