Israeli war drums ignore Hamas move for change

Gideon Levy writes: The writing is clearly on the wall. The head of the Hamas political bureau, Khaled Meshal, has ordered his group’s military wing to stop terrorist attacks against Israel, saying his organization will make do with popular protest. Hamas is declaring that it supports a Palestinian state within the 1967 borders, and the Palestinian Authority has expressed a willingness, in exchange for 100 prisoners, to give up its demand for a freeze on Israeli settlement construction in the West Bank as a condition for the resumption of peace talks. What more will we ask for?

On our side, too, the writing is clearly on the wall. Israel is ignoring the changes in the Palestinian positions. Most of the media is systematically obscuring the situation. Security sources are saying in response that they know nothing about the shift, or that it is only tactical. Israel is also rejecting the Palestinian Authority’s negligible conditions with repeated “nos” in the finest of Israeli rejectionism.

This time, however, Israel isn’t just making do with that. All of a sudden, on the third anniversary of Israel’s Operation Cast Lead in the Gaza Strip, there is a chorus of threats being heard from the military brass of another assault on Gaza. The Israel Defense Forces chief of staff, along with the former head of the IDF Southern Command and the southern brigade commander, are all saying there is no alternative to a Cast Lead II. The brigade commander even promised it would be more “painful” and “forceful” than the first Cast Lead. More painful than that first, shocking Operation Cast Lead, Mr. Commander?

Never mind the constant Israeli rejectionism on the peace process, since we only ever take the Palestinians seriously when they talk war and terrorism. When they talk peace and negotiations, we discount what they have to say, but what’s this about an attack on Gaza? Why? What has happened? Can someone explain this discordant, nasty beating of the war drums apart from Israel’s inherent need to threaten again and again? Experience teaches, however, that Israel is not just making noise. Its threats have a dynamic of their own.

The IDF chief of staff should be reminded that the first Operation Cast Lead inflicted huge damage on Israel. Maybe it’s not visible from the army bases, but world opinion has subsequently been dramatically transformed in how it relates to Israel, which has become an object of denunciation as never before. The pictures from Gaza have been indelibly etched in the world’s consciousness.

And here’s another reminder to the military brass: A new Egypt is taking shape before our eyes, a country that probably would not stand by in the face of another brutal assault on Gaza, which has again taken its place in Egypt’s backyard. The members of the Muslim Brotherhood currently rising to the fore in Egypt are brothers to Hamas, and it would be best not to unnecessarily arouse them.

Over the weekend, the IDF took pride in the fact that its troops killed 100 Palestinians in Gaza over the past year, a year in which barely a single Israeli was killed, thank God. So we have “improved” upon the horrifying fatality ratio from Operation Cast Lead. It was 1:100 in that operation but it was virtually 0:100 in the second year after the operation; a real bargain price.

The volleys of rockets on the south of Israel, which are indeed intolerable, almost all came in response to IDF assassination operations in Gaza. So why do we need a war now? If Israel was more intent on seeking peace, it would make haste to welcome the changes in the Palestinian positions. It wouldn’t harm Israel’s real interests one bit. If it had been a little more reasonable, it would have at least posed a challenge: Let’s release 100 Fatah prisoners, this time without the kidnapping of an Israeli soldier, and, as we have been preaching, return to the negotiating table.

Instead of encouraging moderation, whether genuine or imaginary, whether strategic or tactical, Israel is rushing to nip it in the bud. And why should Hamas become more moderate if the Israeli response is to threaten Gaza? And why should the Palestinian Authority show flexibility if the response is rejectionism?

Are we preoccupied with confronting ultra-Orthodox extremism in Beit Shemesh, with no interest in solving our other problems, which are the most crucial of all? On the other hand, we have no reason whatsoever at the moment to carry out another assault on Gaza. We’ve already seen what the last one did. It’s already a little boring to write about it (and surely also to read about it). There is nothing that endangers Israel more than that absence of a settlement of our dispute with the Palestinians.

It may be no less boring to again ask: if the answer is “no” and again “no,” what do we say “yes” to? If it’s “no” to the Palestinian Authority and “no” to Hamas, “no” to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and “no” to Khaled Meshal, “no” to Europe and also “no” to the United States, who are we saying “yes” to? And above all, where are we headed? The writing is clearly on the wall, and it is a matter of great concern.

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