Omigod! Is it really possible? Both Israel and Palestinian militants have announced a ceasefire:
A ceasefire in the Gaza Strip has come into force, with the Palestinians halting rocket attacks into Israel.
Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas won a commitment from all militant groups to stop the attacks, while Israeli PM Ehud Olmert agreed to halt hostilities.
Israel said all its troops withdrew from Gaza before the ceasefire took effect, five months after its military re-entered the Strip.
BBC correspondents say the agreement is unexpected and a major development…
The BBC’s Alan Johnston in Gaza says…Mr Abbas phoned his opposite number on Saturday evening to say he had agreement from all Palestinian factions that they would stop their rocket fire. There is a signed agreement between Mr Abbas, Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniya and all the Palestinian factions, a spokesman said.
A spokeswoman for the Israeli prime minister, Miri Eisin, told the BBC that Mr Olmert had agreed that Israeli forces would not initiate any offensive action after that time. But she said Mr Olmert had made it clear that it might take some time to pull all Israeli troops out of the Gaza Strip if the ceasefire held.
However, shortly after the ceasefire took effect, the Israeli army confirmed that all its troops had left. “There are no forces now in Gaza,” said a military spokesman quoted by Reuters news agency.
Ms Eisin said Mr Olmert believed this was a chance to achieve stability and one that Israel could not miss.
Can this be? Can it last? Am I dreaming? I knew this day might come. But I never wanted to invest the amount of hope it would take to believe fully in it. And now, perhaps it has. Perhaps. So many things could go wrong and have in the past. But the key is that at this moment the two warring sides seem to be on the same page. I only hope they can stay there long enough for other confidence building measures to happen.
Gilad Shalit must be freed. Palestinian prisoners must be freed. In that regard, this too is an encouraging statement from Hamas:
The deputy head of the Hamas political bureau, Musa Abu Marzuk, said over the weekend that Israel had agreed to an exchange of prisoners for kidnapped soldier Gilad Shalit. Abu Marzuk, based in Damascus, also said that based on talks Hamas political head Khaled Meshal had held in Cairo, it appeared Israel had agreed to release prisoners simultaneously with the release of Shalit, which it had opposed in the past. “This is definitely encouraging,” he said.
A Palestinian unity government must come into being. It must signal a willingness to recognize Israel and renounce violence. The international boycott of Gaza must end. Ports of entry must be reopened. Settlements must be stopped. And eventually, final status negotiations must begin. Can we get there? Who knows. But this is the best news in ages. And we should savor it and build upon it.
And it is very important to build upon it. For if both sides sit back on their laurels and expect peace to happen miraculously we’ll be back to the killing fields shortly. Now is the time, if there ever was one, for Bush and Rice to get off their asses. If Jim Baker is ever going to have influence on the Bush Mideast policy, now had better be it. Olmert and Abbas should be invited to a place like Camp David for talks and Bush shouldn’t let them out till they have a final agreement. And unlike what Clinton did before the 2000 Camp David talks, we must make both sides aware of what they are likely to have to give up BEFORE they come. Negotiations will not work on a wing and a prayer or a Hail Mary pass.
Can he do it? Unlike the Bob the Builder children’s book series I’m loathe to say: “Yes, he can!” He hasn’t so far. In fact, he’s totally botched everything he’s touched in the Mideast thus far in his presidency. But maybe he can appoint Jim Baker his Israel-Palestine emissary and allow him to crack heads together.
We should also note that this truce only applies to Gaza. It is entirely possible that either side could wreck the current ceasefire by their aggressive policies in the West Bank. Let’s hope that they see reason and keep their powder dry.
The statements emanating from the Damascus based Hamas leadership are also interesting. Meshal has made an ultimatum saying there must be an independent Palestinian state in six months or he will call for a new intifada. Besides noting the self-aggrandizing delusion of the fellow to believe he can determine events with a word, I read this as saying: “I’m dubious about this ceasefire. If Abbas wants it–then he will get it. But only for a limited time. Let’s see what he can do in six months. Either he produces or we will return to the scene with a military solution.” If I am right, then I am betting that Gilad Shalit’s release (which Meshal no doubt controls) will come shortly followed or accompanied by a major Palestinian prisoner release. All this would be good. Very good. But it still would not be dayenu.
It is also excellent to read the way Meshal formulated his remarks on the ceasefire:
“We give six months to open real political horizons … we agreed on the national accord to establish a Palestinian state, with the June 4, 1967 borders,” he said, during talks in Cairo. “They have to seize this opportunity.”
It is vitally significant that Meshal used the precise phrase “establish a Palestinian state with June 4, 1967 borders.” None of this delusional thinking that Hamas will not settle for anything short of the entire territorial area of Palestine, including current-day Israel. There is an element of realism here that is not always found in the Boys from Damascus. Perhaps their Syrian overlords are whispering in their ear that they must moderate their wild-eyed rhetoric. Again, all this is good.
Israel and the Palestinians must go all the way. There is no halfway. I’ve heard the Israelis before say there would observe truces while reserving the right to pursue “ticking bombs.” Which is a recipe for a doomed ceasefire. So far, at least, Olmert has not said this. Which leaves me hopeful. But we must not stop at a truce. We must get down to a negotiating table and create an outline of a full settlement. We must. Anything less means an eventual retreat to death and destruction.
Israelis, Palestinians and Bush: do not let this opportunity slip through your hands.
I would say that Amir Peretz comes out of this smelling pretty good. It was he who initiated this ceasefire proposal within the Israeli government by calling Abbas and offering one. In a fit of pique, Olmert excoriated Peretz for contacting the Palestinian leader without permission. It appears he knew about the Peretz phone call almost as soon as it happened because he had Peretz’s office bugged (though Olmert’s people refused to use that particular term). But Olmert must’ve realized that the offer was too good to pass up even if Peretz was the one who secured it.
I’ve moved the hands of my Doomsday clock back from a minute to midnight to three minutes to midnight to reflect the great hope that this development brings.