Note to readers: I first met Yitzhak Sokoloff in 2002 when he spoke in Brookline about the Jenin operation, which the MSM media had almost universally presented as a massacre of defenseless Palestinians. He argued, on the contrary, that it represented the most exceptional case in recorded history of an army putting its own men in danger to spare the lives of civilians. It was really then that I understood how profoundly the media invert reality with their coverage. I have stayed in touch with him all these years, and been repeatedly impressed with the originality and common sense of his thoughts on the conflict. I have always urged him to write something for my blog, and now he offers these thoughts on the unilateral cease-fire.
Earlier this morning Israel inaugurated a self-imposed cease-fire in the Gaza Strip. The reason for this was not the inability of the Israeli Army to conquer the Gaza Strip and arrest the leadership of the Hamas, but the failure of the present Israeli leadership to imagine the possibility of victory over the forces of radical Islam. Many Israeli commentators are viewing this move as a creative way of dealing with the dilemma of bringing the war to an end before the inauguration of Barrack Obama without handing Hamas the victory of its own legitimatization through a negotiated cease-fire. In all likelihood, this effort will fail. Faced by the military might of an Israel which was cheered on by Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia, Hamas has nevertheless emerged with the upper hand by virtue of its own survival. As long as it remains willing to pay a price in Palestinian casualties – and if anything this war has proven, it is that the Hamas has no regard for the lives of its own people [actually seeks to maximize death among its own people — rl] – Hamas can still launch rockets at Israeli cities and brainwash Palestinian children to become suicide bombers.
Israel has proven today that the Hamas is an indispensable political factor in the region and this is far more important than whether or not Hamas can replenish its arsenal in imitation of the Hizboulla. Hamas still holds the priceless bargaining chip of Gilad Shalit, and most important, despite all the havoc that it has wrought, Hamas continues to be in control of the 1.5 million Palestinians living in the Gaza Strip. It is this control that will force the international community, like it or not, to grant some sort of political legitimacy to what remains a terrorist movement devoted to Israel’s destruction.
Even Israel has agreed that one result of the war will be a massive relief effort conducted by the international community. Who will be the chief beneficiary of this effort if not Hamas itself? Its control will mean that anyone trying to bring humanitarian aid into Gaza will need to go through Hamas. In addition to what it can siphon off directly for its own forces, Hamas will have the first and last word as to where the aid is distributed. Palestinians who dare to challenge Hamas rule will at the very least be denied assistance, and at the very worse added to the list of those already dealt with by Hamas execution squads.
For the past three weeks Israel and Egypt have both refused to permit an army of journalists poised to enter Gaza to begin the next phase of this war, the competition for the best picture of Palestinian suffering. When the journalists finally enter the areas of Gaza under Hamas control they will not find many Palestinians eager to condemn Hamas for initiating the war. The Hamas leadership will quickly emerge from beneath the hospital where it has been hiding and it will be clear to any Palestinian with a sense of self-preservation just whom to blame for all of the destruction. The journalists will quickly learn to avoid asking questions that meet with Hamas disapproval and Israel will be at the receiving end of a wave of righteous indignation.
Is there an alternative? Many Israeli commentators and officials prefer a weakened Hamas to a Gaza controlled by the IDF, even temporarily. I would argue that Israel would have done better had it finished off the Hamas and then invited the Egyptians to lead an international effort to repair the Gaza Strip, beginning with the replacement of the refugee camps by decent housing, a move that could have convinced the people of Gaza that there are better alternatives to Hamas. Such an effort would require courage and vision but these are the precisely the elements required to ensure victory over the forces of Islamic fundamentalism and to insure a better future for both Israel and the Palestinians.