Israel, Hamas Agree to Unlimited Gaza Cease-fire

Over half the cabinet opposes truce, but PM did not bring it to a vote.

Gil Cohen-Magen

After 50 days of fighting, Israel, Hamas and the other Palestinian factions agreed on Tuesday to an Egyptian cease-fire proposal.

At least half the members of the diplomatic-security cabinet opposed the agreement, but Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu decided to accept it without bringing it to a discussion or vote in that forum.

According to the statement released by the Egyptian Foreign Ministry, the cease-fire will be of unlimited duration, and Israel will immediately open its border crossings with Gaza so that humanitarian aid and construction materials can be brought in.

The Egyptian statement didn’t specify any mechanism for monitoring what is brought into the Strip. A senior Israeli official said Tuesday that Israel would decide which products could or couldn’t enter, but didn’t respond to questions as to how Israel would ensure that these products aren’t used to build weapons or tunnels once they are inside Gaza.

The cease-fire deal also calls for expanding the fishing zone off Gaza’s coast from three nautical miles to six. But it makes no mention of Israel’s security demands, or even of the need to discuss security arrangements for Gaza. A senior Israeli official noted that the agreement also makes no mention of numerous Hamas demands, like building a port and airport, releasing prisoners and paying salaries to Hamas government employees in Gaza.

During the first month of the cease-fire, the Egyptian Foreign Ministry said, Israeli and Palestinian delegations would come to Cairo for indirect talks on various issues that have been left open. During those talks, Hamas is expected to raise its demands for a port and airport in Gaza and a solution to the salary crisis. A senior Israeli official said Israel would raise its demands for disarming Gaza and preventing Hamas from rearming.

The senior Israeli official said discussions on a cease-fire picked up speed over the last few days. By Sunday night, it seemed as if a deal were very close, and on Monday, the sides again seemed close to announcing an agreement, but it didn’t happen. on Tuesday afternoon, however, understandings were finally reached that allowed Egypt to announce the cease-fire.

During those few days, Netanyahu held no discussions of the Cairo talks in the diplomatic-security cabinet; what little information he gave the ministers was conveyed in individual meetings with them. on Tuesday, after the Arab media began reporting that a cease-fire deal had been reached, Cabinet Secretary Avichai Mendelblit and National Security Advisor Joseph Cohen made a round of phone calls to brief members of the diplomatic-security cabinet.

Economy Minister Naftali Bennett, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, Public Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch and Communications Minister Gilad Erdan all made it clear during these phone calls that they opposed the deal. But Mendelblit and Cohen told them the deal wasn’t being brought to a vote; they were merely being informed.

When Bennett realized that half the diplomatic-security cabinet opposed the deal, he demanded that it be brought to a vote. But in response, Netanyahu’s aides pulled out a legal opinion they had obtained stating that no vote was necessary. The reason for this, according to Netanyahu’s staff, is that at a diplomatic-security cabinet meeting over two weeks ago, when the possibility of a cease-fire lasting 24 to 72 hours was discussed, the ministers agreed to authorize Netanyahu and Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon to make the final decision by themselves. Netanyahu’s bureau claims this authorization also holds for the cease-fire deal reached Tuesday.

Even Justice Minister Tzipi Livni sounded skeptical about the cease-fire deal on Tuesday. “Only time will tell whether enough deterrence was achieved against Hamas and the quiet will be long-term,” she said.

Now, she added, Israel should work on international agreements to disarm Hamas, prevent it from rearming and create an effective monitoring mechanism. “We must create a new diplomatic front with the region’s moderates, who choose ending the conflict over terror,” she said.

Meretz chairwoman Zahava Gal-On slammed the cease-fire deal, saying its terms showed Netanyahu had suffered a strategic defeat in Gaza.

“He went to war with no goals and ended by giving Hamas an enormous achievement on the backs of residents of the south,” she said. “These same agreements could have been reached months ago with the moderates in the Palestinian Authority instead of under Hamas fire, and without launching an unnecessary war.”