Truce or Bloodbath
Ignoring its own people's wishes in attacking Gaza, Israel leaves Hamas no choice but to fight back
By Azzam Tamimi
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A recent poll published in the Israeli daily Ha'aretz suggested that 64% of Israelis favoured a negotiated truce with Hamas. But in the past few days, a military onslaught that has so far claimed more than a hundred Palestinian lives, mostly women and children, has made it clear that the Israeli leadership is not interested in any peaceful exit from the current predicament.
The Ha'aretz poll may point to a lack of confidence in the government's ability to settle its problem with Gaza through the use of force, and vindicate those within the military and intelligence community who have been advising the Israeli prime minister, Ehud Olmert to talk to Hamas. A truce as once proposed by Giora Eiland, who served as national security adviser to the former prime minister Ariel Sharon, would entail a reasonable exchange of prisoners and a lifting of sanctions in exchange for a cessation of all hostilities between the two sides. Hamas would, in principle, have agreed to negotiate a truce along these terms. But it seems that Olmert's cabinet has not given up on the idea of bringing Hamas to its knees or finishing it off altogether.
The attack on Gaza comes at a time when all previous means of inciting the Strip's population against Hamas have failed. The sanctions imposed globally on Hamas and the siege that almost suffocates Gaza's 1.5 million inhabitants have neither forced Hamas to accept the three conditions set out by the Quartet (the US, the UN, Russia and the EU) nor convinced the Palestinian population to rise against it.
The enormous resources dedicated to empowering an influential group within Fatah to effect a coup against the legitimate government backfired and finally uprooted that group from the Palestinian political scene. Starving Gaza while the Ramallah-based West Bank authority receives financial and political backing from Israel and its allies in the west has failed to shift Palestinian opinion in favour of President Mahmud Abbas and his prime minister, Salam Fayyad. So, rather than heed the advice of the experts and fulfil the wish of his own public, Olmert has decided to go to war with the Gaza Strip.
Once again Olmert is taking a gamble. He might have been encouraged by the fact that, unlike Hizbullah in Lebanon, Hamas has no immediate regional backers and is less capable of confronting his troops. The rockets fired from Gaza are nothing compared with the missiles Hizbullah used in July 2006.
This is perhaps what encourages senior Israelis officials to threaten the Palestinians with a "shoah" if they continue to defy Israel. It is not clear whether the Israeli deputy defence minister meant to use the Hebrew word for Holocaust when he warned the Palestinians of Gaza. What really matters is that the message has been delivered; this Israeli administration, which has failed to force capitulation on the Palestinians, is willing to use its war machine to burn them alive.
The Israeli establishment is incapable of learning a single lesson from past experience. Hamas, like Hizbullah, and the Palestinians, like the Lebanese, have no choice but to fight back until the Israelis are forced to retreat. Few people thought that Hizbullah could defeat Israel in 2006. Fewer people may think today that Hamas is capable of something similar. They might be surprised. The number of casualties among the Palestinians will, undoubtedly be much higher, but Israelis will die and suffer too. The only way to avoid a bloodbath is for the Israeli army to withdraw immediately from Gaza and negotiate a truce before it is too late.