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December 18, 2008: Gaza

December 18, 2008

So, it’s official (at least for now): A spokesman for Hamas has declared it will not be renewing the “lull” that ends tomorrow.

Not only are the more radical elements of this radical organization holding sway at the moment, there is less of a tendency to hold back other militant groups such as Islamic Jihad and the Popular Front.

But a couple of observations about what has been described as a split in the Hamas leadership are worth making here. First, Khaled Mashaal, who is opposed to further quiet, is situated in Damascus. Thus, he is more directly under the influence of Syria and Iran than are leaders such as Ismail Haniyeh and Mahmoud Zahar, in Gaza City. On the flip side, Haniyeh and company are aware that if there are heightened hostilities with Israel, Hamas leadership in Gaza will be targeted.

However, to illustrate how complicated the situation is, it was Zahar, in Gaza, who stated in a recent interview that Palestinians need to fight to regain their land.


In response to the barrage of rockets launched from Gaza yesterday, the Israeli Air Force took out two stationary rocket launchers near Jabaliya, in the north of Gaza, targeted a weapons cache in Jabaliya, and a site for manufacturing rockets and mortars in Khan Younis, in the south of Gaza. Both fighter planes and helicopters were involved in this operation — the first against infrastructure since the “lull” began six months ago.


Assuming that Hamas doesn’t switch its position at zero hour, what can we expect now? More operations such as the one done today, certainly, and likely larger operations from the air. The question of whether a major offensive that includes ground forces is imminent remains unanswerable from where I sit. The experts are generous with their frequently conflicting opinions.

That the IDF is ready, I believe is not a question. Some sources are saying something really big is on the immediate horizon. Others suggest the timing militarily may be wrong because we’re going into winter, which means foot soldiers in the mud and poor visibility for planes because of clouds.

And then there are those saying the opportunity has been lost because Hamas has developed such a good defense against foot soldiers with booby traps and tunnels. It’s painful to even write about this possibility because we should never, ever have let it get to this point. Six month “lull” indeed! A “lull” that gave them an opportunity to do this preparation unimpeded. My own guess, from everything I’ve heard, is that going in would be more difficult, but not impossible.

When all is said and done, however, the ultimate decisions come from the political level. So then there are questions to be asked regarding what our political heads, such as they are, may be considering. The election is certainly a factor. Would Kadima consider it a political asset to appear tough right before that election? Labor, which appeals to an even more left-wing electorate, likely would not.


If matters proceed in the direction in which they seem now to be going, there is yet another factor: The so-called “peace process.” How does strong Israeli action impinge on Abbas’s standing and what pressures will be brought to bear on Israel in this regard? The line has been that Israeli action in Gaza hurts Abbas, because he is then seen to be negotiating with an entity that is shooting Palestinians. But tensions today between Hamas and Fatah are such that I wonder if that is truly the case.

Remember Livni’s quote from yesterday: “…the negotiations must be accompanied by parallel and uncompromising efforts against Hamas rule in Gaza and terrorist groups that target innocent civilians. Concern for security is the first and highest imperative.”


There are some thoughtful predictions that within a matter of weeks we’ll be seeing two completely separate Palestinian entities — with different governments and different armed forces. This issue, most of all, fascinates me with regard to the presumption that we are supposed to forge ahead with the Annapolis agreement. That was all predicated on one Palestinian people.


Ehud Olmert is coming from a place that is both mindless and dangerous. He is headed for Turkey on Monday to discuss picking up again on the indirect talks with Syria. In a speech today he said that peace with Syria is “feasible” and would give Israel “substantial advantages”:

“I sometimes hear censure of the peace process with Syria. There is the concern that Syria will continue its ties with Hamas, Hezbollah and Iran in the future. It is exactly in order to test these ties that we need to talk to Syria.”

Huh? He can talk to the Syrians and Assad can say whatever he wishes to say, and this guarantees exactly nothing. It was only days ago that Assad had the audacity to say that he wants Olmert to promise — before there are negotiations! — that Syria can come all the way down to the Kinneret if there’s a deal. And Olmert is responding to this with serious discussion? To even contemplate allowing Syria down that far, to the edge of one of our major water sources, is total lunacy.


As assurance that what Olmert is attempting is not likely to happen, I offer this:

First, there are very serious legal questions as to the permissibility of Olmert, heading a transition government, negotiating anything this huge.

Then there is the law: The Golan Heights are incorporated as part of sovereign Israel, governed under Israeli civil law. The law says that no part of sovereign Israel can be given away without a vote of the Knesset and a national referendum. And the mood in this country is very much against giving away the Golan.


The political situation is so much in flux here that it’s necessary to keep a score card. Now I want to focus on one key happening of significance with regard to the right wing parties, with other political news to follow in the next few days.

National Union — which had three factions, the largest and most significant being Moledet — and the National Religious Party had announced a merger some months ago that was intended to strengthen them. Their new party was named the Jewish Home. But it took off very poorly and polls showed a weakening of their strength. There was some quibbling about who would head the party and some question of how they would define themselves. After Gen. Yaakov Amidror declined to lead the party, they selected little known Daniel Hershkowitz — a Haifa rabbi and professor at the Technion — whose statements rapidly indicated that the party was moving centrist.

When the party list was established by party council without benefit of a primary, only the leader of Moledet, Rabbi Benny Elon, found himself out in the cold, an untenable 17th. Moledet was a nationalist party, primarily religious Zionist, and the Jewish Home wanted to head in a different direction. Benny Elon, I should note, has established and promoted the “Israel Initiative,” a plan for resolving the question of how to achieve peace, which can be seen at http://www.israelinitiative.com/.


MK Aryeh Eldad had been a member of Moledet, but is a secular nationalist. He left Moledet, feeling it wasn’t the place for him, and began his own HaTikvah party. Eldad, a physician by training, is a model of integrity and devotion to the State. But his new party wasn’t gaining traction and it
looked regrettably as if he would not be in the next Knesset.


Now tonight comes this announcement: Moledet is pulling out of the new Jewish Home party, and Benny Elon is retiring from politics. The remainder of the party will be joining with Eldad’s HaTikvah and putting together their list for the election. This means, first, that there is new hope for Eldad. And then that a nationalist ticket will be invigorated. Among those likely to be high up on the list from Moledet is Uri Bank — well known to those on the inside for his hard work for years at the side of Benny Elon, most recently with regard to the Israel Initiative. It would be good to see him make it to the Knesset.

There may be even more to say about this situation shortly.




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