I have been observing the green Hamas flags flying over West Bank towns. Is this what an Intifada feels like? The calm that has prevailed here for the last few years has been interrupted. There must be a proper word in Arabic for what is happening now, something that means a low-intensity Intifada perhaps?
Now right-wingers will say, "How could we trust Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas? There's no difference between Fatah and Hamas." People on the Left say, "Were you really so naive to think you had found a new South Lebanon Army, a police force to combat those seeking to harm Israel, especially when there is no political solution on the horizon?"
The public is not enthusiastic about the prospect of missiles aimed at our cities or the return of suicide terrorism. The public would like to ensure calm; and it is ready for a war that would entail sacrifice and a high price so long as it puts a clear end to Palestinian violence.
The West Bank has turned green. Violence is on the rise. The old headlines are being recycled. There are Riots in Hebron and Nablus and a Palestinian boy is dead. IDF soldiers are filmed avoiding confrontation and Palestinians use this to pose as heroes. We are doing the right thing. The IDF has evaluated each event and ensures us that the soldiers are acting according to their instructions. The world doesn't understand Israel and supports those throwing stones or getting killed while aiming a toy gun.
The Right says this is because the world will always be against us. It has a double standard that allows it to ignore atrocities in other places in the world while focusing on the sins of the most moral army in the world. Therefore, we should be allowed to use our iron fist. The Left says that if we don't talk with whoever is willing to talk to us, the guns will speak in our stead, and our victory will only be more painful.
But there are facts beyond the ongoing debate. The world has discovered that west of the Jordan River, Jews are the minority. Palestinians are also a minority, but they are about to become a serious majority in a very short period of time. Israel won't be able to present itself as a Jewish and Democratic state while retaining control, directly or indirectly, over a Palestinian majority.
Moderates on the Right talk about a unilateral withdrawal to the Separation Fence line. That would be a mistake. Before the West Bank turns into another Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip, we could reach an agreement with the PLO. This would change Israel's position in the world and earn it recognition by the Arab World, as per the Arab Peace Initiative drafted in 2002. Our essential problem with the Palestinians is not a security problem, it is a demographic problem. But it is likely that it would even be easier to deal with the threat of violence if there was a security agreement between the two sides.
The West Bank is burning again, which is a reminder that calm doesn't come free of charge. It will be possible to return to a situation of close security coordination between the two sides if there is a Palestinian state sitting on the border. It would assume responsibility for security and would remove Israel from the risk of losing the Jewish and democratic character of the state.
We must understand that it is time to reach an agreement with the rivals of Hamas who want to come to an arrangement with us. If we don't, we miss another opportunity. If the West Bank becomes another Gaza, and Fatah falls, allowing Hamas to control the area completely, this would constitute another dangerous unilateral retreat, much like that in Gaza after the 2005 Disengagement.