By Yacov Ben Efrat
Israel’s military operation called Molten Lead started on Saturday, December 27, 2008 and took more than 200 lives in its first day, much to the satisfaction of the Israeli public. Already on Friday there were cries of "Go get ’em!" from the columns of the leading newspapers, and on Saturday the Gazans got what Israelis have long been wishing them. This was no spontaneous operation, no mere response to the recent firing of rockets on the towns of the Negev. In the preceding half year of calm, while warning that Hamas was arming itself, Israel carefully planned the attack to extract the highest possible price.
Officially, the campaign was intended to return that calm to the area under conditions more favorable to Israel. But the aims go farther. Israel is trying to bring Hamas back to the negotiating table with Egypt on terms that will be good for the Palestinian Authority (PA) and its president, Abu Mazen. Hamas failed to use the six months calm "constructively" by reaching a deal with Abu Mazen, and now it is paying the price. Israel wants it to end armed resistance, recognize the legitimacy of the Oslo Accords, and accept the terms of the Quartet. In other words, Hamas is supposed to yield its control over Gaza and blend into the PA as a minor partner.
The countdown started in November when, rejecting an Egyptian proposal, Hamas failed to attend a meeting with the PA in Cairo. For Israel’s Gaza campaign is no solo performance. The step was coordinated with Jordan and Egypt—and won Abu Mazen’s blessing too. The Muslim Brotherhood, to which Hamas belongs, constitutes the main opposition to the Egyptian, Jordanian and Palestinian regimes. We have here the same Arab-Israeli axis that went against Hezbollah in Lebanon two years ago. Again it has total support from the White House. This time too, Israel serves as the executive agent, whose task is to reduce the common enemy.
Hamas, for its part, has made all possible mistakes. The first was its takeover of Gaza in June 2007, which caused the Israeli blockade to harden, harming civilians. The latest mistake was its resumption of armed struggle against Israel.
Hamas wants its rule over Gaza to be acknowledged, so that it can then compete with the PA for the West Bank. It has played a double game. On the one hand, it took part in the democratic process of the PA elections three years ago – even coming out victorious. On the other hand, the PA and its elections were a creation of the Oslo Agreement, which Hamas refuses to recognize.
Khaled Mashal, leader of the movement, has not contented himself with opening fronts against the PA and Israel. He has also provoked the Egyptian regime, not only by rejecting its proposals, but also by demanding that it open the Rafah Border, an act that would violate Egypt’s international commitments. At the grassroots level, Hamas has joined the Muslim Brotherhood in a campaign of incitement against Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak.
For all these reasons, Gaza today stands alone against Israeli military might. From his refuge in Damascus, Mashal calls for a third Intifada, although the Palestinians have not yet recovered from the second. While Hamas lusts for power, ordinary Palestinians are tired, confused, and above all frustrated. On one side they have Abu Mazen, who is ready to swallow all the frogs Israel puts on his plate. On the other side they have Hamas, caught in the conception that its regime is God’s will, even at the cost of Heaven Now.
Within three minutes of starting its operation, Israel had killed or wounded hundreds. It is not difficult to imagine what will happen after three weeks of this. The purpose is to introduce Hamas to earthly reality – and, if possible, to restore the respect that Israel lost in Lebanon two years ago. In this regard, we may define Molten Lead as a repair operation for the second Lebanon War, in accordance with the recommendations of the Winograd Commission that investigated the debacle.
But what is Israel’s real situation? Is it as strong as it is trying to appear by spilling blood in Gaza? What effect will the pictures of torn bodies, scattered in the yard of the Police Academy, ultimately have on Israelis? Or the piercing shrieks of the mothers? Most Israelis want to reach some form of normality and become a society that, in the words of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, "it’s fun to live in." Where is the "fun" in such massacres, recycled for 60 years?
During the last 40 of those years, Israel has systematically trampled another people, refusing to end the Occupation. The Palestinians have lost all rights. Their life proceeds amid settler pogroms, military roadblocks, closures, separation walls, and grueling poverty. Olmert has said (but only after it was clear he was on the way out) that there won’t be any choice for Israel but to withdraw from all the Occupied Territories, including East Jerusalem. If that is really his position, he has wasted his term in empty talk. In action, Israel’s position is the opposite. It does not withdraw, it does not dismantle even the outposts it calls illegal, most of the settlers remain in their homes, the army continues to control the borders, and Gaza continues to sink in despair.
Molten Lead has no political justification. Even if Hamas does return to the negotiating table, Israel will have nothing to offer. For it remains as unwilling as ever to pay the price of peace – that is, to end the Occupation. Because it has not paid, the rockets fall on Sderot and other Negev towns. Israel then uses the rockets as an excuse for continuing not to pay. Another excuse is the "no partner" mantra. When Israel says it is ready for a Palestinian state, it does not mean in all the Occupied Territories – its talk of a state, therefore, is wool over the eyes. Israel’s unwillingness to pay is the source of Hamas’s strength. The movement rests on three pillars: poverty, the weakness of the PA, and the lack of a diplomatic prospect.
It is Israel that plunged Gaza into its present condition. The disengagement of 2005 was unilateral, refusing any role to the PA and leaving the field open for the Hamas takeover. The responsibility for what is now occurring in Gaza rests, therefore, almost exclusively on Israel. Perhaps Molten Lead will end, indeed, in an "improved" cease-fire. Perhaps we shall soon see the Hamas leadership in Cairo again. But a renewal of calm will result in no solution. What solution can there be as long as the Territories continue to sink in corruption, poverty and despair? How long will it take until a new calm gives way to another massacre?
And how long can Israeli society go on living as an Occupier? How long until the country’s internal social gaps, together with the ever worsening conflict, land a blow many times worse than rockets from Gaza? The basic problem isn’t Hamas. It is the nationalist consensus of Israel’s political parties, which have prodded the present transitional government to carry out this massacre, whose only real purpose is to continue putting off the price of peace.
– This article was contributed to the PalestineChronicle.com. (Originally published in Challenge Magazine – www.challenge-mag.com.)