Azzam Tamimi

A recent poll published in the Israeli daily Ha’aretz suggested that 64 per cent of Israelis favoured a negotiated truce with Hamas. But in the past few days, a military onslaught that has so far claimed more than a hundred Palestinian lives, mostly women and children, has made it clear that the Israeli leadership is not interested in any peaceful exit from the current predicament.

The Ha’aretz poll may point to a lack of confidence in the government’s ability to settle its problem with Gaza through the use of force, and vindicate those within the military and intelligence community who have been advising the Israeli Prime Minister, Ehud Olmert, to talk to Hamas. A truce as once proposed by Giora Eiland, who served as National Security Adviser to the former Prime Minister, Ariel Sharon, would entail a reasonable exchange of prisoners and a lifting of sanctions in exchange for a cessation of all hostilities between the two sides. Hamas would, in principle, have agreed to negotiate a truce along these terms. But it seems that Olmert’s Cabinet has not given up on the idea of bringing Hamas to its knees or finishing it off altogether.

The attack on Gaza comes at a time when all previous means of inciting the Strip’s population against Hamas have failed. The sanctions imposed globally on Hamas and the siege that almost suffocates Gaza’s 1.5 million inhabitants have neither forced Hamas to accept the three conditions set out by the Quartet (the U.S., the U.N., Russia and the EU) nor convinced the Palestinian population to rise against it.

The enormous resources dedicated to empowering an influential group within Fatah to effect a coup against the legitimate government backfired and finally uprooted that group from the Palestinian political scene. Starving Gaza while the Ramallah-based West Bank authority receives financial and political backing from Israel and its allies in the west has failed to shift Palestinian opinion in favour of President Mahmud Abbas and his prime minister, Salam Fayyad. So, rather than heed the advice of the experts and fulfil the wish of his own public, Olmert has decided to go to war with the Gaza Strip. — © Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2008

(Dr. Azzam Tamimi, the director of the London-based Institute of Islamic Political Thought, is the author of Hamas: Unwritten Chapters)