Hamas's latest offer is to temporarily stop massive attacks inside pre-Six Day War Israel, while continuing with smaller attacks. Massive attacks by Hamas, it says, will be limited during this undefined period to Judea, Samaria, and Gaza. The offer is contingent on Israel agreeing to stop all targeted killings of Hamas members and releasing all terrorists from jail.
Israel's latest offer is to stop targeted killings of Hamas leaders and commanders if Hamas agrees to stop all terrorist attacks everywhere. In addition, Israel will continue expelling Israelis from their homes in unauthorized communities in Judea and Samaria.
The Palestinian Authority's latest offer is to form a unity government with Hamas if its leaders agree to announce they accept a temporary cease-fire (hopefully) ahead of PA Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas's meeting with US Secretary of State Colin Powell today. The offer does not seem to be limited in time. That is, even if Hamas does not oblige Abbas ahead of his meeting with Powell, its representatives will still be allowed to join his government.
For his part, Powell is poised to demand that Israel make a new offer that includes releasing terrorists from jail and ending targeted killings of all Hamas terrorists except for "ticking bombs" narrowly defined. The US will expand its demand that Israel increase the pace and breadth of expulsions of Israelis from unauthorized communities and stop building the wall that is supposed to keep Palestinian terrorists from infiltrating into pre-Six Day War Israel.
At this juncture, the demand that Hamas be dismantled as a fighting force is not on the table.
What does all of this talk bode for Hamas? We have a model in Hizbullah. Following the failed Operation Grapes of Wrath in Lebanon in 1996, Israel agreed to stop fighting Hizbullah in populated areas. That is, it allowed Hizbullah freedom to operate on its own favored territory.
Ending IAF air strikes against Hizbullah targets in populated areas effectively neutralized Israel's military advantage against the terrorist force.
Likewise, Israel's willingness to forgo the option of targeted killings of Hamas terrorists means that Israel is conceding its most powerful weapon against Hamas. As one Palestinian source puts it, "Why do you think this is their first demand? Because it is the Israeli weapon they most fear. Take away the targeted assassinations, you lose all deterrence against them."
The upshot is that Hamas will be allowed to retain its finances, arms, leadership, foot soldiers, and access to public opinion. Hamas is now being legitimized by all parties.
Of course, Hamas's second demand — to end demolition of the homes of terrorists — is already on the road map. No doubt this tool, which has worked to deter hundreds if not thousands of Palestinians from becoming suicide bombers, will soon be loudly condemned by the members of the Quartet, and Israel will agree, in a later stage of negotiations — perhaps after this cease-fire fails? — to end the practice.
What is the significance of all these rounds of negotiations with Hamas for the PA? What they expose is that the PA has not made a decision to fight terrorism. Abbas has made this repeatedly clear. His security chief Muhammad Dahlan's demand this week that known murderers Tawfik Tirawi and Rashid Abu Shabak be appointed to head his forces in Judea, Samaria, and the Gaza Strip is simply further proof that the PA security forces will continue to be terrorist forces.
In offering Hamas, Islamic Jihad, and Fatah seats at his cabinet table, Abbas is merely solidifying the already existing unity of forces. This unity has existed overtly since Yasser Arafat and Marwan Barghouti formed the "Unified Resistance of the Intifada" in the fall of 2001 to coordinate terrorist attacks among Fatah, Hamas, Islamic Jihad, and PLO member organizations like the DFLP and the PFLP.
As for the US, the Bush administration seems intent on repeating the policy that scored its predecessor so badly. Powell made this point clear on Wednesday, when he was quoted as saying, "I am encouraged that both sides seem to realize that they cannot allow this immediate wave of terrorism to stand in the way of progress down the road map. There is no alternative."
The main problem of all the discussions with Hamas is what they say about the Israeli government generally and about the leadership of Ariel Sharon specifically. Just one week ago, Sharon declared that he would wage an all-out war against Hamas, now he is bargaining with it. Was the attempted hit on Hamas leader Abdel Aziz Rantisi simply a negotiating tactic? Was Sharon simply putting the notion of targeting Hamas leaders on the table in order for him to concede it? Possibly.
At the very least, it appears that Sharon, who was elected overwhelmingly in 2001 to end his predecessor Ehud Barak's ruinous diplomatic policies, has now adopted them as his own.
And it is impossible to blame Sharon's actions on US pressure. In stepping back from his earlier criticism of the Rantisi hit, US President George W. Bush at least showed last week that he will not advance his Middle East policy at the cost of an overt confrontation with Israel.
As for Sharon, he is beginning to look more and more like Shimon Peres. Until Peres's ascent to national leadership in the 1980s and 1990s, he was one of the most compelling strategic thinkers in Israel. His visions were at once vast, ideologically sound, and pragmatic. But at a certain point it seems that Peres abandoned all his previous convictions in order to enjoy personal popularity among Israel's social elites and European intellectuals. Like Peres, Sharon seems to have abandoned strategic (and moral) clarity for vapid slogans.
Aside from negotiating with Hamas after declaring war on it, the other glaring example of this intellectual shallowness is Sharon's defense of dismantling the outposts. Just last year, Chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. Moshe Ya'alon said: "Every evacuation [of settlements] under terrorism and violence will strengthen the terror and violence. It will endanger us."
And yet, as civilians are massacred on buses and little girls are shot dead on highways, Sharon is dismantling them. He is doing so to prove what is already as clear as the roundness of the earth — that Israel is willing to make compromises for peace. Americans do not need further proof of this fact.
The final question is what our habit of repeating past mistakes says about the way decisions are made in this country. What it says is that today there is no open debate about the future we want for ourselves.
Take the example of the murder of Noam Leibowitz on Tuesday night. In crawling under the eight-meter high wall of separation between Route 6 and Kalkilya, the terrorists put paid to the quaint notion that a new Maginot line can work for us. Yet rather than allow this simple truth to come out, Israeli newspapers and broadcast media invited only the wall's chief proponents to explain why it still works.
For its part, the IDF was quick to say that it will be building 21 military camps and dozens of static outposts along the wall to guard it. So in order to guard a worthless wall, the IDF will be building static defenses that will themselves become attractive targets for terrorists.
As for the larger strategic blunder of regurgitating Oslo, we are told by our media elites that there is no alternative. No other plan exists, they say. Tel Aviv University held a three-day conference this week in which the participants at the failed Camp David summit sat and discussed why their operation was a success, even if the patient died. There has been no discussion whatsoever of Tourism Minister Benny Elon's plan to end the war. His plan, which involves the dissolution of
the PA and the resettlement of Palestinian refugees in Jordan is completely unknown to Israelis, even as Elon himself has twice traveled to the US to explain his alternative to American audiences.
Perhaps his ideas have merit. Perhaps some do and others do not. How can we know?
That Hamas is a terrorist organization dedicated to the destruction of the State of Israel through genocide is known by all. So why is no one pointing out how dangerous it is to be negotiating with these murderers?
The time has come for the citizens of this country to demand that our leaders contend with reality. We need to be able to tell ourselves that there is something pathological about a people that insists on repeating its mistakes. We must demand and embrace discussion of alternatives to failed strategies. Our political leaders, academic and media elites must be put on notice that we insist that alternative voices be heard, because what stands in the balance is not about them. It is about our survival.
Originally published in The Jerusalem Post