So much for the empty-rhetoric option. Israel’s bombardment of Gaza, now in its fourth day, has yielded more than 360 casualties — all of them are Hamas, right? In one of the most densely populated regions on the planet? In a war prosecuted from the air? — and apocalyptic rhetoric from Israeli politicians about crushing Pales– oops, they mean Hamas. Israeli Interior Minister Meer Sheetrit:
“There is no room for a cease-fire.”
“The government is determined to remove the threat of fire on the south,” he said, referring to rocket attacks on southern Israel by Hamas forces. “Therefore the Israeli army must not stop the operation before breaking the will of Palestinians, of Hamas, to continue to fire at Israel.”
What’s fueling Sheetrit’s rhetoric isn’t just the Qassam missile threat to Sderot and neighboring areas of southern Israel, which despite its relentlessness has killed fewer than 20 people since 2001. It’s the prospect of exorcising the ghosts of the 2006 Lebanon invasion that failed to destroy Hezbollah. Hence the rhetoric of not stopping until… well, until some absurd metaphysical condition called “broken will” is achieved. This is not a clear mission. What happens after the bombardment stops and Hamas lobs another Qassam — or, worse, infiltrates a suicide bomber to Sderot or elsewhere? Forty years of occupation couldn’t “break” Palestinian “will.” How much bombardment can do the trick?
Defense Minister Ehud Barak distinguishes himself, though, talking about an “all-out war” to the “bitter end” in advance of his campaign for prime minister. It’s too pat to say that because Barak offered Yasir Arafat a far-reaching peace deal in 2000 that he’s inconsistent for supporting the pummelling of Gaza. Sometimes it’s right to make peace and other times it’s necessary to defend yourself. An “all-out war” that will do neither in the long run, however, is a catastrophe and should bar someone from qualifying for high office.
The United Nations wants a ceasefire. Even the Bush administration wants a ceasefire, though the way it expresses that — “In order for violence to stop, Hamas must stop firing rockets into Israel and agree to respect a sustainable and durable cease-fire,” in spokesman Gordon Johndroe’s words — will sound like capitulation to the Palestinians. The smartest thing Israel can do is arbitrarily declare that Hamas’ will has been broken and stop the bombing.
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