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Ira Sharkansky



Hamas 'government' unable to speak
with one voice in Gaza crisis, July 2, 2006

By Ira Sharkansky
We are in the middle of something. We do not know exactly what.
A variety of gangs associated with the Hamas government of Palestine or in competition with it overreached themselves when they attacked an IDF outpost and took a soldier as prisoner. They provided Israel unavoidable reasons to move with force. They had invaded Israel; they had killed soldiers and taken one hostage; and they did it as Israel was more than fed up with continued rocket attacks against settlements close to the border with Gaza.
At about the same time and in another area, another gang kidnapped a young Israeli hitchhiker. Apparently they killed him soon after seizing him, but continued for several days to offer his freedom in exchange for Israeli concessions.  That game ended when Israel seized some of the people involved, and they let on where they put the body.
For about a week there have been considerable IDF forces in the southern part of Gaza, additional forces poised to enter the northern part, and continued air strikes and artillery barrages against various targets in Gaza. Much of the population there has been without electricity; water supplies are doubtful insofar as electricity powers the pumps; and they are running short of medical supplies, oil, and gasoline. Israel has promised to open the borders for humanitarian supplies. Once the fighting ends, it may take several months or a year to repair the damage to electrical installations.
Among the targets have been Hamas government offices, including that of the prime minister. The IDF bombed it at night; meaning to send a message rather than to eliminate the prime minister immediately. It was less pleasant for about one-third of Hamas government ministers and a large number of its parliamentarians located in the West Bank. They are now in an Israeli prison, awaiting indictment for membership in a terrorist organization and other charges.
Israel is sending different messages. It demands the return of its soldier, apparently still alive and treated for minor wounds. It also wants those rockets to stop. Among the targets of the air force have been the workshops where they are made and stored; but the industry is crude. A new workshop can emerge in a small space in a short period of time. Israel also seems to be working to dismantle the Hamas government. That may have been accomplished, with the mass arrests in the West Bank and the concern of officials in Gaza to hide from IDF hunters. Different voices are making different demands as to the price required for information about the Israeli prisoner, or his release. Egyptian mediators are saying that Hamas has to deliver a clear message today, or Egypt will give up the task of helping to settle this.
Mahmoud Abbas, the Fatah President of the Palestinian National Authority has accused his political rivals in Hamas of incompetence in dealing with the crisis, but stands with them in condemning Israeli actions as violations of basic humanitarian concerns, international law, etc etc. He puts on the often used record that calls on the international community to intervene, but the international community seems to be tired of this performance. Arab governments have demanded a condemnation of Israel in UN forums, but so far have not gotten enough support to enact what they want.

Here we had a pleasant weekend: Saturday brunch with friends, and our usual late afternoon walk around Mt Eytan. Commentators speculate about the next round of the World Cup, and what will happen in Palestine. We see pictures of Palestinian families sitting in the floor with candlelight, not seeming to enjoy the ambience. They complain of frequent sonic booms, which is just one of the devices meant to increase the pressure. We also see pictures of families fleeing with small children and a few possessions from expected Israeli attacks.
There is no shortage of retired Israeli generals who criticize the current generation of politicians and generals for incompetence. Some urge massive force; some urge the beginning of what they see as the inevitable negotiation for a prisoner exchange. Most of them say that whatever is happening, it will not result in a solution of the problems with Palestinians. Some say we have not learned to live in the Middle East. One says that demands the use of much greater force; another says that it requires the acceptance of continued violence from problematic neighbors.
Perhaps the goal is something else: the Palestinians must learn to live with Israelis in the Middle East. No one should expect an early change in their culture. But if they do not learn how to live with much less violence alongside of us, they will continue to suffer much more than we do. At my advanced age, with friends even older and in worse shape than I, the metaphor that comes to mind is coping with chronic disease.

Sharkansky is an emeritus member of the political science department at Hebrew University in Jerusalem