Time to Break the Mold

Israel Radio reported last week: 'There were a few shooting incidents this morning in Gaza. No one was hurt. One terrorist was killed.' Now Israel has to ask itself urgently what will motivate the Palestinians to persist in their new policy.

One thing has been proved: The omnipotent IDF and Shin Bet security service cannot do the job; only the Palestinians can do it. Countless punitive and retaliatory operations, liquidation and preemption, demolition and consciousness-burning did not stop Palestinian terrorism. The only thing that did was a clear and sharp decision by their leadership to hold fire. This signals the collapse of the oldest and most rooted conception that has accompanied the war on terror from its inception. The basic assumptions that "force alone" works and that "the terrorist infrastructures have to be destroyed" are revealed to be hollow cliches as it turns out that only political means are effective in the war on terror.

It's not hard to imagine what would have happened had Israel followed its usual custom and invaded the Gaza Strip following the firing of Qassam rockets at Sderot: more killing and destruction. One thing certainly would not have been achieved: a stop to the Qassam rockets. Now, after Israel behaved unusually and responded with relative restraint, quiet has come about, even if it is extremely fragile.

But will we now, even so unconscionably late, draw the right conclusions from these sensational revelations? The concern is that despite everything, Israel will not allow itself to be confused by the facts but will carry on as usual, and the days of grace and quiet will pass as though they had never occurred. The liquidation in Qalqilyah, the killing of a girl in Dir al-Balah and of a mentally ill man at Netzarim Junction - events that took place last week, after the start of the cease-fire - intensify this concern.

For now, the quiet is emanating mainly from the Palestinian side, as Israel Radio reported last week: "There were a few shooting incidents this morning in Gaza. No one was hurt. One terrorist was killed." Now Israel has to ask itself urgently what will motivate the Palestinians to persist in their new policy. Will the change they have made be backed by an equally far-reaching change by us? If we are tempted into thinking, as in the past, that a series of ridiculous goodwill gestures is enough to induce them to hold their fire, the present quiet will very soon become a thing of the past. If we continue to think that only we have the right to go on shooting and killing, as we are continuing to do even now, the response will not be long in coming.

The change in the atmosphere will prove lasting only if it is accompanied by an immediate and radical change in Israel's behavior: only if we understand that the war on terrorism will never be decided by force and that its true roots lie in the occupation itself; only if we recognize that the Palestinians are people like us and that all they want is to live in dignity and security. The ball is in our court.

The Palestinian soldier who is ordered to patrol the northern Gaza Strip to prevent the firing of Qassams needs tremendous mental resilience to carry out his mission. Similarly, the commander who issued the order and the statesman who issued the directive are taking a step that is far from simple from their point of view. On his way to his position, the Palestinian soldier passes the Abu Huli checkpoint, which splits the Gaza Strip, and is treated, like all Palestinians, in a patronizing and demeaning manner. It is more than likely that houses in his neighborhood have been demolished, or that people in his family were shot, or that he has friends in an Israeli prison - or all of the above. It's possible that some of his commanding officers suffered abuse at the hands of settlers.

Now this soldier is being ordered to do what some Palestinians consider treason and aim his rifle at the people who are fighting those who are making his people suffer. The obedient Palestinian soldier does what his commanders order, but he and they will continue to show determination only if they are convinced that this is serving their nation.

This brief period of relative and temporary quiet has been enough to create a new and different spirit. The more Israel responds in kind to the quiet, the better; the more it tries to be "smart" and stingy in its response, the worse things will get. It's a clear, simple equation, the opposite of the zero-sum game that Israel has always played. If Israel has a prime minister who is truly intent on achieving peace, he must now make a series of goodwill gestures that will convince the Palestinian soldier who is stationed at Beit Lahia that he is not a traitor and that this is a new way to end the occupation. From Israel's point of view, this is a new war on terror, and its rules are opposite those it is used to.

Israel must immediately stop all military operations and show restraint. Forgoing the capture of one more wanted individual will now serve the war against terrorism more than his capture. Opening of all the internal checkpoints is also essential for the war on terrorism. No arrests, no liquidations, no house demolitions - and most important of all, the mass release of Palestinian prisoners. Yes, the mass release. It has been demonstrated in the past that prisoners who are freed often become the moderate element in the Palestinian society. Their release will ensure more quiet than their imprisonment does. All these measures are of course only the start of a road it is very doubtful Israel will stay on. This is a fragile period in which "every bastard is king": every soldier who now fails to hold his fire is liable to destroy the small chance. Will the IDF show restraint? Will the IDF remove the checkpoints? Will the IDF refrain from demolishing houses? In the past few years, such ideas have been oxymorons.