The pictures are familiar, and so is the automatic response: fighter aircraft bombing a “bank of targets” and Israeli tanks positioned on the outskirts of Gaza. The justification is also present: The State of Israel cannot refrain from responding to the firing of Qassams. But the protection of Sderot residents is not the issue here, since the state could long ago have built a protective mantle for the homes and schools of Sderot. Rather, again, it is the state’s prestige that is on the line.
It is the same prestige that contributed quite a bit to creating the real strategic threat facing Israel. This threat is not expressed by the terrifying Qassams that are causing Sderot residents to flee from their city, but rather by the disintegration of Gaza, by the subjection of its million and a quarter residents to the reign of gangs, by the neutralization of the ability to build a strong, united Palestinian leadership, and by the establishment of a state of terror in Gaza, which operates almost in isolation from any central Palestinian administration.
The reason for the state’s prestige being in question is its need to justify the decision not to recognize the Hamas government and to impose an economic siege on the territories. At the same time, Israel has conditioned the Palestinians’ ability to exist on a matter of honor – on Hamas’ recognition of Israel. How ridiculous now is the tally of triumphs and defeats of Fatah versus Hamas, of corpses on one side versus corpses on the other side, and the mathematical determination that Hamas is winning on the street. Is it not the same Hamas that already won over the street in the elections last year? The same Hamas that maintained the welcome cease-fire for many long months? The same Hamas that signed the Mecca Agreement and accepted the Arab Initiative?
Hamas is not a pleasant movement. It includes elements of terror and draws its sources from a fanatical religious ideology. But Hamas and the Palestinian unity government, as long as the latter still holds up, are the best address Israel has at the moment. This government is not just the only one that has the potential to control the “State of Gaza,” it is the only one that is still interested in the fate of its public and, therefore, is influenced by the pressure of that public. It is the only one that is also threatened by the firing of Qassams on Sderot. But without the means to provide benefits for its citizens, it is also paralyzed.