The most important strategic development during Ehud Olmert's term in office has been the tahadiyeh with Hamas in Gaza. But it is doubtful that the prime minister thinks so. He presented the agreement as a necessary evil and called his indirect interlocutors "despicable and bloodthirsty terrorists." We can understand him: No festivities accompany such arrangements, nor are there Nobel Prizes or spectacular signings on lawns - only shared interests and mutual recognition that not everything may be obtained by force. But the tahadiyeh, much more than the Annapolis process, is generating deep-seated change in Palestinian-Israeli relations.
Three years after the disengagement, 15 years after Oslo, Israel faces an independent Palestinian entity with full security and civilian responsibilities for a contiguous area in which there are no Israeli soldiers or settlers. Finally there is someone prepared and able to manage Gaza "with no High Court and no B'Tselem," as Yitzhak Rabin hoped. Finally there is an authentic Palestinian leadership that rose from the grassroots and demonstrates discipline and enforcement abilities. Finally the buds of mutual deterrence are emerging that may bring calm to the border.
For better or worse, "Hamastan" is the pilot program of the Palestinian state - the laboratory for a permanent-status agreement. The organization controlling it is hostile and hateful and refuses to recognize Israel, and has carried out the worst acts of terror. But under military pressure and the siege at the crossings, its leaders have been persuaded to give a chance to quiet if nervous coexistence. The price of the fighting has been heavy: From the disengagement to the tahadiyeh Gaza fired about 2,000 rockets and about 1,000 mortars at Israel. Israel lost 13 soldiers and seven civilians, and killed more than 1,200 Palestinians on the other side of the fence.
The model for the tahadiyeh is based on the arrangement developed by Ehud Barak and Hassan Nasrallah, who created it around the withdrawal of the Israel Defense Forces from Lebanon in 2000. At its heart is Hezbollah's willingness to enforce quiet on the Lebanese side of the border without giving up its hostile ideology and bellicose rhetoric. Hamas insisted it would not be the "policeman of the occupation," and refused to restrain other groups until it gave in to the weapons of hunger and closure and to the temptation of receiving indirect recognition of its rule in exchange for enforcing quiet.
There are four arguments against the cease-fire with Hamas and Hezbollah, all of which can be countered.
Ideology: Israel wanted agreeable and friendly neighbors on the other side of the border, so it tried to put Bashir Gemayel in power in Lebanon and Yasser Arafat, Mahmoud Abbas and Mahmoud Dahlan in Gaza. Instead, it got Hezbollah and Hamas, with Islamic ideology and calls to destroy Israel. That is all there is. They will not convert and fall in love with Zionism, but will be evaluated by their daily willingness to violate their ideology. Fact: Nasrallah and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad are not firing missiles at Tel Aviv, although they can. Even such extremists take into account strategic realities and not only interpretations of the Koran.
Shouts of victory: The television shows Hezbollah's arrogant processions and the praise Hamas heaps on itself, and this drives the Israelis crazy. So let them rant. Let them be pleased with themselves and throw parties. Better a satisfied enemy that keeps things quiet than a wounded and vengeful neighbor. Egypt made peace only after it tasted victory in the Yom Kippur War, not after the defeat of the Six-Day War.
So who really won? Ya'akov Amidror, a prominent right-wing strategist, defined "sufficient victory" over terror as follows: "There are no expectations that 'terror organizations' will concede their defeat, sign surrender accords and agree to the holding of ceremonies that will give public expression to their defeat. A victory of this type leads to a drastic decline in the scope of the actions of the 'terror organizations' to the minimum possible."
And what have the cease-fires in the North and South achieved if not such a "drastic decline" in terror? Israel can justifiably claim that it won in the conflict with Hamas, with few losses and without "the major ground action."
Increasing strength: Hezbollah and Hamas continue to amass rockets and to train, and that is a pity. But what can we do, Israel is not strong enough to thwart the increasing strength from afar, and does not want to pay the price of retaking Gaza and Lebanon. The response to the enemy's increasing strength is the IDF's augmenting its strength and creating deterrence that will prevent the use of arms, just as Syria is concealing chemical weapons in warehouses instead of firing them at Israel.
Stability: "The lull is fragile and will be short-term," Olmert warned. That is why the common interest in continuing it must be nurtured, and it must be understood that occasional outbursts of violence do not necessarily spell the end of the tahadiyeh. The cease-fire in the North survived the Second Lebanon War and was resumed immediately at its conclusion. That can happen in the South, too.
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