Haaretz runs two stories reporting on the shape of a potential ceasefire proposal, but with markedly different tone and emphases.
Ami Issacharoff and Natasha Mozgovaya write that Egypt is brokering a ceasefire with Hamas and that the group has accepted the terms in principle with some reservations:
Hamas representatives held a press conference in Cairo Monday evening following talks with Egyptian officials, and announced that they have accepted in principle…a cease-fire agreement to end the fighting…saying that they hoped that the Egyptian efforts will bring about an end to the aggression against the Palestinians.
…Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmet Aboul Gheit said…that Hamas had accepted the Egyptian draft which calls for immediate end to aggression on Gaza, the opening of the border crossings and the withdrawal of Israeli forces inside the Strip…
Earlier Wednesday, the Saudi-owned Arabic language Al Arabiya TV reported that…Hamas had agreed to abide by the 2005 agreement which calls for Palestinian Authority forces to man the Rafah border crossing between Gaza and Egypt under the supervision of European observers.
Hamas conditioned the cease-fire agreement with Israel on the immediate withdrawal of the IDF from the Gaza Strip, Al Arabiya reported.
Which all seems well and good if these are the actual terms. Israel gets an end to rocket attacks and Hamas gets open border crossings. But when you read Amos Harel’s account, all is not as it appears to be:
After 19 days of fighting and more than 1,000 Palestinian fatalities, the first significant signs that Hamas is breaking could be seen Wednesday night. Hamas representatives to talks with Egypt announced an agreement in principle on Wednesday to the Egyptian cease-fire proposal…
But the way things looked on Wednesday, Hamas seems to be willing to accept the Egyptian initiative, which is almost a kind of surrender agreement for it.
The Egyptian proposal is mostly bad for Hamas. It doesn’t let the organization bring the Palestinian public any political achievement that would justify the blood that has been spilled, and even forces on it the return of the Palestinian Authority to Gaza, in the form of its renewed presence at the Rafah crossing (as a condition for its reopening).
Once the cease-fire is reached, the IDF will withdraw from the positions it captured in Gaza, and only then will the two sides begin to discuss the opening of border crossings and removal of the blockade, which was the reason Hamas gave for waging war. The most that Cairo is offering is a timetable for the opening of the crossing points, and even that depends on negotiations due to begin after the cease-fire is reached, and it’s tough to know how or when they will end.
Clearly, Harel’s report is much closer to the line the Israeli cabinet and IDF want Israelis and the world to hear: Hamas is defeated; acceptance of the ceasefire signals capitulation; Israel has given them virtually nothing and gets virtually everything it seeks in return. If Harel is correct, then this a red flag. It is not enough for Hamas that the IDF withdraws from Gaza. If Israel doesn’t actually lift the ceasefire or at least give Gaza and Hamas some respite from the terrible 18 month siege, then it gives the Palestinians no reason to abide by the ceasefire.
Further, the idea that Israel can impose on Gaza the reintroduction of Fatah seems far-fetched given the history of the past year:
Israel is proposing, with the tacit agreement of Egypt and the United States, to place the Palestinian Authority at the heart of an ambitious program to rebuild Gaza, administering reconstruction aid and securing Gaza’s borders. But that plan is already drawing skepticism. Mr. Khatib, for example, called the idea of any Palestinian Authority role in postwar Gaza “silly” and “naïve.”
It is far more likely if Fatah gains control of reconstruction funding for Gaza that it will embezzle the funds rather than use them for the purpose intended. Ironically, it is only Hamas that would actually use the funds properly and actually reconstruct the territory. The reconstruction plan is yet another false gesture by some Israeli official working in a Tel Aviv government office who has not concept of what actually might work on the ground in Palestine. Need I mention the following words to give you a sense of how misguided all this is: Iraqi reconstruction.
Unlike Israel’s apologists who are interested in Israel vanquishing Hamas, I’m interested in a durable ceasefire that brings real peace to the two sides. To get that, Israel cannot be seen to be the victor. It cannot be seen to get all it wants and give nothing it doesn’t want to give.
That’s why the Arab world is so deeply split on the virtues of Egyptian and Saudi mediation of this crisis. Nations like Qatar and others in the Arab League believe that the mediators are not representing Palestinian interests. Further, they believe that the ruling elite of these two nations have done everything they can to silence voices of support for Hamas within their respective countries. These elites have, out of mistrust of Hamas, been all too willing to sell its interests for a mess of porridge.
This is what worries me about the prospective agreement. Though I do not support Hamas or its principles, the fact is that it is a political representative of the Palestinians. There can never be real peace unless Hamas and the people of Gaza buy into the agreement. If Israeli policymakers werer smart (and unfortunately they aren’t), they would understand that it is their own interest to get such buy-in. Without it, rockets or some other form of violent resistance will resume in a matter of weeks or months and then we will be right back where we started. With the only difference being that the frustration and rage on both sides will have been ratcheted up considerably leading to even greater bloodshed and savagery in the future.
Harel also notes a more practical and cynical reason for Israel to agree to a ceasefire now:
Several said it would be best to end the operation now, when Israeli deterrence has improved – and before U.S. President George W. Bush makes way for his successor, Barack Obama, on January 20.
Anyone who understands how Israel works will know that this is indeed a critical consideration for Israel since it is essentially a U.S. satellite (though with a mind of its own). Indeed, I believe the timing of the initiation of hostilities by Israel was deliberately chosen to allow a decent interval in which it could attack Hamas before the transition to a new, and possibly less favorable administration in Washington.
Harel closes his report with this typically vacuously hopeful spin:
if nothing goes wrong with the plans in the next few days, Israel has a decent chance of ending this conflict while maintaining the upper hand…
Again, this is the problem with Israeli policy. It is obsessed with tactical advantage, who’s up and whose down. Instead, it should be worrying about securing the consent of its adversary. This is not the Japanese surrender at the end of WWII. Hamas will never capitulate and Israel cannot drop an atom bomb to vanquish the foe. Though Hamas is not Israel’s equal, if the latter looks at this as a conventional conflict with winners and losers, then Israel will be the one that loses in the long run EVEN IF it currently “maintains the upper hand.”