Haaretz (Opinion)
December 16, 2008 - 1:00am

On Friday, the Gaza cease-fire will officially expire. On the face of it, there should be no doubt about it - the lull has in any case evaporated. Despite the launching of Qassam rockets and mortar rounds, or maybe even because of it, the question of whether to extend the truce or declaratively disavow it arises in full force.

The working assumption that underlines this critical question is that Hamas is capable of, and in certain circumstances is even seeking to, uphold the truce and that Israel still has an interest in maintaining the cease-fire as it has existed during these last five months.

There is another pretext for maintaining the lull: Apparently, Israel has not yet decided whether it wants to or is capable of employing the military option, and the heavy price associated with it - and all this in a contentious run-up to the election.

Even before any decision has been made, we have already heard political statements calling for a change in the accepted decision-making process. Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni opined that "Israel cannot leave Gaza under Hamas rule." So what is she proposing? Invading Gaza? Liquidating Hamas' leadership? Killing hundreds of thousands of Hamas followers, who support a movement that can easily sprout a new set of leaders?

Haim Ramon rejected Ehud Barak's proposal to dispatch Amos Gilad to Egypt ahead of deciding on the continuation of the lull. Ramon is not known as someone who supports the truce. He considers Barak's policy of restraint to have failed. Yet Ramon has no concrete solution - save, apparently, the same one offered by Livni.

Faced with opposition to the truce, Ehud Olmert is actually willing to adhere to it, provided that the terms of the original cease-fire remain in place. The prime minister's approach bears the understanding that the lull - in its original state - allows for a more comfortable existence, compared with the other alternatives.

The decision is not a simple one, particularly since it involves making an agreement with an organization that arouses revulsion, one that boasts of its sickening "theater play," in which a Hamas man dressed as Gilad Shalit begs for his release. But the organization's character, tendencies and ideology are the business of the Palestinians, whether they support or oppose Hamas. For its part, Israel must consider whether it is best to return to the lull in its original incarnation or to accept a reality of a daily battle of attrition.

At present, it seems as though there is no alternative other than to continue the lull and to dig up from the rubble of history the series of understandings reached with Hamas in June via Egyptian mediation. In another two months, a new government is expected to emerge in Israel, which will have to decide on a policy toward Hamas. In another month, when Mahmoud Abbas' term in office comes to an end, there is liable to be an upheaval in the Palestinian government.

Under these circumstances, it would be better to refrain from causing unnecessary uproar in Gaza by embarking on operations that are liable to further complicate Israel's position, particularly among residents of the western Negev. Empty, threatening slogans certainly do not constitute an alternative to a carefully thought-out decision, which must be made as soon as possible.


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