What can Israel do?
How can it negotiate a peace deal when the rockets daily raining down embody the spirit of the Hamas Charter's annihilationism
Does anyone have an answer for the Israeli government's dilemma about the rockets from the Gaza Strip? Up to 40 a day fall on the southern part of the country. About 2,000 during last year.The Qassams are home-made and primitive, but are deadly. Mercifully, the death toll is still low. But there have been deaths and injuries and the town of Sderot is dying: its residents live in daily fear and many have fled. Kibbutzim in the area are also targets. Not only for rockets: last week a man working a potato field was shot and killed from across the border.
Israel rates among the most technology-savvy countries in the world. But it is unable to block the Qassams or to prevent the gradual growth in their power and range. They are creeping north and are already landing on the outskirts of the port town of Ashkelon.
Yielding to international and domestic protests, the government temporarily eased its blockade of the Gaza Strip. Although some of the protests are wild, with claims of "genocide", Gaza is clearly being driven into deep crisis with its 1.5 million people suffering from the restrictions on imports of fuel, food and medicines, and export of fruit.
Some rightwingers in Israel demand wholesale attack to wipe out swathes of houses with little regard for the numbers of people who will be killed. The Israeli Defence Force does not want to do that: it fears loss of its soldiers and is worried about the international consequences of many Gazan deaths.
The military response thus far is to assassinate leaders of the movements which fire rockets - Hamas, Islamic Jihad and the Popular Resistance Committees - and to hit and kill those who are about to fire or have just fired rockets. The attacks reflect astonishing levels of intelligence-gathering. In the confines of Gaza, civilian deaths are inevitable, whatever the efforts to avoid them.
It is all horrible. Yet no government in the world can sit by idly while rockets rain on its people. It is impossible. Public anger is intense. The first duty of government is to protect its citizens - and if it fails to do so, it faces the rightful wrath of its electorate.
Palestinian suicide-bombings drove many or most Israelis to the right. The rockets are having the same damaging effects on Israeli public opinion in hardening opposition to ending the occupation of the West Bank and accepting a Palestinian state. Such a state would have Ben Gurion International Airport within easy rocket range, it is argued; and with Israel a mere 12 miles at its narrowest, from the Mediterranean Sea to the West Bank, the coastal cities would also be imperilled.
These dangers certainly exist, if the neighbour is an enemy. The obvious answer is peace. But how to achieve it?
Israeli leaders and the Palestinian Authority are attempting it. But Hamas and its partners are rejectionists. Hamas staged a coup against the Palestinian Authority last June and seized control of the Gaza Strip. Those firing the rockets not only don't want peace, but they are also committed to eliminating Israel. Go read the Hamas Charter of 1988 with its naked hatred of Jews.
Under the pressures of the blockade and assassinations there are whispers that Hamas now wants a ceasefire, whether for a shorter or longer period. How much substance there is to this cannot be said. Is it merely a ploy to gain a breathing spell to bring in yet more explosives through the underground tunnels, which start on the Egyptian side of the border? Or can it be the first tentative step towards accepting the fact of Israel's existence, opening the way to the mutual recognition and working together which must come?
Meanwhile, the bottom line remains for Israel: how do you make peace with someone who not only refuses to talk to you, but actually wants to kill you?
Without any answer to that question, and without any means of halting the rockets, will someone please tell the Israeli government what to do today about the Qassams?