By MICHAEL B. OREN
The Wall Street Journal Online June 19, 2008
Proponents of an Israeli-Palestinian accord are praising the cease-fire between Israel and Hamas that went into effect this morning. Yet even if the agreement suspends violence temporarily -- though dozens of Hamas rockets struck Israel yesterday -- it represents a historic accomplishment for the jihadist forces most opposed to peace, and defeat for the Palestinians who might still have been Israel's partners.
The roots of this tragedy go back to the summer of 2005 and the Israeli withdrawal from Gaza. The evacuation, intended to free Israel of Gaza's political and strategic burden, was hailed as a victory by Palestinian terrorist groups, above all Hamas.
Hamas proceeded to fire some 1,000 rocket and mortar shells into Israel. Six months later Hamas gunmen, taking advantage of an earlier cease-fire, infiltrated into Israel, killed two soldiers, and captured Cpl. Gilad Shalit.
Hamas's audacity spurred Hezbollah to mount a similar ambush against Israelis patrolling the Lebanese border, triggering a war in which Israel was once again humbled. Hamas now felt sufficiently emboldened to overthrow Gaza's Fatah-led government, and to declare itself regnant in the Strip. Subsequently, Hamas launched thousands more rocket and mortar salvos against Israel, rendering parts of the country nearly uninhabitable.
In response, Israel Defense Forces (IDF) air strikes and limited ground incursions killed hundreds of armed Palestinians in Gaza, and Israel earned international censure for collateral civilian deaths and "disproportionate" tactics. Israel also imposed a land and sea blockade of Gaza, strictly controlling its supply of vital commodities such as a gasoline. But the policy enabled Hamas to hoard the fuel and declare a humanitarian crisis.
Israel never mounted the rolling, multi-month operation that the IDF had planned. Traumatized by his abortive performance in the Lebanon War, hobbled by financial scandals, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert balked at a military engagement liable to result in incalculable casualties and United Nations condemnations, but unlikely to halt Hamas aggression.
Like Hezbollah in 2006, Hamas won because it did not lose. Its leaders still walked Gaza's streets freely while children in Sderot and other Israeli border towns cowered in bomb shelters. Like Hezbollah, which recently wrested unprecedented powers from the Lebanese parliament, Hamas parlayed its military success into political capital.
The European Parliament demanded the immediate lifting of the Gaza blockade, and France initiated secret contacts with Hamas officials. A minister from the Israeli Labor Party, Ami Ayalon, went a step further by calling for Hamas's inclusion in peace talks -- a recommendation soon echoed by Jimmy Carter and the New York Times.
The Egyptian-brokered cease-fire yields Hamas greater benefits than it might have obtained in direct negotiations. In exchange for giving its word to halt rocket attacks and weapons smuggling, Hamas receives the right to monitor the main border crossings into Gaza and to enforce a truce in the West Bank, where Fatah retains formal control.
If quiet is maintained, then Israel will be required to accept a cease-fire in the West Bank as well. The blockade will be incrementally lifted while Cpl. Shalit remains in captivity. Hamas can regroup and rearm.
The Olmert government will have to go vast lengths to portray this arrangement as anything other than a strategic and moral defeat. Hamas initiated a vicious war against Israel, destroyed and disrupted myriad Israeli lives, and has been rewarded with economic salvation and international prestige.
Tellingly, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who once declared Hamas illegal, will soon travel to Gaza for reconciliation talks. Mr. Abbas's move signifies the degree to which Hamas, with Israel's help, now dominates Palestinian politics. It testifies, moreover, to another Iranian triumph.
As the primary sponsor of Hamas, Iran is the cease-fire's ultimate beneficiary. Having already surrounded Israel on three of its borders -- Gaza, Lebanon, Syria -- Iran is poised to penetrate the West Bank. By activating these fronts, Tehran can divert attention from its nuclear program and block any diplomatic effort.
The advocates of peace between Israelis and Palestinians should recognize that fact when applauding quiet at any price. The cost of this truce may well be war.
Mr. Oren, a senior fellow at the Shalem Center in Jerusalem, is the author of "Power, Faith, and Fantasy: America in the Middle East, 1776 to the Present" (Norton, 2008).
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