The Egyptian cease-fire initiative proposes precisely what Hamas said from the outset it would refuse: “quiet for quiet.” Hamas and Islamic Jihad are convinced that Egypt designed the cease-fire together with Israel, and that was why Israel accepted it so quickly. Some even believe that Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas was also involved in the details, which was why he welcomed it. In contrast, activists from Fatah and the Palestine Liberation Organization thought the formulation of the Egyptian proposal rendered it unacceptable. Moreover, Hamas found out about it from the media, and viewed it as an attempt to humiliate the organization, to rob it of its achievement and to invalidate it as a political factor.
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Besides the mutual cessation of fire, the proposal calls for the opening of border crossings to people and goods, but at some undefined time “when the situation on the ground stabilizes.”
It does not include a clause that Hamas considers essential, in light of past experience: international guarantees that Israel will meet its obligations. Neither does the agreement address the organization’s demand that Israel release all the prisoners freed in the Shalit swap who were rearrested over the past few weeks.
From 9 A.M. on Tuesday, when Israel stopped bombing the Gaza Strip, its inhabitants experienced six more hours of extreme tension, confusion, hope and fears. At 3 P.M. Israel resumed its air strikes, in response to the rockets and missiles that Palestinian factions in the Gaza Strip continued to fire at Israel. Islamic Jihad officially rejected the Egyptian case-fire proposal yesterday afternoon.
For the past 10 days, Hamas and Islamic Jihad have cooperated closely. The fact that Islamic Jihad was the first to declare with words what its rockets were already saying shows how difficult it is for Hamas, the largest movement and the de facto government of the Gaza Strip, to finally and officially reject the cease-fire plan.
Israel’s stepped-up strikes and the prolongation of the military confrontation jeopardize one of Hamas’ achievements: the earning of admiration and popular support as a result of what Palestinians see the organization’s efforts to exhaust Israel and to challenge its dictates.
So far, the armed factions’ pride in their achievements has matched the general feeling of the Palestinian public in the Strip, despite the inconceivable suffering. But if Israel is “exhausted,” what of the Gazans who days ago spoke of “waiting for their turn in the slaughterhouse” of Israeli shelling. Fatalism, fear and exhaustion yesterday typified the mood of those who do not support Hamas ideologically, while Hamas supporters said: “Better a quick death than the slow one under siege and imprisonment offered by Israel and Egypt.”
Hamas and PLO organizations agree that Israel is working to thwart the reconciliation government. But this consensus has not brought Ramallah to Hamas and to Gaza. On the contrary. Some in the PLO say Abbas should have gone to Gaza when the conflict began rather than making do with symbolic promises of future action. Going to Gaza under fire isn’t his style, but it earned him more black marks. On Monday he ordered some of his ministers to Gaza. The health minister in the reconciliation government did go, during a break in the Israeli air raids, but his car was pelted with rocks and eggs. The “welcome” was denounced by Moussa Abu Marzouk, a senior Hamas official who lives in Egypt, not by Gaza Hamas figures, but the minister left after an hour.
While Gaza is bleeding, there is an illusory calm in the West Bank. Every night young men clash with the IDF in refugee camps and villages. Israel continues to arrest Hamas political figures, including 12 MPs. A big rally is planned in Ramallah tonight in support of Gaza. The attrition in Gaza is increasing the shame and frustration in the West Bank over the ineffectiveness of the leadership.