Sunday, June 22

The Egyptian Brokered Cease-fire between Israel and Hamas


The cease-fire between Israel and Hamas has been signed under Egypt’s brokerage after much haggling. It is difficult to ascertain at this stage whether it is a positive development or not. Israelis have mixed feelings about its success because Hamas is not prepared to negotiate a permanent peace treaty with Israel or recognize Israel’s right to exist. The cease-fire could be a tactic allowing Hamas to re-group and re-arm in order to carry out another round of terrorism against Israel. However, despite these misgivings, it is a welcome development and while there is calm, both sides – Israelis as well as Palestinians, benefit from cessation of active hostilities against each other.

The constant firing of rockets into Sderot and its environment have ceased and Israeli retaliations have come to a halt as well. In practical terms, lives are saved on both sides. Surely this in itself is a positive development. People on both sides are able to get on with the business of carrying on with their daily lives. The residents of Sderot can come out of their shelters without worrying about when and where the next Qassam will fall and the people of Gaza do not have the fear of Israeli Air Force planes flying overhead, pursuing a Hamas terrorist group and hitting a crowd of innocent people by mistake resulting in unnecessary bloodshed. A cease-fire, for whatever reason, is always a positive development for both sides as lives are saved. The big question is whether this cease-fire will last or whether there will be a renewal of the hostilities in a very short time. Both sides are skeptical as to whether this cease-fire will hold.

There are some signs that the cease-fire may hold if one were to examine the statements of Palestinian parliament member and Hamas' spokesman in the Gaza Strip, Salah al-Bardawil. He seems a bit more upbeat about the cease-fire. "Nothing is impossible," he maintains. "The Arab world has already outstretched its hand for peace with the Israelis in the past," he says. "The ideas of Ahmed Yassin [Hamas' founder and former leader], who supported a cease-fire for some 15-20 years, focused on peace, not war. Hamas people who insist that there will never be peace with Israel do so because they are skeptical about the intentions of Israel's leadership. Everyone on your side is saying that the hudna [truce] is an opportunity for Hamas to narrow the military gap, but it's actually a historic opportunity for Israel and for all the sides involved to live in peace, and to build a future for the next generations."

According to a report in Haaretz, 20th June2008, Bardawil said in a telephone conversation "After years of fighting, each side has doubts about the other side's seriousness in upholding the cease-fire. Your side says that the small factions are liable to blow it to pieces, but they have all pledged to abide by it. Experience shows that when Hamas commits to something, it makes sure to keep its promises." He continues, "Today, the relations between Israel and Hamas are those of enemies, but during past negotiations between Hamas and Fatah we agreed on 'the national reconciliation agreement,' which declares that the Palestinian state will be established within the 1967 borders. Israel mustn't pass up such an agreement with Hamas - otherwise an ideology more extreme than Hamas will be the result. Israel has to understand that nowadays, Hamas is a factor that balances the radical and out-of-control voices in both the Arab and the Muslim world." This may be a minute sign of optimism from a spokesman of Hamas that the cease-fire may hold despite the skepticism in both the Israeli and Palestinian camps.

On the other hand, the peace and quiet could gather momentum by alleviating the tough economic situation and suffering in Gaza and be a positive development for Israel as well. It would have the following implications: (a) the easing of the closure on the Gaza Strip thus allowing not only essential supplies to enter Gaza but also materials that allow the Gazan economy to gradually return to some kind of normality; (b) greater efforts to prevent weapons from entering the Gaza Strip from Egypt for use against Israel; (c) progress on the prisoner exchange deal for the release of Gilad Shalit, the IDF soldier who next week will mark two years of being held in Gaza. Meanwhile the London-based 'al-Sharq al-Awsat' reported on Saturday 21st June 2007, that Israel's refusal to release 30 prisoners is the only remaining point of contention in the negotiations to free Shalit.

Unfortunately the ingredients for maintaining the calm are not visible at this stage. Hamas still does not recognize Israel’s right to exist in theory but in practice the leadership has hinted that it does. The fact that Hamas agreed to the cease-fire with Israel means that it de facto accepts Israel’s right to exist. If it did not it would not agree to the six month cease-fire with an option of its extension. This may indicate a small step on the part of Hamas in recognizing Israel’s right to exist despite many misgivings.

According to Asharq Alawsat, 21st June 2007, Israel is concerned with compromise as it has nothing to lose from it. But the question here is: can Hamas’ indirect negotiation with Israel through Egypt be considered a truce or is it one of Hamas’ new tricks striving for more talks and agreements? It became clear that Hamas does not care about Palestinian suffering inasmuch as it as wanted to accomplish gains for the movement itself.

Hamas wants to kill a number of birds with one stone. Mishal and his group want to improve ties with the Egyptians after the Rafah crossing crisis and to alleviate the uneasiness that exists amongst the second rank of Hamas leaders because of the deteriorating situation in Gaza after the Palestinian Authority was overthrown.

One hopes that the cease-fire will also include a deal whereby the kidnapped soldier Gilad Shalit is released. The Israeli government has not done enough to ensure his release. No price is too high to release a captured Israeli soldier even if it means releasing Palestinian prisoners with blood on their hands. The Israeli Army had been careless and this had resulted in Gilad Shalit’s kidnapping. It is easy for the Israeli government to talk about the high price and to hesitate. Do they intend to abandon Gilad Shalit because the price for his release is too high? The way the situation is now, it seems that a tragedy of his abandonment by the Israel government is about to unfold. The beleaguered Prime Minister, Ehud Olmert, has made some rather disturbing statements to Gilad Shalit’s parents that show total lack of sensitivity and is far from encouraging or supportive. Noam Shalit, Gilad’s father, says he does not feel that anyone in the cabinet is agonizing over his suffering. This should resonate loudly. He said the prime minister told him that "he had no contract that obligates him to release any citizen from captivity," referring to Noam's son, the abducted soldier Gilad Shalit. This too evokes grave thoughts.

The evasive response of the prime minister's bureau - "We have no desire or intention to get into a public confrontation on this matter" - does not exempt the prime minister from the responsibility not only to bring Shalit home, but also to treat his anxious parents properly. I wonder how Olmert would react had he been the father of a son kidnapped by Hamas in Gaza. Would he be so flippant? It seems that the Palestinian prisoners crowding Israel’s prisons is more important rather than freeing Gilad Shalit who has to pay the price for Israel’s folly.

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