Day by day, the prospect recedes of the Israel-Hamas Cairo negotiations actually taking place on schedule, one month after Aug. 26, the date the last Gaza ceasefire went into force. And even if they do, it will only be a pointless formality achieving nothing. The discussions, actions, disclosures and statements filling the air at present all point to the violence resuming on the Jewish New Year festival later this month.
Clearly aware of the dates, Hamas’ Gaza leader Ismail Haniyeh warned in a sermon Friday, Sept. 6, that rocket fire would start up against Israel on Sept. 25, the first day of the festival, unless the blockade of the Gaza Strip was lifted by then.
This eventuality would sorely embarrass Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon, to say the least – after their extreme efforts to demonstrate to critics that Hamas would never dare shoot another rocket after the punishment it took in 50 days of relentless Israeli warfare and air strikes.
This was the rationale they used for halting hostilities, prematurely according to their critics, without delivering the final crushing blow against the Palestinian extremists.
It now seems that the truce may be shorter-lived than the conflict itself, because it rested on misconceptions. Egyptian President Abdel Fatteh El-Sisi and Prime Minister Netanyahu designated Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas to oversee and take charge of the slow strangling of Hamas rule of the Gaza Strip. That was one misconception. For one thing, Abbas never dances to any tune but his own, and, for another, Hamas’s popularity has soared at his expense – especially in his own domain, the West Bank, where a recent Palestinian poll showed 80 percent support for Hamas’s rocket war on Israel.
Knowing which way the wind was blowing, Abbas made it clear in his remarks Saturday that he had no intention of disarming Hamas, but would take charge of the Gaza Strip only if he was assured by Egypt as well as Hamas that the Palestinians would have one ruling body and “one gun.”
This was Abbas’s way of telling Israel to forget about its demand to demilitarize Gaza, because he had accepted the Hamas formula for a unity government: The Fatah-dominated Palestinian Authority would rule the territory and Hamas would continue to be the sole military force, enjoying a status akin to the autonomous Hizballah militia in Lebanon.
Israel knew about these understandings in the last week of August, when the Shin Bet Direct Yoram Cohen traveled to Jordan for a meeting with Abbas. That meeting was widely misrepresented as a rendezvous between Abbas and Netanyahu for launching the latter’s vision of a “new political horizon” arising from the successful Gaza campaign.
Cohen’s mission was quite different: He was to hand the Palestinian leader a clear warning about how Israel views the future of Hamas rule in the Gaza Strip and lay down red lines.
But for now, the second week of September, Hamas and Israel are back to the mid-war situation of impermanent truces, with Hamas still calling the shots and even setting the date for resuming its rocket war on Israel.
Hence the comments by Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman Sunday, Sept. 7, that it was “unrealistic at this time” to demand Gaza’s demilitarization, although the issue “must stay on the table.”
Clearly Netanyahu has given up on his main condition for ceasing hostilities, which was the demilitarization of the terror-ridden strip of coastal land adjoining southwestern Israel. He and the defense minister seem to have resigned themselves to Hamas being left with the capacity to manufacture and shoot rockets at will.
This acceptance roused into action the critics, who were vocally opposed to the way the war was handled and pointed out, above all, how little was achieved before a truce was accepted. An unnamed “senior political figurel” caused a rumpus Sunday, when he reported in a leak to the media that, two weeks into the latest ceasefire, Hamas had begun rebuilding the attack tunnels, which IDF ground forces so painstakingly destroyed, and was again smuggling arms through Sinai tunnels, despite Egypt’s efforts to run interference.
Furthermore, the Gaza terrorists were again manufacturing M-75 rockets capable of reaching Tel Aviv. Even after Israel’s massive aerial strikes, they were left with one-third of their rocket arsenal.
Unnamed sources in the defense ministry questioned the official’s sources for this information, which landed with the same suddenness as the revelation that the government had begun discussing the choice of Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz’s successor as the next chief of staff.
This issue tends to be highly charged as different contenders vie to make the running. If Netanyahu and Ya’alon wanted to delay the decision, they could have extended Gen. Gantz term, which ends Feb. 15, 2015, or got it out of the way by promoting his deputy, Maj. Gen. Gadi Eisenkott.
But both are reported to prefer to draw a line on the Gaza conflict and the performance of the two generals and start afresh. They therefore find themselves caught uncomfortably in crossfire from two conflicts – the possible resumption of Palestinian attacks from Gaza, and the contest in the top ranks of the IDF for the top job as chief of staff.