Not War by Other Means

After the idea of the "enlightened occupation" was brought down atop thousands of people, both Israelis and Palestinians, the Jewish mind has concocted something new: "bringing down Hamas." For 20 years, until the first intifada, politicians pledged that if we give them enough carrots, the Palestinians will come to love their masters. After it became clear that even the biggest carrot, the "generous proposals" we advanced at the negotiating table, would not appease our neighbors, Tzipi Livni and Ehud Barak pulled out the stick.

When it comes to the policies in the territories in general and in the Gaza Strip in particular, the sole difference between Livni and Barak and the right is that the right proposes using a bigger club. Much to their surprise, not only does Hamas refuse to be dismantled, its standing in Arab public opinion and the territories was strengthened by Operation Cast Lead. And that is just the beginning.

Despite the long years of conflict, endless wars and military operations, we have not learned that our standard of "victory" or "resolution" is completely different from that of our adversary. Despite the losses and destruction, the Second Lebanon War was "seared" into the Arab consciousness as Moshe Ya'alon's failure and as a heroic victory over the strongest army in the Middle East. Precisely because of the many children killed in Gaza, Cast Lead has been assured a place of honor in the ethos of the struggle of the Palestinian David, armed with primitive Qassams, and the Israeli Goliath, with his F-16s. After all, no reasonable person expected Hamas or Hezbollah to beat the Israel Defense Forces on the battlefield. By the same token, in the international, regional and Palestinian arenas, the jailer of 1.5 million Gazans has no chance of deciding the battle by military means.

When they hear the proud declarations of Israel's leaders, to the effect that "deterrence" has been restored, Hamas' leaders certainly laugh themselves to death, and not just because of the rockets that continue to fall on the people of Ashkelon. The threat of a few more bombs on Gaza deters them like the death penalty deters a suicide bomber on the way to carry out an attack. If every casualty in Sderot is one more vote for the right, then every dead child in Gaza is one more vote for Hamas. And, according to those who contend (to a large extent correctly) that Hamas is Iran's agent, another vote for Hamas constitutes another gift to Iran. The siege on Gaza, which struck a fatal blow to the people's livelihoods there, fortifies Hamas' standing. An occupier who prevents the sick from getting to the hospital and students from going to university should not be surprised that these people do not consider the occupier to be Hamas' enemy, but rather the enemy of the Palestinian people.

A pledge to topple Hamas by military means is like a pledge to make "economic peace" with the Palestinians. It seems anything but needless to point out that we are dealing with a political conflict, not a military or economic one. Hamas is not a "terror organization," but a movement that won an election held with the international community's blessing, and with Israel's permission. When the adversary is a political party, no matter how violent, it is impossible to turn on its head the rule of famous military philosopher Carl von Clausewitz, changing it to "politics is a continuation of war by other means." Or, as Livni put it in her recent Haaretz interview, "Operation Cast Lead should be treated as a military operation with military goals."

Whether Livni likes it or not, Cast Lead had political goals, and they ran counter to the strategic goal she is supposedly striving for - a Jewish and democratic state. The road there could have been short, if it were possible to wipe Hamas out. Unfortunately, racist parties are an integral part of our region's political landscape. If Yisrael Beiteinu was part of a unity government, Hamas can be, too. Only a long-term cease-fire, accompanied by a real diplomatic context, can pull the rug of popular support out from under Hamas and restore it to its natural proportions.