Prolonging the Gaza ceasefire
High hopes rest on the two-day old Gaza ceasefire that might hold for its third and final day tomorrow as negotiators work in Cairo to find a pathway to prolonging it. But Hamas and other resistance fighters have not been sufficiently bloodied to make them sue for a longer ceasefire while more lasting peace is far out of sight. [icopyright one button toolbar]
The blood of Gaza civilians has flowed more copiously than in past wars, not of the fighters who have already made two significant gains. First, Hamas and the other militants – branded as terrorists and outlawed by Israel and its friends for almost their entire existence — are now sitting alongside other Palestinians in Cairo for negotiations with Israel and its supporters.
Israel continues to mask its presence behind a fig leaf of “indirect” negotiations but it is clear that the people it most hates are now down the corridor if not at the same table, while Egyptian mediators and others shuttle among rooms carrying messages.
The second Hamas gain is successful use of civilian human shields to drive Benyamin Netanyahu to negotiations with Palestinians, including its delegates and backers, to discuss cease-fire terms that include alleviation of Israel’s nearly total punitive siege of Gaza.
Rightly, Bibi has refused to entertain this long-standing demand consistently for several years without first obtaining verifiable security guarantees for his people as a precondition for talks.
He may not bend this time as well. But the Hamas war has maneuvered him into a situation that makes it hard for him to continue the tough economic repression of Gaza’s entire population for much longer.
On one hand, he is being pressured by right wing Israelis, whose increasingly racist rhetoric against Muslims and Palestinians not just Hamas and Islamic Jihad, is reminiscent of the anti-Jewish venom spewed by rabid Islamists as well as right wing groups in many European countries.
On the other, he is squeezed by fears that more civilian deaths in Gaza in further rounds of military actions will amplify anti-Israeli criticism from Europeans and other members of the international community. Criticism could be brushed off but it is now reaching a level that could erode the legitimacy of Israeli arguments about self-defense against terrorist attacks by Palestinian militants.
However morally and militarily reprehensible be the use of human shields by Hamas and other Palestinian fighters, the devastation they are bringing upon their own people has not yet sufficiently isolated them in their homeland to make them politically irrelevant. Nor are they sufficiently weakened militarily by Israel’s war machine to bend the knee and disarm.
At this time, no power including Egypt or the Mahmoud Abbas administration and its backers are capable of disarming Hamas and other fighters in Gaza even temporarily. Only the Israeli military may have that capacity but it has not yet demonstrated this.
Gaza’s population lives in a quasi-permanent state of war in which Israel conducts targeted strikes anywhere at will at any time. The entire population is also in a state of quasi-permanent asphyxiation including those who do not support Hamas, which is the majority by some accounts. The people of Gaza would greatly prefer quiet as does Israel but apparently no longer at the cost of slow deaths from economic blockades.
Simply prolonging the ceasefire may require compromises more painful for Netanyahu than Hamas and others in Gaza since they seem convinced that they no longer have much left to lose.