Truce Deal / Hamas Claims Victory

Egypt bent over backwards to balance Israel, Hamas demands, fearing another Gaza-Sinai border breach.

Several Arab states were required to bring about the truce with the Palestinian factions in Cairo on Wednesday. Egypt orchestrated the move, but in coordination with Jordan and Saudi Arabia and with Syria's assistance.

The Egyptians' resolve stemmed from their fear that Hamas would carry out its threats of another breach of the border, with thousands of Gazans spilling into Egyptian territory.

Hamas' rigid opening position included a comprehensive cease-fire both in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, a written commitment for a full opening of the Rafah border crossing and a prisoners' release.

These required flexibility on Egypt's part, which is reflected in an explicit promise - Hamas says it is a real commitment although apparently it was not given in writing - to open the border. This promise softened Mahmoud a-Zahar's stance and he accepted the "Gaza first" idea.

The rest of the deal was more-or-less expected. The Palestinian faction leaders demanded reconciliation talks between Hamas and Fatah as part of the cease-fire package but made do with Egypt's promise to make an effort to bring the sides together.

Now the technical details regarding the border crossing's opening remain. Will the Palestinian Authority's forces be posted at the crossing or at some distance away and be responsible only for the European inspectors' safety; what will the European inspectors' authority be and mainly, what guarantees will Egypt present to Israel regarding the supervision on Palestinians' entry and exit through the terminal. At any rate, Egypt, as the agreement's custodian, has undertaken to be responsible for Hamas' "good behavior" as well as for security in the Rafah crossing point.

Egypt went to a lot of trouble to balance Israel and Hamas' demands to prevent either side from claiming victory. Israel "received," at least on paper, quiet in Sderot and the western Negev and freedom of action in the West Bank, while Hamas received Rafah. Hamas is presenting the agreement as a victory for the Palestinian nation and for violent resistance. But it cannot claim an all-Palestinian achievement because Israel has retained freedom of action in the West Bank.

However, Hamas will continue holding "the right to veto" the peace process, supported by the Palestinian resistance groups that agreed to the cease-fire. Thus the truce has brought about a historic upheaval - secular Palestinian groups seeking shelter under the wing of a religious movement to achieve political clout.