So, you're the new government of Palestine

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So, say you're in charge of a small Middle Eastern country and one of your neighbors starts shelling across across the border, openly sponsoring agents infiltrating across the border, etc. What's appropriate behavior here? After all, this is basically an act of war, and standard practice would be to retaliate, probably at least by bombing government installations and quite possibly civilian ones as well. After all, that's what you do in a war.

The reason I ask is that this is exactly how Hamas has historically behaved. When Fatah ran Palestine, they could--and did--argue that they couldn't control Hamas so Israel had to give them some space. However, if the bombings and shellings continue, there's not really much room for plausible deniability here, nor, it would seem, for outrage if/when Israel retaliates.

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Of course, there were groups that Fatah could control--and neither Arafat nor his successor lifted a finger to stop them from planning and perpetrating terrorist attacks. Indeed, one of the most prolific terror groups over the past ten years has been the "Al Aksa Martyrs Brigades"--an offshoot of Fatah itself. The claim that Hamas was beyond the PA's control was never more than a fig leaf that allowed international donors to continue the flow of aid, and Israel to avoid facing the bitter truth: that suppressing the terrorist groups operating out of the West Bank and Gaza will require continual large-scale, difficult, bloody military operations for many years to come.

My prediction: the shellings and terrorist attacks will continue, and Hamas will simply deny (or semi-deny) responsibility for them. Various shadowy groups (including Fatah-related groups, and perhaps "offshoots" of Hamas itself) will step in to claim responsibility in its stead. Palestinian sympathizers in the "international community" will continue to play along with this charade, and keep at least some of the aid flowing. Doves in Israel will likewise use the charade to argue against military intervention. However, each time the terrorists achieve a certain level of success, Israel will strike back at them with yet another short-but-bloody "rooting-out operation" against their leadership, organization and weapons stockpiles. Since all of these are in civilian areas, numerous civilians will be killed and injured in the process.

Life in the region will continue to be miserable for all, but especially for the residents of the West Bank and Gaza--who will nevertheless continue to blame Israel, and rededicate themselves to its elimination.

Oh, no no no! It's not Hamas, in government, that's responsible for these operations. Rather, various renegade extremist groups, such as Fatah, Palestinian Islamic Jihad, and the PFLP, are responsible. Hamas just needs more time to rein those groups in; any Israeli action would undermine Hamas' operational capabilities, and make action against the extremist groups more difficult.

Dan, I totally agree with at least the first part of this. Clearly Arafat didn't actually do anything to stop attacks--but he claimed to and even the Israelis publicly pretended that as Hovav said, it was just radical elements. However--and this was my point originally--I'm not sure I agree with your second paragraph. Hamas may not deny responsibility or people may not accept it's denial. If either of these situations happens, Israel will have substantially more freedom to operate as it wishes.

Eric, time will tell of course, whether Hamas bothers to disclaim or even semi-disclaim responsibility for the inevitable future attacks. But frankly, regardless of whether it does, Israel has long had virtually complete freedom to operate as it wishes. The editorials in international newspapers may get slightly more or less scathing, and the snubs dished out to Israeli diplomats may get slightly more or less frequent, depending on how Israel deals with the Palestinian Authority and its allied terrorist organizations. But fundamentally, the issue is a purely domestic matter for Israelis to decide. In 2002, for example, "Operation Defensive Shield" garnered considerable short-term bad press for Israel, which might have led one to guess that adverse consequences for Israel would soon be forthcoming. In fact, the operation was an unqualified success, and in the medium term probably helped Israel's international stature more than it hurt.

No, Israeli restraint in the face of Palestinian terrorism is almost entirely a domestic matter. Israelis are understandably reluctant to engage in expensive, dangerous large-scale military operations, afraid that such operations will have to be repeated in the future virtually without end, and therefore eager to cling to the tiniest thread of hope for some alternative solution. Hence the popularity of the self-delusion that a Palestinian Authority constituted in just the right way will do the job of suppressing terrorist groups in Israel's stead.

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