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The Test of the Cease-Fire

Noah Pollak is right to be skeptical of the cease-fire declared last night. What should have happened is clear: The real goal of Israel’s assault should have been to topple the Hamas regime, undoing the violent coup of 2006, gutting the Strip of its hard core of terror, restoring rule to the Palestinian Authority which, since Israel removed the West Bank’s own terror core in 2002, has been gradually working its way to a reasonable attitude towards violence, and reestablishing its economy, civic institutions, and security apparatus.

Anything short of that goal is a real problem. Ultimately, there can be no peace unless the Palestinians forswear terror and violence against Israel. But Hamas is unflinchingly dedicated to Israel’s destruction and to employing terror until Israel is gone. The real question is: How much political support do they maintain in the Gaza Strip? Or in the rest of the Arab world? Clearly, the terror worldview has taken a beating in the war, but the results will be ambiguous so long as Hamas can show they survived Israel’s heaviest onslaught. They can claim victory just like Hezbollah. And they can continue to terrify their own population into supporting them. Only removing them from Gaza will make the message crystal clear.

We can guess the Israeli considerations that led to the cease-fire: The fear of major IDF casualties in a house-to-house operation, and the fear of losing international support, especially as Barack Obama enters the White House. Yet these fears should have been outweighed by other fears: the fear of any new oversight regime turning into another toothless deal like the UN Resolution 1701 that supposedly was to prevent Hezbollah from rearming but instead became the framework enabling Hezbollah to rearm; and the fear of the Israeli voter, who is willing to endure missiles on civilian centers only so long as the IDF is going in to finish the job. Oh yes, and that part about Gilad Shalit — this will certainly not go over so well with voters. Last night, Shalit’s parents held a press conference declaring that any agreement that does not include his release amounts to a death sentence for him. And then there were all those soldiers, carrying banners with Shalit’s name on it into war…

There are exactly two possibilities here. Either the cease-fire is a tactical pause, aimed at re-establishing Israel’s international standing in advance of the final push, or offering the Hamas leadership the chance to relocate to Syria before being removed by force. Or it is yet another in a long series of Israeli failures to fight terror — ventures that start with a large pile of political will and public backing, and end with capitulation to international pressure that inevitably lets the terrorists off the hook, to later regroup, rearm, and come back stronger. This was the story of Arafat after Beirut; the story of Hezbollah in 2006; will it be the story of Hamas in 2009?

Israel will definitely earn a lot of international points this week for its cease-fire: Today, we will enjoy the company of Sarkozy and Merkel, who come to Israel to show support. Both of the above scenarios could benefit from these visits.

We should not expect a swift Israeli withdrawal under Hamas fire. Little can be more damaging to Kadima’s and Labor’s election hopes than a replay of Ehud Barak’s disastrous Lebanon pullout in 2000. A continuation of hostilities will make the cease-fire increasingly untenable.

If Hamas is smart, they will stop launching rockets at Israel now, even though they vow to keep fighting on. So far, however, Hamas has not been so smart. And they are under incredible pressure to keep fighting — from their Damascus headquarters, and from their Iranian sponsors. But the Hamas regime’s fate is in its hands right now.

If I had to bet, I would still put my money on an eventual removal of the Hamas regime: It is still in the clear interests of Kadima, Israel, Egypt, the Palestinian Authority, and Barack Obama. The timetable? Weeks, not months. Israel holds elections on February 10, and we can be fairly certain that the government’s future rests on being able to show the public that this war, with all its horrors on both sides, was not in vain. Stay tuned.



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