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The alternative that was not presented

By Aluf Benn, Ha'aretz, 22.05.07

"That was a discussion with a Winograd sauce," said the ministers and the senior officials who participated in the cabinet meeting Sunday. According to the version reported to the media, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has internalized the lessons of the Second Lebanon War and convened his ministers for a long and exhausting consultation about the deteriorating situation in the Gaza Strip.
In accordance with the guidelines of the Winograd Committee, the Israel Defense Forces bombarded the ministers with presentations and charts of "cases and responses," as well as an assessment of the anticipated cost of belligerent operations and of calling up reservists. As opposed to the previous round in Lebanon, this time the ministers will have difficulty evading responsibility by claiming they had no idea what they were voting for.
The enthusiasm for covering themselves has made them forget the main conclusion of the Winograd Committee: In decisions regarding war and peace, a one-dimensional solution is not enough, and we must discuss alternatives. But the cabinet was once again struck with tunnel vision, and heard only military plans for dealing with the Qassams and Hamas in the Gaza Strip. The alternatives differed only in the number of divisions to be used and the rank of the Palestinians to be eliminated, and did not address the fundamental question of whether a military response can remove the threat at a reasonable human and diplomatic price.
Olmert fulfilled Winograd's bureaucratic guidelines, told the National Security Council to prepare the discussion and invited senior Foreign Ministry officials. But there is no value in changing procedures when the officials are having difficulty changing their mindset.
The Foreign Ministry, which is supposed to seek diplomatic solutions, made do with its traditional role as the defense establishment's press office. Its heads took pride in their new status, but in the cabinet they spoke about only how a military operation in Gaza would be viewed internationally. They did not offer any diplomatic alternatives that could make the need to invade Gaza superfluous.
There are four such alternatives now on the table:
b A cease-fire in the West Bank. The Palestinian leadership is proposing that Israel desist from arrests and other military actions in the West Bank, thus removing Hamas' and Islamic Jihad's excuse for firing Qassams. Israel is refusing out of the fear that terror attacks from the West Bank will resume and Hamas and other terror organizations will build up military strength.
b The Dayton Plan. The American security liaison is proposing training, equipping and indirectly arming Gaza security forces loyal to PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas and sending them to fight those launching Qassams and digging tunnels. Israel is being asked to allow them to receive arms and equipment and to allow Palestinians in the West Bank freedom of movement.
It's not exactly a diplomatic alternative, but rather a military plan in which someone else fights Hamas instead of the Israel Defense Forces. Israel is opposed, saying that Abbas and Fatah have already lost the battle in Gaza, and that removing the roadblocks in the West Bank will only turn it into Gaza II.
b Talks with Hamas. If Abbas has become weaker, maybe Israel should talk with the stronger party in the Gaza Strip about a long-term cease-fire in exchange for removing the economic siege. Israel rejects this, saying that a hudna with Hamas would only enable the group to prepare for the next confrontation.
b A meeting with Abbas. This is the policy that Olmert and Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni prefer. Israel is having difficulty filling these meetings with content, and as opposed to the Winograd guidelines - that actions must be connected to their anticipated results - Olmert and Livni are unable to explain how contacts with Abbas and his associates will lead to calm in Sderot.
These proposals may be worthless compared with sending IDF divisions into the Gaza Strip. The problem is that the cabinet has not even examined them. The only question before was how much force should be used against the Palestinians.
It is difficult to talk about diplomacy as Qassams are being fired at Sderot. But that is precisely the responsibility of the political leadership if it does not wish once again to embark on a war driven by fury and vengeance. Olmert has apparently understood this, and at the cabinet meeting he asked the Foreign Ministry to offer diplomatic solutions as well. It remains to be seen whether he will take them seriously, or if this will only be a cover for the committee investigating the next war.