Analysis / Breaking points, on both sides
Ehud Olmert will visit the burial site of David and Paula Ben-Gurion at Sde Boker, for the official memorial of the first prime minister.
In his speech he will present his own political vision. "Ben-Gurion Day" is an accepted occasion for prime ministers to come to terms with their policies. The cease-fire declared yesterday in the Gaza Strip will make things easier for Olmert, who will surely make a moderate speech at Sde Boker. It will be a speech of hope, of political vision.
The envoys Olmert is sending to talk with the Palestinians, Yoram Turbowicz and Shalom Turgeman, have given the aides of Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas a clear message: Olmert is willing to go very far, the moment that the double obstruction of the Qassam rockets and Gilad Shalit's abduction are resolved. "Fix your internal issues and let's talk," Olmert's advisors told their Palestinian counterparts.
Rafiq Husseini and Saeb Erekat, Abbas' aides, have kept Olmert's office informed of the talks between the Palestinian leader and the various factions in the Gaza Strip. There were few hopes in Jerusalem that these efforts, already attempted a number of times, would have results. But this time there were a few factors that changed, and which contributed to bringing about a cease-fire.
Both sides in the confrontation reached breaking points following five months of continuous fighting, since Shalit was abducted on June 25. The lethal and increasingly accurate Qassam rocket attacks, which have spurred repeated calls for the evacuation of Sderot, were a sign of growing fatigue on the Israeli side. The Palestinians suffered hundreds of dead in Israel Defense Force operations, and the almost total disregard of the international community. Israel was given a free hand to act in the Gaza Strip, and came under sharp criticism at the United Nations when it killed 20 civilians in an unintentional artillery attack at Beit Hanun. Even the "Palestinian Kafr Kana" did not result in international pressure on Israel to cease its attacks. Israel failed to gain the release of Shalit through force, and Olmert was forced to renege on his vow not to negotiate with Hamas on the release of prisoners "either directly or indirectly."
Israel is now waiting to see what happens in talks being held between Egypt and Khaled Meshal. Israel also failed to prevent the launching of Qassam rockets and the smuggling of weapons into the Gaza Strip, through use of force. Only the political agreement that Abbas managed to achieve has brought calm - at least temporarily. However, in Gaza there is no powerful player like Hezbollah, who alone controls the trigger. The cease-fire depends on the good will of the various factions and mini-organizations, whose interests do not always overlap and who do not always coordinate their actions.
An expression of Israel's fatigue, the acceptance of the Palestinian offer for calm was made quickly, with the full support of the cabinet. Even Avigdor Lieberman did not oppose it. Defense Minister Amir Peretz, who got into trouble with contradictory announcements regarding his conversations with Abbas last week, succeeded in laying claim, at least in the media, to the cease-fire. He emerged as having been right in the public dispute with the prime minister. Interestingly, the minute an agreement was reached, Peretz took a step to the right, claiming responsibility for the forceful operations of the IDF and threatening the Palestinians with more of the same.
The second element that has influenced events is the visit of the United States president and secretary of state to Jordan this week. They have publicly ignored the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and focused on Iraq. The hint to Olmert and Abbas was clear: Show some progress.
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