Gaza First?

Organizations taking control over strips of land within countries through violence is not a new phenomenon. Parts of Iraq have been run this way for two years.

On Wednesday afternoon, as the reports mounted about Hamas' conquest of the Gaza Strip, the Hamas man on the other end of the cell phone sounded a bit cynical: "And what will we do now with this victory? Construct factories? Build schools? Pave roads? After all, we're living inside a ghetto and tomorrow, or in another two months, the citizens and the other gangs will rise up against us if we don't run a normal government."

This rational voice represents the new dilemma Hamas faces: Those who conquered the strip and forcibly applied the political victory of the elections of January 2006 now find themselves ruling the densest human island in the world without the ability to provide for it, with leadership that is divided between Gaza and the West Bank, and between Damascus and the territories, with a large stock of arms, but with an Arab environment - and not only a Palestinian one - that is more hostile that ever.

Organizations taking control over strips of land within countries through violence is not a new phenomenon. Parts of Iraq have been run this way for two years. In Afghanistan, it is part of the system. And the same is true for southern Sudan and Yemen. Perhaps Gaza is also moving in this direction, because it is hard to imagine how its conquerors will now relinquish the pleasures of power.

However, after the profound expression of disgust about the shooting of civilians (as if the killing of civilians from aircraft were an especially clean matter), and after making a firm assertion that those who carry out a lynch are not worthy of being a partner (forgetting the fact that Israel conducted negotiations with the Palestinian Authority even after the horrible lynch in Ramallah in October 2000), it is not only the Palestinians who are obliged to do some soul-searching: Israel must also make a cold calculation of its own. The intention here is not an accounting of the flawed policy, lacking in direction, which led to the destruction of the Palestinians' governing structure and which gave splinter organizations the opportunity to grab power. Rather, Israel must now decide whether control by another military force, with authority and capability, which is liable also to enjoy political support, is a worthy solution for Gaza at least, even if this force is called Hamas.

This is a force that contains all of the components that Israel always demanded from the Palestinian Authority when it was still ruled by Fatah. It is also possible to expect that Hamas will be able to impose its will on the family gangs in Gaza and thus realize another wish: unification of the Palestinian armed forces. In fact, the Hamas that now rules in Gaza is the same Hamas that preserved the hudna and later the tahadiyeh (lull). This time Israel also receives a bonus: It is a government that does not obligate Israel even to pretend that it is conducting negotiations or is committed to doing so. True, this is not the vision to which Israel aspires. It wants all of these good things to be performed by a Palestinian government that recognizes it and is headed by someone who is prepared to exchange kisses with Israel's prime minister even when he is spitting in his face.

But Israel does not have the leisure to indulge in fantasy. Gaza is now crawling toward the West Bank, and there is no guarantee that the comfortable division between Fatahland and Hamastan, which was quickly adopted by Israel, will indeed transpire and that the violent fighting will not erupt tomorrow in Hebron or Jenin. After all, vengeance takes on a life of its own.

This, however, is not the only scenario. The other scenario is that the Palestinians, Fatah and Hamas will not allow one part of the country to disengage from the nation. It can be assumed, therefore, that contacts will soon begin on reestablishing a Palestinian government in which Hamas, from a great position of strength, will reiterate its demands for its share of the political and military victory.

If this happens, it would provide another opportunity to correct the previous mistake, because after the events of last week, it seems that Israel also recognizes the supreme interest in preventing the phenomenon of "Gaza first" in its new meaning. Israel will be obligated, and immediately, to begin talking with the Palestinian government before there is a government of Jenin and a government of Ramallah, a government of Jericho and a government of Hebron, alongside the government of Gaza, because someone will also need, very soon, to provide for the 1,400,000 residents of Gaza. And it would be best if this someone is a Palestinian government.