Tuesday, March 4, 2008

The bad or the worse

Ehud Olmert faces two risky options to halt the violence in Gaza, but he must choose one now

By Aluf Benn
The Guardian, Tuesday March 4 2008

".....He can try to negotiate a ceasefire with Hamas. In a recent Ha'aretz poll, 64% of Israelis supported talks with Hamas on a ceasefire and prisoner exchange. The arguments for talking to Hamas are compelling: a quiet period may lead the organisation to moderate and politicise itself; Hamas has proved more disciplined than Fatah in respecting ceasefires; and Hamas doesn't ask Israel for a final peace deal - it suffices with a long-term truce - which is safer politically for Olmert. But the government is reluctant to reverse its course, forgo its efforts to isolate and bring down Hamas, and admit its strategic failure and weakness.

Olmert fears that by recognising Hamas, Israel will be practically dismissing the president, Mahmoud Abbas, and what remains of the Palestinian moderate camp. Instead, Israel will have to deal with a rejectionist regime that refuses to recognise the country's legitimacy.

The other option, invade and occupy Gaza, is even riskier. It would entail many casualties among Israeli soldiers and Palestinian civilians, and Israel lacks an exit strategy. Nobody is eager to take responsibility for Gaza, and the prospect of controlling the lives of 1.5 million Palestinians is a nightmare for Israelis.

So Olmert is trying desperately to buy more time with limited military operations, while pledging to keep peace negotiations going with Abbas. Olmert's pledges to end the rocket fire ring hollow. The Israeli media and the public are challenging him to order "the large ground operation". Cabinet ministers suggest bombing the site of rocket attacks even if they are in civilian neighbourhoods. Olmert has to choose between the bad and the worse.

In the Arab-Israeli context, wars happen when governments and organisations feel they must deliver on unfulfilled pledges. That is why further escalation appears inevitable - with far-reaching implications for the Middle East's future."

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