A Deal With Thugs

There are only two ways to deal with a killer-neighbor: to hit him or to disarm him.

We have a neighbor who is a murderer. Not the criminal kind, thank God. Not a psychopath, God forbid. No, our neighbor is a religious murderer. A murderer in the name of God and for God. A murderer who wants to eradicate us and get rid of us so that we will not pollute his sacred soil with our presence. A murderer who believes that the world will be better, purer, if we are not here. A serious murderer, a murderer with values, a murderer with a mission.

Our killer-neighbor is not heartless. He is not without compassion. It would not occur to him, for example, to slaughter our children and wives. It would not occur to him to drown us all in the sea. Because of his human virtues and morals, he does not wish for each and every one of us to die a strange death.

Instead, the neighbor wants to kill our national existence. In the term used by the late Yehoshafat Harkabi, his declared goal is politicide, not genocide. Lying in his bed at night, our neighbor fantasizes about the death of the State of Israel. In his actions during the day, the neighbor tries to hasten the death of the State of Israel. In the name of God, the neighbor wants to murder the State of Israel.

The neighbor is a murderer, but the neighbor is not delusional. He has good reasons to hate us. Exactly 60 years ago, we deprived his mothers and fathers of their land. We emptied out their villages. We destroyed their homes. We wiped their Palestine off the face of the earth. And in the great heat of May-July 1948, we sent them south, in long columns. We sent them all the way to Gaza, like the biblical Hagar, leaving in their hearts that deep pain that over the years became a deep hatred, a deep hatred that became a claim for absolute justice. An absolute justice that leaves no room for life. Certainly not for our life.

That is why we have such difficulties with the neighbor. The guilt and the terror are profound. The cultural gaps are unbearable. For although we live closely, side by side, we are very far apart. Opposites, really. The neighbor from Hamas is dispossessed, and we have property. The neighbor is hungry, and we are well-fed. The neighbor is a zealot, and we are godless. The neighbor demands justice-to-the-death, and we are looking for some deal that will let us live.

He is no sucker, that neighbor. In 2006 he surprised us by triumphing over Mahmoud Abbas. In 2007 he surprised us by driving out Mohammed Dahlan and taking over Gaza. In 2008 he surprised us by creating a balance of deterrence against the hollow bragging of the Israeli government. True, the neighbor is still fairly weak. He cannot rise up and kill us today, nor will he be able to do so tomorrow. But with every year he grows stronger. With every year, he advances and makes incursions, slowly crumbling the settlements we built over the ruins of those villages.

We, for our part, ignore him. We act like a wealthy man who lives a life of comfort on his estate without realizing that a disenfranchised, angry neighbor is watching him the whole time. For the good bourgeoisie that we are, after all, the most convenient way to cope with a murdering neighbor is to ignore him. Not to see him, not to hear him, not to speak with him. To pretend that he is not there, at the edge of the garden, just outside the garden. To pretend that there is another, more polite neighbor with whom we can speak. And to believe, truly to believe, that peace and security can one day be obtained in this neighborhood without solving the problem of the neighbor. Without seeing that he is here. Here all along. And not going anywhere.

There are only two ways to deal with a killer-neighbor: to hit him or to disarm him. Perhaps one day there will no longer be any choice. Despite the terrible cost involved, Israel may eventually have to enter the neighbor's crowded trailer and beat him senseless. But before we are dragged into Gaza, we must exhaust the other possibility. We should offer Hamas a deal: an Islamic republic in Gaza in exchange for full demilitarization. A full and fulfilling life for a Muslim community of brothers, in exchange for giving up violence and arms altogether.

Hamas will probably say no. The neighbor tends to prefer the deaths of Israelis over the lives of Palestinians. But if there is any chance of a frank negotiation with Hamas, this is the path the talks should take. Not a Carter-style illusion, not the temporary tactic of a passing tahadiyeh [truce], but a tough deal with tough terms. A street deal. A deal with thugs. A deal meant to give those who live on the other side of the fence a genuine opportunity to lay down the sword, pick up the Koran and become real neighbors.