Israel wants Operation Cast Lead to end in a political agreement based on a new monitoring system and the prevention of smuggling along the Egypt-Gaza border. The system would rely on an existing security committee comprising representatives from Israel, Egypt, the Palestinian Authority and the United States. Hamas would not be represented, nor would it be a party to understandings or agreements, though it is expected to continue to control the Gaza Strip.
That is the political process being advanced by Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, in conjunction with the ground incursion in Gaza. The idea was discussed at the meeting during which Olmert, Defense Minister Ehud Barak and Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni approved the ground operation, and is being handled by the Prime Minister's Bureau, together with officials from the defense and foreign ministries. The Bush administration is maintaining contact with Israel through phone calls and e-mails, and for the moment is holding off on sending even low-level envoys to the region.
The deal in the works is reminiscent of the Grapes of Wrath understanding that governed the cease-fire between Israel and Lebanon after an Israel Defense Forces operation in the spring of 1996.
At the time, a monitoring group consisting of Israel, Lebanon, Syria, France and the United States was established to deal with violations of the agreement, which banned firing on civilians. Hezbollah was not party to the agreement, but the assumption was that Syria would be able to influence it.
In the present situation in Gaza, Israel opposes a UN Security Council decision that would force a cease-fire - as did Resolution 1701, which put an end to the Second Lebanon War. Israel doesn't want to grant Hamas legitimacy by allowing it to be a signatory to a deal, and wants the Palestinian Authority to play the role of the Lebanese government in 1996 and represent the Palestinians.
If an agreement is reached, Israel will try to present the establishment of the security system as an impressive achievement that merits the danger of a major military operation. Experience, though, makes that doubtful: The security committee that includes Israel, Egypt, the Palestinian Authority and the United States was established several years ago and has yet to lead to anything other than excuses.
Not to mention that the Grapes of Wrath agreement didn't exactly bring quiet to the north.
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