The seven days of Operation Days of Penitence have “produced” the death of more than 80 Palestinians, most of whom were militants and some of whom were civilians; hits at cells of Qassam rocket launchers, and tremendous damage to the civilian infrastructures in the northern Gaza Strip; but very little, if any, salvation for the Israeli side. It seems that the sigh of relief, which the residents of Sderot and other Israelis were hoping for, has yet to be heard. The frustration, even if it is concealed by populist political statements by the political echelon, or concise military-professional catch phrases, in seeking a remedy, but there apparently is none, at least not while playing by the rules the sides have chosen for the purpose of managing their violent confrontation.
The military echelon was practically forced into Operation Days of Penitence while understanding the limits of the use of force in the current context of the conflict, in the absence of a central power-broker in the Gaza Strip, given the reality of the shattered and powerless Hamas leadership and in the absence of political prospect or any other hope for the future among the civilian population in the Gaza Strip. The Israeli military echelon comprehends the fact that a strong Palestinian partner in the Gaza Strip is a vital Israeli interest for the success of the disengagement plan, but has failed to convince the political echelon of this.
The Israeli political echelon, horrified by the severe public reaction and the demoralizing helplessness of the residents of Sderot, was overcome by despair and anxiety over the futility of the political act of the disengagement plan. The attempt to take refuge in the concept of unilateralism as if that were the ultimate response to Palestinian agression perpetuates the clichÃ© of the absence of a Palestinian partner and is a self-fulfilling prophecy, a classic Pigmalion effect: Israel’s moves shape the Palestinian side’s modes of behavior and reaction in a way that substantiates the Israeli claim that there is no partner.
Seven days of intensive fighting in the northern Gaza Strip have not led to Palestinian surrender, nor to a drop in their level of motivation to continue firing Qassam rockets at Sderot and its environs (right under the nose of the military force deployed in the area); nor did it lead the Palestinian civilian population, which took the brunt of the damage, to put pressure on the Qassam launching cells and the other militants. The Israeli policy of use of force led to the complete eradication of any differentiation of the Palestinian population: it is viewed as of one fabric (despite the efforts to open "humanitarian routes" –” another military concept that reduces the impact of the problem to a sanitized military term) even though it is clear to all that it is not. A Palestinian civilian who is not involved in terrorist activity is nonetheless treated as if he was, is hurt for no fault of his own, watches helplessly as his property is lost, slowly but surely numbs in the absence of any hope for change and is unwittingly swept into the confrontation and becomes part of it. The IDF is deployed and is fighting in the northern Gaza Strip, but is mainly fighting on a much broader front. Actually, the whole Gaza Strip seems as if it is one front. The grinding feeling is that Israel is helping close Palestinian ranks, elevating Palestinian solidarity and diminishing the chance for any alternative political process.
It seems that the IDF is looking for a way out, understanding it has exhausted the advantages of the deployment of military force, and understanding that the real chance of reducing the level of violence and stopping the firing of Qassams resides in the degree of willingness on the part of the Palestinian security apparatuses to undertake the mission and the degree of their ability to operate opposite those elements through dialogue backed by public legitimacy. Indeed, the IDF has begun (perhaps it never stopped) to activate the channels of dialogue with the Palestinian security apparatuses in the hope of reaching understandings that will enable the pullout of forces from the northern Gaza Strip in exchange for a Palestinian commitment to act to stop the Qassams. But the military echelon is only authorized to talk to the Palestinian security mechanisms and lacks any real ability to act to strengthen them and provide the necessary incentives for even a partial success of their efforts (if there are any) to stop the firing of the Qassams. In the absence of such incentives, the Palestinian security forces will lose the ability to act and we can expect the Qassam rockets to be resumed and the Israeli response in the form of a renewed incursion of a large military force into the northern Strip. That is the nature of the frustrating catch: hopeless fighting; fighting that invites the next round of fighting, over and over again.
It is doubtful whether in the current chaotic reality of the Gaza Strip another order of reason can be shaped, but we must not fail to try. There is no other party than the PA and its agents, the Palestinian security apparatuses, who should and even could take responsibility for stopping the shooting. But without Israeli support, without incentives such as leveraging the disengagement from a unilateral measure to a coordinated bilateral or multilateral measure for the purpose of renewing the political process, and without active and determined American and European involvement, nothing will happen.
Israel with all its might is the initiator and the giver, and Israel is the taker; it can lead to the beginning of a change (with the understanding that the Palestinian security apparatuses are very limited in their ability to act without Israeli support); it and only it can untie the knot of the weakness of power. The Israeli interest requires support of the Palestinian security forces, the renewal of security coordination, restraint and perseverance, with the understanding that change will not happen in one day; and most of all, a political echelon that can sustain public criticism and frustration. Indeed it looks paradoxical, but sometimes that is the nature of strategic logic, based on cunning with the purpose of neutralizing the enemy’s organizing logic. But the Israel interest requires empowering a Palestinian partner and shattering the convention of its weakness, which has become a formative force in the conflict arena. Otherwise the force of Palestinian weakness will outweigh the weakness of Israeli force, and there will be no way out of the paradoxical catch.