Israel to push for comprehensive peace plan in new cease-fire negotiations?

Stop me if you’ve heard this before. The world demands a humanitarian cease fire in Gaza. Israel and Hamas agree to a time-limited truce. At the end of the truce period (and sometimes a lot closer to the start), Hamas starts firing rockets into Israel, and the war starts up again. Lather, rinse, repeat:

So far the truce has held, according to the Jerusalem Post, which already disqualifies it as the least successful cease fire in this latest round of war in Gaza:

Israel and the Palestinians began talks in Cairo on Monday in hopes of reaching a long-range truce to end hostilities in Gaza, Egypt’s state news agency MENA said.

The indirect talks are being mediated by Egypt and began a day after the two sides agreed to begin a new 72-hour cease-fire.

Shortly after Egyptian media announced on Sunday evening that a cease-fire had been accepted by both sides, Israeli officials stated that Israel had accepted a truce but would only send a delegation to Cairo on Monday if Hamas kept the peace overnight. There have been no rockets fired at Israel from Gaza since the truce went into effect at midnight.

According to the officials, the decision was taken in accordance with Israel’s policy that it will not negotiate while under fire.

The Israelis may have something else in mind this time. Rather than hearing demands from its neighbors to keep playing this game, one Israeli Cabinet member has challenged them to do something about it — by demanding a comprehensive regional peace plan that recognizes their right to exist as a Jewish state. Yaakov Perry even offered to start talks on the basis of an Arab League plan that Israel rejected earlier:

One of the proposals comes from a heavyweight who straddles the worlds of defense and politics, Yaakov Perry. He is a former chief of Israel’s security service, the Shin Bet. He is a member of parliament from the secular Yesh Atid party and the minister of science, technology and space.

In an interview with The Washington Post on Sunday evening, Perry said Israel should propose that the talks in Cairo become regional in composition and aspiration. He suggested inviting Egypt and Jordan, the two Arab countries that have peace treaties with Israel, as well as Saudi Arabia and several Persian Gulf states that share an interest in combating Islamist extremists.

Perry envisions focusing the Cairo talks on the humanitarian crisis in Gaza, where Israeli airstrikes and artillery attacks have destroyed thousands of homes and much of the infrastructure. When that phase is completed, he said, the talks could expand to seeking a resolution to the decades-long conflict between Israel and the Palestinians.

“Let’s take the Saudi initiative, and we will try to negotiate a plan to bring an end to the Israeli-Arab dispute,” he said, referring to a peace plan proposed by Saudi Arabia in 2002 and later embraced by the 22-member Arab League. “Inside this framework, it will be easier to deal with [the] Palestinians on bilateral negotiations, which have failed.”

He said this is the first time a member of the Israeli government has publicly endorsed basing talks on what became known as the Arab Peace Initiative, which offered Israel normalized relations throughout the Arab world. But it was a take-it-or-leave-it deal, entailing concessions too painful for Israel to accept, such as a withdrawal from the occupied territories, including East Jerusalem, and “a right of return” for Palestinians who fled when Israel was founded in 1948.

At least this has the virtue of novelty, and perhaps more value as a flanking maneuver. Israel won’t win this by negotiating with Hamas anyway; Hamas is committed to Israel’s destruction, and as long as they’re in charge there will be no peace in Gaza. Israel has to find a way to push Hamas aside without opening up a vacuum that will allow a worse alternative to take its place. Voila: the Arab League. The neighboring Arab nations hate Hamas too, and would love to see it expelled or at least marginalized in the region. A comprehensive regional peace plan would lock Iran out of Palestinian politics entirely and allow for a greater focus on the threat coming from Tehran rather than the constant irritation of Palestinian uprisings. They’ll never get the “right of return,” but the Arabs could gain some other concessions, especially on the West Bank wall and some of the settlements in exchange for purging Hamas from Gaza and getting the Palestinian Authority to take over its governance.

At least, that’ll be the theory. And even if the talks can’t pull off the improbable, at least the effort will be a little more productive than listening to Hamas demand that Israel commit national suicide by reopening the border crossings under Hamas leadership.

Update: CNN’s Martin Savidge experienced the Israeli process of sending a “knock missile” ahead of an air strike while on tape. This took place before the cease-fire (via Jake Tapper):