In the Lebanon war, we were informed about the objectives of the operation and knew they were impractical. Now we are not told, so we have to guess. Is this about destroying Hamas? Apparently not. Beyond the nausea that this expression conveys, there is also apparently no such animal. After all, we are talking about religious leaders, political leaders, security forces but also many whose work is dawa or welfare: all see themselves as belonging to Hamas.
Is this about replacing Hamas rule with a regime more convenient for Israel? That s hard to believe. For one, all attempts by us to appoint Palestinian leaders since 1967 have failed, alongside Ariel Sharon s notorious failure to determine who would be president of Lebanon in 1982. Then too, even if it were theoretically possible, what serious Palestinian would agree to occupy a seat vacated for him by the IDF? The minute he agreed, he would lose all credibility among his own people.
Is this about creating a situation in which Hamas is compelled to recognize Israel and make peace with it? Presumably not. Hamas considers its adherence to the three nos of Khartoum from 1967, which the entire Arab world abandoned in adopting the Arab peace initiative, to be its primary distinctive feature when compared to Fateh. Even a prolonged battering by the IDF will not bring Hamas to make this change.
Evidently, the secret objective of Cast Lead is to reach a ceasefire with Hamas that is very similar to the one that prevailed between us until about two months ago. The scenario that unfolded on Saturday, Dec. 27 was one that neither side seemingly wanted because both believe that what follows this conflict will be like what preceded it. As usual they were dragged willy-nilly, through a mechanism of threats and counter-threats, to the use of force. The ground operation, which began a week later, was also undertaken with a distinct lack of enthusiasm on Israel s part, and it s hard to believe that Hamas was really happy to see it. But that s where we are.
What can be done now? First of all, a ceasefire. If it proves impossible to agree, then Israel should initiate one unilaterally. After all, we are the elephant and Hamas the fly; we can declare that if, after several days of ceasefire on our part, firing does not stop in Gaza, we ll be free to take renewed action. Second, the return of Gilad Shalit in exchange for Palestinian prisoners. This is the right moment; even if Hamas gets what it wants it will be hard put to declare a major victory considering that the movement is currently in one of its deepest crises. Third, it will be necessary to renew the Gaza crossings agreement and reopen those passages in conjunction with European and other forces. An international force can contribute to peace and quiet in the Gaza Strip; the European foreign ministers recently announced their readiness to entertain such involvement on the ground.
With a renewed ceasefire, and following the change of administrations in the United States and our own elections, we can move to the next phase: renewal of intensive negotiations with the PLO led by Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) in order to reach an agreement very similar to the Clinton parameters of 2000 and the Geneva initiative of 2003. Israeli agreement to withdraw from the West Bank and divide East Jerusalem (to be implemented in accordance with the Palestinian Authority s capacity to realize the security aspects of such an agreement) can generate indirect negotiations between Israel and Hamas, through the good offices of Egypt or some other mediator, with the aim of achieving a long-term ceasefire. We could then hope that peace in the West Bank and the economic prosperity it brings would become a source of emulation for Gazans and would cause a change of heart in the Gazan regime or even its replacement by the Gazans themselves. Until that happens, free passage between the West Bank and the Strip would not
be renewed, nor would the Strip be expanded to compensate Palestinians for the few percentages of territory that Israel would annex from the West Bank.
I think this is a realistic scenario, but I m not certain. Conceivably some or all of the actors will behave irrationally, in which case the reciprocal battering will continue. Of one thing I am certain: there is no reason to maneuver ourselves again into a violent corner before we make the big effort to live a normal life in this part of the globe; no need to expose hundreds of thousands of residents of placid cities every two years to missiles and killing that bring no benefit. Before we throw up our hands in despair, we have to do something.
Yossi Beilin,a former minister of justice, currently chairs the Geneva initiative and is president of Beilink. This commentary is published by DAILY NEWS EGYPT in collaboration with bitterlemons.org