The Cease-fire Deal / Hamas in Charge

The main points of a cease-fire between Israel and Hamas grant the Islamic organization a political and diplomatic achievement that will also give it a lever in its reconciliation talks with Fatah, which are slated to begin at the end of this week. According to the Egyptian-mediated proposal, Israel will no longer be able to monitor the Rafah crossing, on the Gaza-Egypt border, once it reopens, and a deal to free kidnapped soldier Gilad Shalit will be discussed separately from the truce, as Hamas wanted.

Israel will receive quiet in the south, along with an Egyptian pledge to monitor the border closely, but Hamas will be the main party in control of the Rafah crossing. Palestinian Authority officials and European observers will be present, but both will have limited authority.

Moreover, the truce gives Hamas, rather than PA President Mahmoud Abbas, the power to force a cease-fire in the West Bank: If quiet is maintained in the south, Israel will have to extend the truce to the West Bank in another six months.

In theory, the reopening of Rafah depends on progress in the Shalit deal. But Egyptian officials insisted yesterday that Rafah's opening is independent of the Shalit swap, and neither is conditional upon the other, since freeing Shalit involves an additional element: Israel's agreement to release a large number of Palestinian prisoners. Thus here, too, Israel will not be able to point to any achievement.

Hamas has an interest in the cease-fire, and not just in order to end Israel's blockade of the Gaza Strip. Later this week, Abbas is expected to make his first visit to Gaza since Hamas seized control of the Strip last year, in an effort to negotiate a reconciliation between his Fatah party and Hamas. He announced this initiative about two weeks ago, and it is being supported by Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates. But now, Abbas will find himself facing a politically strengthened Hamas, one that has seemingly forced Israel to cave in.

The road to a Hamas-Fatah reconciliation remains long, especially in light of Abbas' demand that Hamas restore the situation in Gaza to what it was before June 14, 2007. But if the process succeeds, it is likely to end in new presidential and parliamentary elections, and Hamas would like to enter those races with maximum political capital. This capital would increase if, at the end of the cease-fire's six-month trial period, Hamas is able to force Israel to declare a truce in the West Bank as well. It would thereby have demonstrated effective security control over both parts of Palestine.

To do this, Hamas will need to tighten its control over smaller Palestinian factions, which are liable to threaten its claim to exclusive control over the use of force. But so far, these organizations have supported Hamas in its cease-fire bid. Thus Hamas has also succeeded in using the truce to create an internal political front - and even more importantly, to gain the Arab world's recognition of its status.