Wednesday, December 27, 2006

You have your cease-fire, I’ll have mine

You have your cease-fire, I’ll have mine, seems to be the way the Palestinian Authority is playing the game.

Since the cease-fire approximately sixty rockets have fallen on Israel. Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has maintained his side of the bargain, supported by Israel’s left-wing parties, the US, and the EU.

Palestinian President Abu Mazen has, for his part, sent in 13,000 PA policemen to help keep the relative peace. Israel allowed Abu Mazen room to maneuver. PM Olmert restrained the forces in his government and the army who wanted to react to the continued rocket attacks, which average about two a day.

On Tuesday, however, a Qassam rocket hit Sderot, the easiest and closest target to Gaza, wounding two young Yeshiva students, one seriously. Pictures of the boy on a stretcher being placed in an ambulance touched the hearts of most Israelis.

The army went back on the offensive, calling for action. Likud chairman, former Prime Minister Benjamin ‘Bibi’ Netanyhu called for the end of Israel’s restraint. The Hebrew newspapers, like Yideot Achranot, ran headlines declaring that the period of restraint was over.

It is more than possible that the Yeshiva students were not the main catalyst to the government’s decision on Wednesday morning to begin pinpoint attacks against targets in Gaza responsible for the Qassam rockets.

Over the last few days the Qassams have been landing in or near a “strategic” site near Ashkelon. Translate ‘strategic’ to mean either a military instillation of some type. Hamas, or whoever is firing the missiles, had these bases in range, and was firing at them with some success. One would assume the defense establishment was less than happy about this turn of events.

Now Israel will have it’s own interpretation of “cease-fire.” To Hamas, a few rockets a day is still within their definition of cease-fire. Israel has decided that two can play that same game. A few attacks on Palestinians, now and then, here and there, will not be an end to the “restraint” Israel has been exercising, it will only be stretching the definition, much as Hamas has allowed their cease-fire rules to be defined, at best, as extremely elastic.

Israel has had many reasons for exercising restraint. One is Gilad Shalit, the soldier captured by Hamas at the beginning of the War in Lebanon II. On Wednesday a visiting Egyptian dignitary said that the release of Shalit is only a few days away. This mantra has been chanted for months, usually just when Israel is losing patience with Hamas, and is about to launch a serious attack against Palestinian targets.

Israelis would love to see Shalit released. The country would breath a sigh of relief. Hamas knows this, and has dangled Shalit in Israel’s face as a warning what might happen to him if the IDF attacks Gaza. Reason one for the restraint.

The Olmert government suffered immensely following the War in Lebanon II fiasco. Olmert is very much in tune with what the world thinks of Israel, or perhaps him, on that the jury is still out. By exercising ‘restraint’ in the face of the Qassam rockets he is gaining points with the international community. He reportedly plans to ask the UN Security Council to do something about the Qassam rockets. As long as Israel hold its fire, Olmert scores PR points. Reason number two for restraint.

The US government, embarrassed by Israel’s poor showing in the War in Lebanon II, embattled in Iraq, needs to show some international success. U.S. Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice has called for the restraint. The U.S. asked Olmert to release some Israeli tax money collected from the Palestinians that is due to the Palestinian Authority.

The idea is that giving Abu Mazen some much needed cash will strengthen him in the eyes of the Palestinians. The U.S. wants Palestinian President Abu Mazen in power, not Hamas Prime Minister Haniyeh. The U.S. fear that if Israel starts shooting at Gaza, launches a ground offensive, starts sustained attacks, Abu Mazen will lose face, and become a non-entity among the Palestinians.

Forget the conundrum that Abu Mazen lost the election, and Hamas won in a democratic vote. The U.S. feels that Israel can deal with Abu Mazen, and can’t ever deal with Hamas. Reason three for restraint.

So, the puzzle presented to Olmert was how can Israel react to the Qassam rockets without breaking the cease-fire and stop its policy of ‘restraint?’ The solution, although temporary, was brilliant in its simplicity. Redefine the word ‘restraint.’

Everyone should now be happy. The radicals in Gaza can fire their rockets, the IDF can respond, the newspapers can show Israel is doing something; only the battered residents of Sderot in Israel’s south, and those Palestinians in Gaza, who are about to be pounded by the IDF, will suffer.

Abu Mazen can go about his business. Haniyeh can go about his business. Olmert can go about his business. A few more roadblocks will be taken off the Palestinian highways, a few more trucks will be allowed in from Gaza, a few more Palestinian workers let into Israel.

Maybe Gilad Shalit will even get to go home. Maybe Syrian President Assad is serious about talking peace.

Or maybe the first IDF attacks will result in the radicals doubling their rocket fire, on and on, until the conflagration rages once again. Maybe Hamas will become another Hizbollah, as some predict. Maybe Assad is only playing for time while his allies rearm; talking peace and making peace are universes apart. One may lead to the other, but Israel has talked peace in the past with Syria, with no conclusion, and made peace with the Palestinians, with broken promises to show for it.

An editorial in the New York Times on Wendesday was harshly critical of Israel for an announcement that a new settlement would be built, the first in 10 years, a move which the editorial writer thought would damage Abu Mazen even further.

The settlement, in the northern Jordan Valley, is planned to house 30 families evacuated from the Gaza Strip’s Jewish settlements. Dovish Minister of Defense Amir Peretz okayed the plan already approved by the previous Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz.

The editorial writer was livid that such a flagrant violation of a peace initiative could be implemented at this time. He, or she, was just as angry at Israel with holding the tax money from the PA. This editorial page does not support giving aid to Hamas, read the editorial, but withholding tax money is bad policy.

Well, does he think that tax money will go to pay salaries? Buy bread and milk for the hungry in Gaza? Buy gauze and cotton and medicine for the hospitals to treat the wounded? Or go into Hamas coffers to buy more arms, or be transferred to the cronies of Abu Mazen who have been raiding the Palestinian Authority’s bank accounts for decades; a practice so wide-spread, well-known, and hated that these PA crooks under Abu Mazen lost the vote to Hamas.

But the Times doesn’t mention any of this. Only goes on about the settlement for thirty families in the middle of no where. A ‘sop’ to the powerful settlement movement. In fact the settlement movement has hardly any power or prestige left after Gaza. Sharon broke their back. One would expect the NY Times to know better. Should know that Abu Mazen is a 100-1 shot at Pimlico.

Israel’s Nobel Prize winner in Economics, Prof. Robert J. Aumann told Israel Radio on Wednesday that the key to any successful economic strategy is patience. He said that in Israel people want peace ‘now.’ (a barb at the left-wing Peace Now movement), but what is needed is patience.

Maybe Olmert is right after all.