Hamas is cruising its way through this situation with all the right moves. Along with two other militant groups, its armed wing crossed the Gaza border, violating the Geneva convention in doing so, and ambushed an Israeli tank, killing two soldiers and kidnapping the third. It knew the move would bring upon it a deadly and destructive IDF military offensive and it knew it would be hammered with international criticism. How could it not? Every militant heading to north Gaza to launch a virtually useless rocket at Israel knows it is making itself target for Israeli assassination - just as every suicide bomber knows his or her death, and the deaths of the Israeli civilians they attack, will be forgotten amongst the inevitably massive devastation that will result.
But it did it anyway, smoothly and logically. While Israel and innocent Palestinians sweat in war and fear, Hamas is painting itself as a 'partner in peace,' ready for non-violent negotiations and a cease-fire. Cleanly-shaven and well-dressed, Hamas leaders started by brushing off government connections to the kidnapping with vague 'reports' from the captors, and then declared that as IDF Corporal Gilad Shalit was a prisoner of war, the only fair retribution was a prisoner exchange - 1,000 women and under-18-year-olds jailed in Israel in return for Shalit.
The kidnapping, and the deaths of the two soldiers at Kerem Shalom, are beginning to fade from the spotlight. The IDF's offensive on north Gaza and the upwards of 50 Palestinian deaths, including at least seven civilians in three days, has taken center stage.
As the IDF refuses to declare war even as its shells and tanks continue to move further away from Shalit, exploding on children and militants alike, Palestinain Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh and exiled political chief Khaled Meshal calmly reiterate their demands and announce their readiness to compromise. As Defense Minister Minister Amir Peretz, wide-eyed and corrupted by his unlikely position, orders the IDF to escalate its offensive, Hamas reduces its prisoner-exchange demands to 130 female non-security prisoners and sticks out its hands to a perplexed Olmert, who continues to refuse any negotiations with Hamas.
Israel has been calling the Palestinian Authority a 'terrorist government' since its inception, repeating the slogan that the Palestinians are 'no partner in peace.' Hamas, which until less than a year ago was known to the world only as a terrorist organization, has emerged on top. It is now portraying itself as the democratically-legitimate government of a certified state. It is a master of disguise. It has conveniently found a way to hold on to its mission of destroying Israel while making itself out as a reformed political faction.
Hamas knows what it is doing. It is bringing down Israel. With all its promises for negotiations and cease-fire, the Palestinian government has as its initiative the destruction of the Jewish state. It knows this initiative has a price, of lives and international opinion, but it also knows that the price is higher for Israel. The only IDF casualty in Gaza so far was due to friendly fire, while the number of Palestinians killed daily can consistently be counted on two hands. Yet the Palestinians have nothing to lose. They have already been labelled terrorists; thousands have already been killed, their future is already lost. Their children, who survive, grow into militias, while those who want an education and peace suffer beside them.
The world condemns Hamas, but it is wrecked over the humanitarian crisis engulfing the Palestinians. In waging this war, Israel is blindly leading itself into the Mediterranean sea with the wily assistance of a non-state governed by militias. The Palestinians and the Israelis are in a desperate situation, but Hamas is lucid. It knows the loss will be massive, but it is doing its all to make sure that if Gaza has to go into the sea, Israel will have to go first.