Ze’ev Schiff, Haaretz’s distinguished military affairs correspondent reported in the April 7th edition that Hamas is floating a “quiet for quiet” proposal by which Hamas would enforce a cessation of Palestinian violence against Israeli targets in return for a comparable cessation of attacks from Israel against Palestinian territory:
Hamas has been sending go-betweens to Israel recently with an offer to reach an unofficial understanding on “quiet in return for quiet.” According to the proposal, conveyed to Israel by, among others, Egyptian envoys, Hamas would pledge not to carry out any violent actions against Israel and would even prevent other Palestinian organizations from doing so. Israel, for its part, would pledge by means of a third party not to take action against the organizations operating in the territories. Hamas is even prepared to declare a unilateral hudna (cease-fire), should Israel not want to appear to be maintaining contact with a body that calls for its destruction. According to this offer, Israel is supposed to respond with positive measures of its own.
And how does Israel respond to this conciliatory “feeler?”
Political and defense officials in Israel define the initiative as a “trick.” They say the quiet will be temporary, and Hamas people will consider themselves free to suspend it anytime they like.
You remember that snarky Abba Eban line about the Arabs “never missing an opportunity to miss an opportunity?” Now it applies to Israel too. Schiff points out why Hamas’ overture should be taken more seriously than it has by Israeli decision-makers:
unlike previous proposals, this time Hamas is not giving as a condition for the cease-fire the demand that Israel withdraw to the 1967 border and release all Palestinians jailed in Israel. Hamas is under internal and international pressure, and therefore is trying to achieve quiet in its fight against Israel in order to organize, strengthen its military and organizational frameworks, and sideline the Palestinian opposition. This would enable the new Hamas-led government to fortify its control over Palestinian Authority territories.
Seems to me that a portion of this analysis derives directly from the military intelligence establishment and as such is somewhat suspect. I’d rephrase this paragraph to say that Hamas is eager to reach such a truce with Israel so that it may attempt to do what it was elected to do–govern Palestine. Hamas knows that as long as Israel mercilessly shells Gaza that it cannot rule. It knows that the misery facing Palestinians will only get worse. What is wrong with a political party facing reality and attempting to come to an understanding with its enemy (albeit one that is not a permanent resolution of outstanding issues)?
In another article appearing on the same day, Schiff reported that a “senior Palestinian official” said that:
Hamas is ready for a two-state solution with Israel, a position that would imply the militant group’s recognition of Israel for the first time…The senior Palestinian official said Haniyeh planned to present a proposal to Abbas in a meeting later Friday…
Palestinian Foreign Minister Mahmoud Zahar plans to present the “two-state” platform to the cabinet at its next meeting on Monday, the official said, adding that he expects it to be approved.
The official said Hamas is prepared to soften its position because of heavy international pressure, which has left the Palestinian government broke, and to enable Abbas to pursue his goal of restarting peace talks with Israel. Hamas is under pressure to renounce violence and recognize Israel.
In return, Hamas wants Abbas to grant the group its “constitutional rights.” Abbas has taken steps recently to curb Hamas’ power in security matters.
In an interview published Friday, Zahar said his government is prepared to discuss the idea of a settlement with Israel with the Quartet of international Mideast negotiators – the United States, European Union, Russia and United Nations.
“Let us speak about what is the meaning of the two-state solution,” he told The Times of London. “We will ask them what is their concept concerning the two-state solution.”
Of course, as with any positive development regarding the Mideast conflict, someone comes along and denies it. So Schiff adds that Ismail Haniye rejected the statement:
“That is not correct. Where did you hear that?” Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh said in the Gaza Strip town of Khan Yunis. He appeared shocked when asked by reporters if it was true.
This is a time of turmoil and instability and I don’t expect Hamas to function as smoothly as a more conventional government. There are factions and individuals vying for control of the political agenda. Israel seems to wish to make Palestine ungovernable. But I look forward to the day when Hamas speaks more as one voice regarding such offers to the Israelis and they are not denied almost as soon as they are proposed.
The IDF is having none of Hamas’ diplomatic gestures. Its response to the ongoing Qassam rocket attacks against southern Israeli targets has been constant bombardment of Gaza population centers. If you wish to read a terrifying first-hand account of what it’s like to live through a night with your young child under such conditions, read Raising Youssouf’s The Earth is Closing in On Us. A number of Palestinian civilians have been killed by the shelling according to Haaretz:
An eight-year-old girl was killed Monday by Israel Defense Forces artillery fire that hit her family home in the northern Gaza Strip town of Beit Lahia.
The girl was named as Hadil Ghabin. Ten other people were wounded in the shelling, including Hadil’s pregnant mother, Safia, and her 19-year-old sister.
The wounded were taken to hospital in the town, the mother in serious condition.
An IDF spokeswoman confirmed that artillery shells had been fired at the area of Beit Lahia, although she did not have details of any specific incident.
“We are very sorry for any innocents who are hurt, but these areas and the courtyards of some of these homes are often used to fire rockets at Israel,” she said.
Notice she does not say that the home that was burned beyond recognition–and in which a little girl was incinerated while her entire family was burned–served as a site for launching the rockets. She merely says that the house was ‘in the area’ where such attacks were initiated. And this is somehow a justification for the deaths? It’s bloody disgusting is what it is. It’s about time for the UN Security Council to step in and call for an end to this terror. It’s time for Condi Rice to get on the phone and tell Olmert that he’s gone far enough.
Even the IDF admits it is targeting civilian population areas:
Recently, the IDF also reduced the “safety zone” artillery batteries must maintain around Palestinian communities. The military was aware the decision could result in civilian casualties, as occurred Monday. The safety zone was reduced from 300 meters to 100 meters. The shell fragmentation range is 100 meters, so the decision clearly endangers civilian lives…
The senior officer admitted the army knew the expanded operation could cost Palestinian civilian lives. “We have no certainty that more civilians won’t be hurt in upcoming attacks,” he said…
This is a war of attrition against Hamas. We many have to continue this shelling for a month or more, but the goal is to break them in the end.
Ah yes, “the goal is to break them in the end.” How many times have we heard variants of this phrase from Israeli prime ministers, defense ministers, intelligence officials and IDF generals? And how many times have they finally solved the problem through military force? The answer, in case you didn’t know was: NEVER. And they won’t succeed this time either because there is no pure military solution to this problem.
One could make a good case for the IDF deliberately targeting an entire civilian population as collective punishment for the actions of the rocketeers. This of course would be a violation of the Geneva Conventions and a possible war crime. But these are mere niceties when it comes to the IDF.