As Israel’s latest attack on the Gaza Strip continues, both Hamas and Israel appear to support the idea of a ceasefire, but they differ on the conditions. Since neither side wants to carry on fighting, and neither have very radical goals, a settlement must be close.
For the Palestinians, there can be no ceasefire without an end to the siege on Gaza, regardless of how this is reached. There can also be no ceasefire without Israel pledging that they will not resume their assassinations when things are calmer, and attacks by both sides have stopped.
Israel’s history of confrontation with the resistance in Lebanon and Palestine shows that they cannot easily control the outcome of the wars they start. In this most recent assault, the Israelis appear to have assumed that the initial air raids would put an end to the threat posed by Palestinian groups in Gaza; Israel would disable Hamas’ ability to respond with rocket fire, forcing the Palestinian faction to accept Israeli demands.
However, facts on the ground changed things, and the Palestinians are now in a position to set their own conditions. Both sides realize that for Israel to be able to impose its conditions, it will have to launch a ground invasion of the whole of the Gaza Strip, or at least major parts of it. They also realize that this is a gamble with no guaranteed outcome. A ground invasion is a risk which could push Israel into positions it does not want to be in and which it cannot withstand. Israel knows this. Its problem is that the Palestinians also know it.
The Palestinians do not have much to lose. The siege on Gaza is already in effect. The bombing and destruction have targeted Hamas’ political, economic, and military institutions. But through this scene of siege and destruction, rays of light have emerged for the Palestinians. They have demonstrated a clear ability to launch rockets of various kinds, and over long distances. They have also shown an ability to absorb the sudden preventative strikes Israel has always counted on.
The resistance forces in Gaza are firing an unprecedented 200 rockets a day. This is no easy task, from either an intelligence or a logistical point of view. The fighters have to maneuver in very difficult conditions. Israel’s intelligence services watch their every move.
As the battle rages on, the political and indirect negotiations have reached a frantic note. Each side is insistent on their own conditions for a ceasefire. Israel is prepared to go back to how things were before the attack: a temporary ceasefire in exchange for a long-term ceasefire, with third party promises that it will not be broken. But the Palestinians are clinging to their own conditions, most importantly an end to the blockade and the ongoing assassination of their leaders.
Israeli statements, as well as leaks from their politicians and military, reveal that the Palestinian conditions for putting an end to the current round of fighting are now acceptable to the Israeli side. Tel Aviv’s efforts, whether on the ground or in terms of the indirect political negotiations going on in Cairo and Washington, are concentrated on what Israel wants in exchange for lifting the siege on Gaza. This includes the extent to which the siege will be lifted and the guarantees surrounding it, as well as how to announce this news.
The two Palestinian conditions mentioned above – lifting the siege and stopping the assassinations – are not very radical in light of Israel’s race against time. Israel realizes that each day of this war adds to its losses, diminishes its deterrence capabilities, and reduces the effectiveness of the gains it made at the beginning of the attack. Both sides know very well that Israel fears a ground invasion despite its constant threats to carry one out.
Israel’s conditions are concentrated on the guarantees it can secure for the post-ceasefire period, but they also include some unattainable demands. It has been suggested that Israel wants a publicly declared guarantee from Egypt and the US that lifting the siege on Gaza will not result in weapons being brought into Gaza or made there. They also want international monitoring of the crossings into Gaza and they want ships heading to Gaza to set off from specific European ports. They also want guarantees that no attacks will be carried out against Israeli soldiers stationed close to the border fence.
However, the current negotiations in Cairo are focused on trying to get both sides to compromise in order to reach an agreement. It seems clear though that lifting the siege on Gaza is an essential part of any future agreement.
There are still some obstacles in the way of this agreement. Israel might feel that carrying on with its attack for a little longer – with a limited ground invasion – will put more pressure on the Palestinians to capitulate. This is a risky option, but if the Israeli leadership have the guts to take it, then it is crucial for them that it should not last for a long time.
It has become very difficult for any settlement or agreement not to include opening the crossings, at least the land ones, between Gaza and the outside world. Both sides are now concentrating their efforts on the price the other side has to pay. We can only hope that no Arab countries put pressure on the resistance in Gaza to accept a formula which would constitute some sort of achievement for Netanyahu and his attacking army. Such an agreement would only lend credence to the Israeli right wing’s slogan: “What is not achieved by force can be achieved with more force.”
This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.