Opinion

A Gaza Cease-fire, but Only Under These Conditions

Every cease-fire agreement is conditioned on both sides accepting the fence as a demilitarized zone and must include a clear Hamas commitment not to use the calm to topple the Palestinian Authority

Smoke rises above Gaza after an Israeli attack on Hamas positions.
Eliyahu Hershkovitz

If it’s possible to reach a cease-fire (hudna) agreement with Hamas on the Gazan front for a few years, its terms should be examined, but in principle it should be welcomed. What’s wrong with that, Ehud Barak once asked, when it was argued that the cease-fire would only last a few years.

One of the fundamental conditions for a cease-fire must include a clear Hamas commitment not to use the calm to topple the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah, yet the debate is being reduced now anyway to the terms of a flimsy cease-fire agreement.

The starting point for a truce is based on the rounds of combat in recent years. The Iron Dome system provided effective protection from rockets, and its capability is expanding to intercept mortar shells as well. The underground wall being built will help overcome the tunnels; Hamas recently started a battle along the fence and began using burning kites and firebombs because it failed in the previous rounds.

Opinions differ on the meaning of the prolonged fighting along the fence. One argument says Hamas now has the advantage because it achieved international support in exchange for dozens of fatalities, mainly of terrorists, which is a lower price that was exacted from it in the 2014 Israel-Gaza war. But this is not the right equation. In the previous rounds (and in the last two days) the Palestinians attacked civilian settlements along the Gazan border, while in the struggle over the fence – the result of their disappointment from the previous rounds – they didn’t use rockets. In the battle along the fence, no Israeli was killed.

The Palestinians sent people to penetrate into Israel with the intention of breaking into one of the settlements, and the IDF prevented it. The IDF did well to stop the demonstrators at the fence almost at any price. No one in the world doubts that the border’s defense is a legitimate display of sovereignty.

Indeed, Hamas won international sympathy due to the European tendency to side with the Palestinians in any situation. Now Hamas leaders hope that Israel, in a bid to wipe away the diplomatic stain, will be less eager to respond with an iron first to future confrontations being planned along the fence.

This will play out Friday and next week (the Six-Day War anniversary), when the Palestinians resume the March of Return along the fence. At this juncture the government must make clear that what was is what will be, and the snipers will return to their positions, under instructions to shoot at the intruders’ legs. Israel’s stand should be repeated in a new version: Every cease-fire agreement is conditioned on the two sides’ seeing the fence as a demilitarized zone, that any Palestinian positioned there is endangering his life, like a man wandering into a minefield. Otherwise, any cease-fire achieved under Egyptian sponsorship (and with Iran’s consent, as the one pushing Hamas to cooperate with Islamic Jihad in response to the IDF’s activity against it in Syria) will endure only a brief time and be insignificant.

Israel can present such a stance in the West. It is seen as acting on its right to self-defense. Benjamin Netanyahu can present it now in European capitals, and even if he fails to convince, at least he won’t be denounced. Israel is conducting a reasonable, normal policy, but it lacks original, dramatic ideas in presenting its positions in world capitals.

At the same time, Israel is declaring its readiness to conduct a “carrot and stick” policy toward Hamas. The stick is well-used and should not be softened. But Israel isn’t showing the world the carrot, whether in the form of Yisrael Katz’s drive to build an artificial island off Gaza’s shore, or more modest steps like granting Gazan residents thousands of work permits in Israel.

Temporary tactical solutions must also be part of a comprehensive, logical policy.