Perpetual Blame Game

Last week, Hamas' strategy was the subject of an analysis not by an Israeli army commander or politician, but by a publicist and expert on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict named Majed Kialy.

The explosive dialogue between Hamas' Qassams in Sderot and the Israel Air Force strikes in Gaza has long resembled a perpetual motion machine - an eternal chain of action and automatic reaction, whose logic is no longer clear to anyone, because it seems to be self-sustaining.

What came first - the Qassam or the strike? Even the set formula of Qassams in retaliation for dead Palestinian militants has failed in establishing a balance of terror.

Apparently only the Israel Defense Forces and Hamas are still preoccupied with keeping score, because for them the score represents the only practical meaning for the campaign being waged in Gaza and the West Bank: the number of casualties and the number of Qassams constitute the balance of victory or defeat.

What is Israel's military strategy in Gaza? That is a question no one raises anymore. There is no strategy. There are retaliatory measures to react to Hamas' mood. And so one should examine Hamas' strategy.

Last week, Hamas' strategy was the subject of an analysis not by an Israeli army commander or politician, but by a publicist and expert on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict named Majed Kialy. In a sharply critical commentary in Al-Hayat, Kialy wrote: "The firing of Qassams and the suicide attacks seem to have become the cause in the second intifada, instead of the means. And this applies equally to the Fatah-affiliated Al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades and Hamas' military wing, the Iz al-Din al-Qassam, who have been competing over the number and quality of their actions."

Kialy goes on to say, "Somewhere along the way, the Palestinians have lost sight of the real cause, which is abolishing the occupation. Instead of doing that, they are reintroducing into the collective consciousness the term "liberation," which symbolized the Palestinian discourse in the 1960s.

The popular struggle strategy that characterized the first intifada has disappeared, Kialy argues. Gone is the correlation between the means and the ends.

Instead of presenting the Palestinian reaction as a form of defense in light of Israeli aggression, Kialy complains, Hamas has mounted an offense that has zero chance of achieving the goal of abolishing occupation and forming an independent Palestinian state. Hamas' "grandiose" objective of "liberating all the land which was occupied in 1948" is doubly unachievable.

For Kialy, the Qassams and suicide attacks serve to unite the Israeli public around their government instead of making them address the internal conflicts within that government's policies. On the international level, the Palestinians have lost support, Kialy argues. "Instead of making the withdrawal from Gaza a national achievement, it has become a liability for the Palestinian national project," he says.

The bottom line, Kialy says, is that "Hamas' missiles do not change the balance of power" - leaving nothing but slogans pertaining to the organization's intention of "generating an earthquake" or "keeping all options on the table" - slogans that the "Palestinians have been hearing for years without ever seeing them realized."

The Islamist organization, according to Kialy, has "increased its military might within Palestinian society, but has diminished its capacity to act against Israel."

"These facts," Kialy concludes, "require courage and self-criticism especially on the part of Hamas' leadership, who must tell the people with all honesty that the armed resistance is dying down - courage is also needed to admit that resistance is not done only through military means, and that popular resistance is more beneficial."

Kialy is not the only one saying this. Palestinian leaders also utter these opinions, albeit in private forums. Some of Hamas' members also believe that the military conflict has become so self-evident that no one really pauses to examine its actual achievements.

This is an internal Palestinian debate that does not usually reach Israeli ears. It is nonetheless vital in understanding that there are other voices behind the racket of the Qassams.

And where has the Israeli discourse gone in the meanwhile? Perhaps the time has come to ask ourselves the same questions Kialy poses for the Palestinians? The main question is what is Israel's strategy.

If such a thing exists, how could it be dictated by Hamas? What has the closure of the crossings, collective punishments, financial sanctions and targeted - or untargeted - killings achieved?

It is time for the Israeli side to adopt Kialy's suggestions, too, and determine that automatic retaliations do not constitute a strategy, and that a strategy cannot be built on military means alone, or on simply turning off Gaza's gasoline tap.