If truce holds up it could serve as incentive for more positive developments
By: Ron Ben Yishai
Israel has had some bad experiences with ceasefires with the Palestinians in
the past, particularly those announced unilaterally. Even during Yasser
Arafat's time some of the ceasefires only held up for a few hours and others
for a few days.
Often recalcitrant Palestinian factions used the violation of a truce to
exact concessions and benefits from the Palestinian Authority, and more rarely
it was an IDF operation that went wrong and brought about the renewal of fire.
As of now, we should wait a day or two to establish to what extent the
current ceasefire is viable and stable. It would also be a test of Mahmoud
Abbas' credibility as well as Hamas, Islamic Jihad and the Popular Resistance
Committees' ability to rule over their military wings and their militiamen.
In any case, it can already be ascertained that the primary motive for
calling for a ceasefire can be attributed to the pressure emanating from the
Palestinian street in the Gaza Strip and directed at the organizations and the
Apparently, it's not just the Palestinian political leadership, Mahmoud
Abbas and Ismail Haniyeh, who are attentive to the calls and murmurings
emanating from the refugee camps and the streets of the cities, but also the
leaders of the more radical organizations who are not partners to the regime.
To be honest, they have no choice. They and their families have been living
for almost a year amongst a population suffering from an economic and military
siege. It's not only the residents of Sderot who are suffering - the
Palestinian population is also paying a heavy death toll for the "Qassam
Almost half the fatalities and injured in the exchange of fire in recent
months are boys, women, children and elderly Palestinians. Not to mention the
insufferable living conditions prevalent in the Strip and the sense of
humiliation of hundreds of thousands of men who are unable to provide for
Dיtente for gaining strength
It can be said to Mahmoud Abbas' credit that that he knew how to take
advantage of the mood on the Palestinian street. The ceasefire didn't emanate
from his personal influence and power of persuasion, but he knew how to be
insistent and to offer the armed organizations a way out at the moment of
He also made sure that the Israeli government - currently under heavy public
pressure to put an end to the suffering of the residents of Sderot and the
western Negev and having an interest in complying with the relatively modest
requests made by Abbas - would offer it an honorable way out.
The leaderships of Hamas, Islamic Jihad and other factions had even more
important reasons for holding the fire: The losses incurred by the IDF's
operations (some 400 fatalities since July of this year), plus the fear of a
broad military offensive by Israel in the near future filled a crucial role in
agreeing to Abbas' pleas.
Hamas is in need of a truce in order to reorganize itself without a broad
military offensive that would ruin its process of empowerment. The other
organizations are also in need of a ceasefire in order to replenish their
stockpiles of Qassam rockets and other munitions; to give their people a break
and to reorganize their ranks. Just as in standing armies, even guerilla and
terror groups reach a breaking point following which they call for a
However, the main reason for the truce initiated by the Palestinians is
pressure exerted by the silent population majority - it is quiet yet highly
effective pressure. Therefore, the first thing Israel should do the moment it
becomes apparent that the ceasefire is holding is to reward the non-combatant
Palestinian population. A situation should be created whereby the Palestinian
civilian population would be motivated to keep it going, and to pressure the
rebellious factions to honor it.
Israel would do well to launch a humanitarian campaign that would
significantly ease the plight of residents of the Gaza Strip - immediately
open the crossings and grant Palestinians an initial aid package and economic
benefits. Palestinian residents must be able to sense that the ceasefire is
beneficial and its violation would exact a heavy toll.
From Israel's point of view, the primary danger of a ceasefire is the
continued smuggling of arms and explosives via the Philadelphi Route and the
strengthening of Hamas. It is important to note that Mahmoud Abbas made a
commitment on behalf of the Palestinian factions to cease "digging tunnels"
but not to end smuggling.
A ceasefire binds the hands of the IDF and prevents it from taking military
action to stop the strengthening of the factions; therefore, the emphasis
should be on a political effort to get the Egyptians to handle the matter.
Positive signs on horizon?
The Egyptians have recently stepped up their activities in the Philadelphi
Route and have even chalked up a few achievements. Two weeks ago, for example,
they uncovered five smuggling tunnels in the Rafah area within one week. Even
Israeli-Egyptian cooperation is currently better and more effective than in
the past. However, in order to halt the smuggling, the Egyptian security
forces must also take action in areas inside sovereign Egypt.
The munitions, explosives and funds funneled by Hamas, Iran and Hizbullah,
pass through two main routes: From Sudan, via Egypt to Sinai and from there to
the Strip through the tunnels at the Phildelphi Route and the Rafah Crossing.
The second route passes through the Mediterranean - the munitions land on
the Sinai coast and even in the Delta and Nile regions, and from there they
reach the Gaza Strip through the Sinai. The Egyptians are only operating along
the Philadelphi Route.
Even the coordination between the intelligence forces, the Egyptian army and
the Egyptian Foreign Office, involved in foiling the smuggling, is limited and
is in need of improvement. Israel has already exhausted its means in
pressuring the Egyptians; to obtain real results it should enlist American
pressure, which may prove to be more effective in Cairo than Israel's
diplomatic efforts so far.
If the ceasefire holds up, it is likely not only to serve as a temporary
relief for the residents of Sderot and the Gaza Strip, but also as leverage
and an incentive for further positive developments.
It is likely to accelerate negotiations for the release of abducted soldier
Gilad Shalit that is apparently at the last straight. It is also likely to
allow negotiations for a ceasefire and temporary settlement in the West Bank.
In the future - who knows - it may also help launch a political dialogue on a
phased final settlement on the Israeli-Arab conflict.
Putting optimism aside, we currently need to focus our efforts on
stabilizing the ceasefire in the Gaza Strip and to ensure that it won't turn
into a boomerang that would strike back at Israel within a few months or
years, as it did in Lebanon.
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