Although Hamas has officially rejected the Egyptian cease-fire proposal, it is clear that Israel is not interested in breaking the rules. The continued air strikes on the Gaza Strip are not only a retaliation for the intolerable Hamas fire at Israeli communities, but an attempt to continue exerting pressure, in order to avoid a ground operation in the Strip.
Such an operation, even with limited goals, could get complicated. Dealing with the immediate tactical threats, especially the tunnels, could result in numerous casualties and lead to a major deterioration in the situation. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s resistance to the overwhelming pressure to “go all the way” is commendable.
Behind the scenes attempts are being made all the time to hammer out a cease—fire formula that both sides will accept. But even if the yearned-for truce is achieved, holding the fire will not be enough. Gaza will continue to bubble and threaten with new eruptions.
The Israeli and Egyptian closure on the Gaza Strip has made it clear, not for the first time, that that is no guarantee for preventing a violent conflagration. The closure damaged Israel’s relations with other countries in the world and plunged the Gaza Strip’s 1.6 million residents into despair. Nor did the closure prevent Hamas from arming itself and it was one of the major reasons behind the Hamas-Fatah reconciliation.
The recent weeks prove the Gaza Strip’s fate cannot be left to Hamas’ whims. Israel was wrong when it contributed to eroding Mahmoud Abbas’ stature instead of strengthening the Palestinian president and enabling him to become a strong regional leader who can influence Hamas as well. Israel weakened Abbas and now it must face a terror organization that has no influential leader with whom we can reach agreements.
If Israel wants quiet in the Gaza Strip, it must enable Abbas to transfer money to the government officials Hamas appointed and allow Abbas to set up a joint committee to supervise the passage in the Rafah terminal. Israel must conduct direct negotiations with Hamas over implementing the cease-fire clauses, with Egypt’s backing, and free the prisoners it had undertaken to release.
An agreement with a terror organization, even if it endures, will not be a substitute for a serious diplomatic framework. Only this kind of framework will be able to change the threatening reality in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
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