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Monday, December 03, 2007

How to deal with Gaza

As was noted several times during the Annapolis gang rape last week, one of the 'details' holding back 'peace in our time' is what to do about Gaza. Since everyone insists on pretending that the Strip, which was occupied by Egypt from 1948-67 while Judea and Samaria were occupied by Jordan, must be part of the 'Palestinian' state reichlet, they must now deal with the inconvenient fact of Hamas' rule over the Strip and the war preparations that Hamas has undertaken and which continue daily. In this morning's Washington Post, lefty Jackson Diehl lays out some of the 'options':
The Bush administration, characteristically, favors a policy of continued "isolation" -- it would keep Gaza on ice and turn the rival West Bank administration of Abbas into a showcase. In a few months -- maybe even before a peace deal is reached -- Gaza's population could be asked in an election to choose between continued misery and Abbas's promise of statehood. That might work as long as the Qassams keep missing and Hamas doesn't try something larger. And if it does? Senior administration officials have told Olmert that he should prepare his public to absorb some terrorism without giving up on the talks.
Diehl is correct that this is the option of choice for the Bush administration (I'm not sure I'd call it 'characteristic' - it certainly wasn't until the last year or two when the neo-cons were ousted in favor of James Baker and Brent Scowcroft's puppet, Condi Rice). Whether a Hamas attack that 'hits something larger' would force Israel to invade - and effectively abandon the bogus 'peace process' depends on what is hit. It breaks my heart to say this, but I have serious doubts that even mass casualties in Sderot would move anyone in North Tel Aviv because Sderot is NotInMyBackYard as I have explained on numerous occasions. However, if there were mass casualties in middle and upper-class Ashkenazi Ashkelon or Kiryat Gat (not Netivot or Ofakim as they are both heavily Sfardi and religious), or worse still, if a 'strategic facility' in Ashkelon were to be hit, I believe that would be a whole different ballgame, and even Olmert would realize that there is no choice but to send the IDF in.
Egypt and Saudi Arabia have a different strategy -- one that directly undercuts Bush's. Both Israelis and Americans believe that the Egyptian government has chosen to tolerate the smuggling from Sinai into Gaza. President Hosni Mubarak, they say, is hedging his bet on Abbas and avoiding a complete break with Hamas. Both Egyptian and Saudi officials are quietly pushing for renewed negotiations between the two Palestinian factions, in parallel with the peace talks. The problem is that Abbas, so far, hasn't been interested in striking a bargain with Hamas.
Well, actually they have been pushing not so quietly. And Abu Mazen's only problem with making up with Hamas is that he wants to be in charge - which tells you all you need to know about the (almost non-existent) differences between Hamas and Fatah and why the Bush-Rice strategy of building up Fatah is doomed to failure.
Olmert's government seems to have more than one strategy. For the record, the prime minister says he doesn't want to invade. "But if we will find it necessary to operate in Gaza, we will operate in Gaza for the security of Israeli citizens," he said during a meeting that I and other Washington journalists had with him last week. For now, Olmert said, he was hoping to stop the rocket attacks with the mix of pinpoint strikes and economic pressure being applied.
Olmert's government has no strategy - it is being buffeted along by events. Olmert recognizes that even the people of Israel will reach a point where they will decide that they have had it with what's going on down south. Probably when some Ashkenazim get hit or when Hamas can reach Tel Aviv or its suburbs from Gaza.
At least some Israeli officials, and some Palestinians close to Abbas, are thinking more boldly: They see an invasion of Gaza as not only necessary but desirable. Abbas, they point out, doesn't have the military strength to defeat Hamas. Nor is Hamas likely to permit the election that Bush imagines. An Israeli invasion would have the chance to destroy Hamas's military power and pave the way for Abbas to gain political control. "It's feasible," said one senior official I spoke to. Abbas himself has told U.S. officials that Israel should retake control of the border between Egypt and Gaza to stop the smuggling.
That would undo one of Condoleeza Rice's 'achievements' - she's the one who shoved the Egyptian control of the Philadelphi corridor down Israel's throat in the fall of 2005. The truth is that Israeli control of the Gaza side of the border crossing (it's feasible - see the map at the top. The Philadelphi corridor is the black strip along the left side) is probably the only way to stop the smuggling. But given how much weaponry is in Gaza already, it's too little too late to avoid the need for an Israeli invasion. The problem is that even after an Israeli invasion, I doubt Abu Mazen can control Gaza without Israeli troops staying there, see "Judea and Samaria." Deja vu all over again.
The one option that doesn't seem to be getting serious consideration is perhaps the only one that Hamas itself might accept: a cease-fire with Israel that would end attacks by both sides, open Gaza to normal commerce and allow the peace negotiations to go forward without interference. Such a deal, which is favored by the out-of-power Israeli left, doesn't fit with the Bush administration's vision of a polarized Middle East in which Iran and its allies are irreconcilable. Hamas might indeed be unyielding in its opposition to peace. But if there is no cease-fire, prepare for war.
And it's probably the least realistic option because it would be a hudna just puts off the war with Hamas so that they can regroup. Then we'd have a worse problem on our hands a year or two down the road. We'd have to be insane to accept this option. Then again, our 'leadership' is insane so I wouldn't rule out its happening.


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