Haaretz journalist Ami Issacharoff writes an opinion column today about how the Lebanon war is “playing” among Palestinians. He posits the odd theory that Israel must continue the fight against Hezbollah because to back down now would only strengthen Hamas’ hand against Fatah.
I don’t buy much of the argument. But it does raise an interesting point. Israel, in lashing out so disproportionately against Hezbollah and Lebanon; and in upping the ante by citing its goal of eradicating Hezbollah–has set itself up for failure if it achieves anything less than that. And it is virtually certain that it will not come anywhere close to eradicating or disarming Hezbollah, at least not for the foreseeable future.
So what consequence does that have for Israel’s relationship with the Palestinians? Some very important ones. In fact, one might argue that Israel’s attacks yesterday in northern Gaza in which 24 Palestinians were killed (the highest daily death toll since Israel withdrew last year) might be seen as a pre-emptive statement of deterrence. As if the IDF were saying: “So we lost a few in Bint Jbail. Just don’t get any big ideas, because we can still hand you a bloody nose at will.”
But of course, Israel’s bloody nose at Bint Jbail will have enormous consequences for Palestinians militants. They will see that Israel is vulnerable to a well-equipped, well-trained guerrilla force. This will only inspire Hamas and Islamic Jihad to redouble their efforts to damage Israeli interests.
Miraculously though, Mahmoud Abbas announced today that a Palestinian ceasefire and the return of kidnapped soldier, Gilad Shalit was imminent. To be candid, we have heard stories like this for some time. But this one appears to have a ring of authenticity to it:
Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas, who is on a visit to Italy, announced on Thursday that he had enough reason to believe that kidnapped IDF soldier Cpl. Gilad Shalit would be released very soon.
Abbas was speaking to reporters in Rome after talks with Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi.
“I told the prime minister that as far as the question of the abducted Israeli soldier is concerned efforts are undergoing continuously that lead us to believe that the solution will be imminent,” he said.
The Jerusalem Post described the initiative being negotiated among Palestinian factions:
The initiative calls for an immediate halt to Israeli military operations in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. In return, the Palestinians will announce a new hudna (truce) and release Shalit as part of a prisoner swap with Israel.
“This is a very serious Palestinian political initiative,” said Salah Bardaweel, a Hamas legislator from the Gaza Strip.
And apparently, if one believes the unnamed PA informant quoted below, some in Hamas don’t agree with Issacharoff’s analysis above about the prospect that it has much to gain from any Israeli withdrawal or defeat in Lebanon:
“The war in Lebanon has apparently led Hamas to reconsider its position,” a senior PA official in Ramallah told The Jerusalem Post. “They see that the international community, including some Arab countries, have come out in public against Hizbullah and they don’t want to find themselves in the same situation.”
Another official pointed out that Hamas is under growing pressure from the Palestinian public to resolve the case of Shalit because of Israel’s ongoing military attacks, which have claimed the lives of at least 130 Palestinians in the past five weeks.
As with all such claims, we’ll have to wait and see whether they’re borne out by actual events. But were Israel to agree to end its Gaza invasion and its targeted killing of Gaza militants and to return Palestinian prisoners in return for an end to Palestinian rocket attacks and the return of Shalit, it would be a days of miracles.