So much for the cease-fire. The rockets and mortars in and out of Gaza had been quiet for another few hours, honoring a request from Egypt, while all sides on the conflict remain focused on indirect talks for a so-called permanent truce. Instead, just a little while after the extension of the previous cease-fire, rockets fired from Gaza hit southern Israel today:
The Israeli military says three rockets have been fired from the Gaza Strip, breaking a temporary cease-fire amid negotiations over the war between Israel and Hamas.
The military says three rockets landed in open fields Tuesday near the southern city of Beersheba.
At least for now, that may not be enough to restart the war. No word has yet come about responsibility for the attacks, but Hamas has up to now been able to control all of the factions on the ground. Israel can choose to ignore the provocation, and it may as long as more rocket fire does not come from Gaza. They’re winning the public-relations war at the moment, and they can afford to be patient and let Hamas unravel the peace themselves.
The violation seemed inevitable anyway. The multilateral talks appear to be going in circles, as Hamas insists on winning an end to the blockade, the Palestinian Authority seeks to end Hamas’ control, and Israel demands security guarantees that will allow them to crush any more attempts to create tunnels under the border:
At the Cairo talks, Israel is seeking guarantees of “peace and quiet,” a cessation of all rocket fire and tunnel operations, and, ultimately, the disarming of the Gaza Strip.
For their part, Hamas, which controls the coastal enclave, and the Palestinian Authority, which controls the West Bank, want an opening of all border crossings and an end to the trade and travel restrictions imposed by Israel and Egypt that make Gaza, in the Palestinians’ words, “an open-air prison.” The Palestinians want restrictions on building materials lifted, and they are requesting permission to build a seaport and rehabilitate Yasser Arafat International Airport, which has been closed for 13 years.
Israel is seeking support for its view that any arrangement with Hamas, whether a signed cease-fire or something short of that, must allow Israel to return to Gaza to destroy new or rebuilt tunnels.
“The way we dealt with the tunnel issues was a mistake,” said Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Tzahi Hanegbi. “We knew about them, we had enough intelligence about this strategic threat” but miscalculated by thinking that the threat was containable.
“This policy is not going to repeat itself,” he said.
The news of a Hamas coup plot against the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank throws a monkey wrench into the works, too. Mahmoud Abbas had been working on behalf of Hamas with Israel, pushing to partially restore economic exchanges across the border crossings. Abbas still plans to meet with Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal today, who’s been hiding out in Qatar during this fight, and that may be a little … interesting:
Exiled Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal, who lives in Qatar, is set to meet Thursday in the Qatari capital of Doha with Fatah leader Mahmoud Abbas, who remains head of the Palestinian Authority.
On the agenda will be the latest cease-fire proposal advanced by Egypt, and everything else that is going on in the region and affecting their two factions.
It is Mashaal, egged on by Qatar and possibly also Iran, who has stopped Hamas in Gaza from settling on an Egyptian-brokered cease-fire agreement with Israel thus far.
Mashal is no friend of Abbas, particularly since Hamas has worked hard to sabotage the recent ‘reconciliation’ deal with which he tried to build a new Palestinian Authority unity government.
Abbas ditched US financial support to bring Hamas into the PA earlier this year, and this was the thanks he got for it. This looks like a media splash more than anything else, a box-checker of a meeting. For the purposes of the Cairo negotiations, it won’t make much difference.
The Times of Israel reports that the Netanyahu government is willing to ease the blockade if it gets the security guarantees it wants — even before Gaza fully disarms:
The sources told Ynet that the agreement between Israel and the US on the terms of a deal with Hamas was reached secretly and entails Israel opening the land crossings into Gaza, followed by sea access, not objecting to the payment of salaries to Hamas men in Gaza, and facilitating the reconstruction of Gaza with international aid.
The US, according to the report, will support Israel’s demand to prevent the rearmament of Hamas and other terror groups in Gaza, and will help Israel promote this goal in the international sphere. Israel reportedly gave up on the demand that terror groups in Gaza disarm.
The Jerusalem Post’s sources say Israel hasn’t gone that far:
The PA’s envoy to Cairo, Jamal Shobak said that Israel was offering to partially lift the blockade on Gaza , Israel Radio reported.
Sources in Jerusalem denied media reports that Israel had made an agreement with the United States about lifting the blockade on Gaza.
As yet another cease-fire deadline loomed, residents in the South were warned to stay near a protected space in case rocket firings on Israel start up again, though there are no other restrictions placed on the region for now.
For the last eight days, Egypt has brokered the latest stage of indirect talks. Reports out of Cairo indicated that an understanding was in the works that addressed some Palestinian demands, while delaying discussion on other issues for one month.
Unconfirmed Palestinian sources said that Israel agreed Monday to certain conditions such as opening Gaza border crossings for building materials to be transferred under international supervision, and an extension of the enclave’s fishing zone by an additional six miles. Israel has not confirmed the reports.
Israel had earlier offered to extend the fishing zone, which will make embargo patrols a little more complicated but not impossible. It seems doubtful that Israel will give up entirely on demilitarization of Gaza, although they might in exchange for the right to enter Gaza to destroy tunnels at any time. But would Hamas ever agree to that condition? To call that “doubtful” would be cheery optimism.
Netanyahu is on tricky ground in Israel, too. Having made the case for war against Hamas so well and convinced Israelis that the need for victory is so critical, he may have trouble selling a truce. According to a new poll, 58% of Israelis want to wage war until total victory over Hamas — and only two people in the 600-respondent poll thinks Israel should accede to Hamas’ demands:
Only four tenths of a percent of Israeli Jews think Israel should accept Hamas’s demands in order to stop rocket fire from the Gaza Strip, the monthly Peace Index poll sponsored by the Israel Democracy Institute and Tel Aviv University revealed Tuesday.
The poll of 600 respondents who constitute a representative sample of the adult population of Israel was taken last Monday and Tuesday and has a margin of error of 4.1 percent. It found that 58% of Israeli Jews think Israel does not have to meet any Hamas demands and should continue to fight until Hamas surrenders, and 41% think Israel should respond positively to Hamas’s demands that are reasonable in terms of Israel’s national security.
On the other hand, Israelis are very pessimistic that Israel can achieve that victory — and that a truce will deliver the peace and quiet sought by Netanyahu for any significant length of time:
The poll found that an overwhelming majority of Israeli Jews are pessimistic that the goal set at the beginning of Operation Protective Edge of restoring quiet will be achieved. Seventy-one percent of Israeli Jews said they thought chances are low that the operation would lead to three years or more of complete quiet from Gaza. Only 25% of Israeli Jews think chances for complete quiet of at least three years is high.
The stakes are high for all parties, and each of them have significant reason to hope that the cease-fire effort backfires on someone else. That’s not a great basis for a lasting truce, let alone a peace. Don’t expect the three rockets this morning to be the last, even in the short term.