Monday, March 09, 2009

Barak: We Could Have Stopped Rockets by Accepting Hamas Ceasefire

Revealing news here by Richard Silverstein

Every so often in Israeli politics there are brief flashes of clarity when the clouds of obfuscation clear, allowing you to see what you knew all along was true. Sol Salbe brings word of a news report from Israel’s Galey Tzahal (Army Radio) about a fractious Israel cabinet meeting at which Ehud Olmert and Ehud Barak went at each other hammer and tong about the current Palestinian rocket attacks. Here is Sol’s translation of the key excerpt:

A sharp confrontation has taken place around the table at the full Ministry meeting. Discussing the subject of the continual firing of rockets from Gaza,…Defence Minister [Barak] explained to his colleagues that negotiations are being conducted to ensure an arrangement with Hamas with Egypt acting as the intermediary. He was interrupted by the prime minister who said: “There are no negotiations. Israel does not intend to arrange a “calm” with that organisation.”

The Defence Minister responded that the firing of the rockets would have stopped had Israel accepted the calm.

“What the Defence Minister proposes proves that there was no value to the whole Cast Lead Operation. You are suggesting that now that we have smashed Hamas, we should accept the conditions that they offered to us before the operation,” said the prime minister.

What Barak and Olmert appear to agree on (though coming at it from different vantage points and for opposite political purposes) is that Hamas presented terms for a ceasefire that could have averted Operation Cast Lead. Barak appears to have either proposed accepting the terms or at least limiting the Operation’s duration once Israel decided to reject them.

Haaretz’s version of the meeting describes Olmert, at least now, claiming that Operation Cast Lead was meant to get Hamas to release Gilad Shalit, something it apparently wasn’t willing to do as part of negotiations for the ceasefire.

If this is true, then Olmert is offering reasons for the war that Israel never presented before or during the war. It never mentioned it attacked Gaza because Hamas refused to release Shalit. The reasons were always related to the rocket fire, which here Barak concedes could easily have been stopped by accepting the ceasefire offered by Hamas.

Hamas’ willingness, even eagerness to extend the ceasefire is confirmed by this eye-opening Guardian story which reveals that Israeli peace activist, Gershon Baskin relayed peace proposals at least three times between Hamas and an unspecified member of Olmert’s family (his daughter, Dana, demonstrated outside the IDF chief of staff’s home against the 2006 Lebanon war). The proposals were conveyed to Olmert, who promptly rejected them.

Clearly, it is Olmert who has an ax to grind against Hamas and any serious negotiation with the group. It seems inexplicable to me that he would deny, before his entire cabinet, that there are talks with Hamas when everyone in the room knows that there are. Perhaps what he’s trying to do is signal his total opposition to them. One wonder why as prime minister he would’ve allowed them to go forward if he wished them to fail. Possibly if Barak insisted on the negotiations, that might explain why Olmert would both allow them to proceed and wish them to fail.

Olmert’s remarks show him to be a figure continuing to be deluded about what he has wrought. In his view, Israel “smashed Hamas.” This is a view no one else in the rest of the world accepts. But I suppose it allows Olmert to sleep at night. Imagine if he had to look in the mirror and really accept that his decisions to take the country to war have not only cost the lives of hundreds of Israeli boys, but that they have been all for naught. Hezbollah is arguably stronger militarily and certainly politically than it was before the Lebanon war. While Gaza is certainly destroyed, Hamas has been diminished in no significant way either as a political force or enemy of Israel.

I’ve said here before that Israeli politics often has the feel of a Kabuki drama. Everyone’s motives are concealed, plot moves fitfully and usually in directions you could not conceive. There are flashes of clarity which last for moments after which the clouds return once again to enshroud everything in an impenetrable mist. This report brings one of those few, intermittent moments of clarity about Israel’s motives and its failures.

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