No Israeli-Hamas Cease-Fire Is In The Offing



A search is underway to find a mediator capable of arranging a cease-fire between Israel and Gaza. Hamas is reported by everyone in the know to be desperately seeking a suitable candidate. However, all the names mentioned so far have been considered unacceptable by either the Israelis or the Gazans.


I use the word Gazans, rather than Hamas because a cease-fire would have to include the well-armed, Iranian proxy, Islamic Jihad, as well as the myriad of small, extremist groups that have popped up in Gaza in recent years.


Finding a mediator capable of doing the job has not been easy. In a phone call with Binyamin Netanyahu, President Obama reportedly suggested that the US take on the job. But that seems to be a baseless proposal because, by law, the United States is forbidden to talk to Hamas because it has been labelled a terrorist organization.


Tony Blair has been shuttling between Jerusalem and Cairo in what appears to be an attempt to take on that job. However, nobody is taking his effort seriously. He simply doesn’t have the qualifications. In particular, he is not believed by the Israelis to have the ability to get into Arabs’ minds—a precondition for being able to mediate such a dispute. For example, how would he cope with what the Israelis assert is Hamas’s conviction that, before entering into a cease-fire it must have strong visual proof that it has gained a “victory.” That image would most likely have to include pictures of Israeli death and destruction. Israel, using the Iron Dome rocket interceptor system, is of course committed to preventing such images from being created.


Turkey and Qatar have also been mooted as possible candidates for the job, but they too are not particularly suitable.


To begin with, the mediator will have to be able to talk to both sides. That eliminates Qatar. Qatar will undoubtedly have a major role to play in rebuilding Gaza once the fighting ends, but it doesn’t have diplomatic relations with Israel and it is viewed by Israel as siding with Hamas.


In recent years, Israel’s relations with the Turkish government have been abnormal at best. Turkey’s ruling AKP party, under Prime Minister Erdogan, is viewed by Israel as the northern branch of the Moslem Brotherhood. Furthermore, the man Turkey proposed as the mediator, its director of military intelligence, is perceived by Israel to be a close ally of Iran, which controls Islamic Jihad.


Seemingly, the most obvious candidate is Egypt. It has fulfilled this role successfully several times in the past. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is reported to have asked the Egyptians to take on the role. But, today (Monday), the spokesman for the Egyptian foreign ministry responded that Cairo believes that the PA should undertake the task.


In any case, Hamas has made it plain to other Arab diplomats that it is reluctant to trust the Egyptians with the job. Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, as the former minister of defence, has personal grudges against Hamas. His government and its supportive media allege that Hamas was responsible for executing an attack on an Egyptian prison that led to the escape of hundreds of security prisoners, aided a group of militants who killed 15 Egyptian soldiers in the Sinai as they were eating their Ramadan fast-breaking meal in August 2012, and provided supplies and training for al-Qaeda operatives who have been on a killing spree in the Sinai desert. For these reasons, el Sisi ordered that the border crossing between Gaza and the Sinai at Rafah be closed, and that the tunnels bringing money and supplies into Gaza be destroyed. Today, some of the pro-government media have even gone so far as to release broadsides blaming Hamas for initiating the fighting.


The Israelis too very much want to give PA President Mahmoud Abbas a major role. However, Hamas apparently refuses to speak to Abbas as well. He has condemned the Israeli air attacks. But he has been no less critical of Hamas for having initiated the violence.


Moreover, Hamas knows that the PA’s security service, which is highly influential with PA President Mahmoud Abbas, remembers only too well the scenes where Hamas fighters dumped PA policemen off roofs and dragged them through the streets behind cars after Hamas’s 2007 coup in Gaza. Many of the security services’ members are still seeking revenge.


Not only that, the PA has already used the opportunity provided by the Israeli fighter jets to deliver ultimatums of its own in private. One of the most notable of these is a demand that, in return for applying international pressure to get the Israelis to stop their bombings, the PA be permitted to place its own security officials at the Rafah crossing. It is a demand that Hamas rejected out of hand.


Yet another obstacle is that, in return for entering into negotiations, each side has set preconditions that are totally unacceptable to the other. According to PA insiders, Israel is not only demanding an extended cease-fire that will last far longer than previous cease-fires, it has also intimated that it wants Gaza to be totally demilitarized and that the monitoring of this disarmament be handled by foreigners who can be trusted to do the job.


Hamas too says it will not be satisfied simply with a return to the status quo ante. Among other things, its spokesmen have demanded that Israel free all 56 of the Hamas members who were released under the deal that saw Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit liberated from Hamas captivity. The 56 were rearrested after 3 Israeli teenagers were kidnapped and killed last month.


At the heart of the mediation dispute, however, are the basic problems that led to the current round of fighting. Hamas had become almost totally politically and diplomatically isolated and is bankrupt.


Long ago, it lost Iranian financial and military aid after it reluctantly sided with the Sunni rebels in Syria. Later, it lost its primary source of political and diplomatic support when the Moslem Brotherhood’s rule of Egypt was overthrown. And finally, the flow of financial aid from the Gulf was halted.


In the latest blow, Palestinian banks, fearful of international sanctions for having assisted a certified “terrorist” organization, refused to transfer the most recent tranche of funds from Qatar to Hamas in Gaza. And couriers can no longer bring cash to the Strip via the Sinai because Egypt has closed the tunnels leading to Gaza and has sealed the only land crossing at Rafah to everyone except special humanitarian cases.


Once that closure was in place, Gaza became totally dependent on crossings into Israel for the import of vital supplies. Not only that, Hamas lost one of its primary sources of income because it could no longer levy taxes on goods brought in through the tunnels.


Hamas tried to extricate itself from the fix it was in by signing a reconciliation agreement with the Palestinian Authority, based in the West Bank city of Ramallah. However, PA President Mahmoud Abbas then refused to pay the salaries of the 40,000 civil servants in Gaza who had been hired by Hamas after its bloody takeover of the Strip in 2007.


It was then, in an act of desperation, and in an attempt to get Arab and world attention for its plight, that Hamas reacted by lobbing rockets into Israel.


Now, as a result of the fighting, a long list of new issues has been added to and has complicated the mix of prior problems.


For example, virtually every Israeli security expert now fears that, as in the past, the longer the fighting goes on, one inaccurate bombing or a ground operation that goes wrong could lead to mass Palestinian casualties. This might then lead to foreign pressures that would cause the Israelis to have to declare a ceasefire without any of its political and future security concerns being addressed.


This has led some of these experts to call for Israel to declare a unilateral cease-fire. For example, former cabinet minister Dan Meridor, one of the country’s most respected security strategists, has stated that such a unilateral cease-fire would then put Hamas on the spot. If it agreed to a cease-fire, Israel would not have to enter into negotiations that would inevitably require it to give up some of the major gains that it has already achieved. If Hamas refused to enter into a ceasefire, Israel would then be justified in pursuing its war aims unfettered.


Other, no less distinguished experts however, have warned that such a move would then give Hamas the “victory” it has been seeking because it could then claim that it had “resisted” all of Israel’s military might and had forced the Zionists to quit. This, claim, in turn, would then undermine one of Israel’s main war aims—a desire by Israel to force the people of Gaza to turn against their Hamas rulers because of the suffering they have endured.


­­Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has been keeping his intentions close to his chest. Since first becoming prime minister in the 1990s, he has demonstrated a distinct reluctance to use military force; and he has acted with considerable restraint since the current round of violence began.


In addition, he has worked particularly hard to keep his fractious and quarrelsome domestic political front intact and supportive. He has held daily meetings with members of the numerically-restricted defence cabinet, given lengthy briefings to the full cabinet, kept the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defence committee abreast of developments, and delivered almost nightly television addresses.


However, he may soon be facing a critical point. His right wing allies are pressing for a ground operation to destroy Hamas’s infrastructure of bunkers and tunnels. As the bank of targets suitable for aerial bombing begins to run dry, he will finally have to decide whether to further escalate matters by launching a ground assault or risk their electoral wrath after the fighting is over.


Of even greater importance to him, however, is his desire to maintain the improved relations between Israel and the PA and Israel and Egypt that the fighting has brought about.


Therefore, ironically, it is very possible that only a deal negotiated between Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas and Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi on the demands they have of Hamas can bring a quick end to the growing bloodshed.


The Israelis have been allowing some humanitarian aid, including 20,000 litres of fuel, to enter Gaza despite the fighting. But that in no way satisfies Hamas’s minimum needs or desires—which require more than just a cease-fire with the Israelis before they can be fulfilled. At the very minimum, it needs an assured means for bringing in the supplies needed for reconstruction, a guaranteed financial pipeline to pay for the work, and a way to export locally made goods to its natural markets in Israel and the West Bank in order to reduce unemployment and rebuild the economy.


Therefore, a realistic offer that a mediator, once found, can take to the Gazans can only be produced by Egypt, the PA and Israel acting in coordination.

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