The Israeli cabinet voted to accept an Egyptian-brokered ceasefire Tuesday morning. Hamas, who was not consulted, is in direct discussions with Cairo but has criticized the initial proposal. What does all this mean?
1) Israel is willing to return to the status quo, a status quo that serves Israeli interests. Sure there is occasional rocket fire from Gaza but Israel has the Iron Dome and, in the sparsely populated south of the country, the rockets usually fall in open spaces. The occasional rocket from Gaza actually helps Israeli hawks strengthen their case for continuing the “occupation” of the West Bank (an “occupation” that, in the wake of Netanyahu’s recent remarks, should be understood as a de facto annexation). The Israeli right points to the rockets from Gaza and says, “Look, we withdrew from Gaza in 2005 and all we got is rocket fire!”
Returning to the status quo also means that Israel strikes Gaza from time to time and kills Palestinian civilians there and in the West Bank without garnering much scrutiny from the international media and, by extension, the international community. Returning to the status quo would also mean an end to the immediate damage to Israel’s image caused by the horrific photos and footage coming out of Gaza, and global protests against what Israel calls “Operation Protective Edge.”
2) Accepting the ceasefire, as Israeli officials admit, gives Israel the green light to “defend” itself with even more force than it’s using now. Just a few hours ago the Israeli cabinet voted to accept the proposed ceasefire. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu remarked at a press conference, “If Hamas continues to fire at Israel, Israel will have the international legitimacy to take action.”
But how can Hamas possibly accept a ceasefire it wasn’t consulted on and especially one that would mean a return to the status quo, including the blockade that the United Nations calls “collective punishment“? Hamas’ terms for a ceasefire are reasonable: that Israel lifts the blockade of the Gaza Strip; that Israel ends aggression in the Occupied Territories; and that Israel releases Palestinian prisoners, many of who were released in the Shalit deal and re-arrested in the West Bank during the so-called “Operation Brothers’ Keeper.”
Instead, the ceasefire proposes to hold indirect negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian parties to arrive at a “final truce,” as the WSJ puts it.
But as Khaled al-Batch, an Islamic Jihad leader, was quoted in Al Jazeera:
It is not acceptable to start observing a ceasefire for short term then negotiate the terms. We have experienced this in the past and it has failed.
What is needed now is to agree on the demands of the Palestinian people, chiefly ending the siege and opening the border corsing [sic], then a zero hour can be agreed upon. Otherwise, history will repeat itself, period.
Israel’s “acceptance” of the ceasefire – a ceasefire that Hamas wasn’t consulted on and, accordingly, does not meet Hamas’ terms – really isn’t an acceptance at all. As many observers were quick to say, it’s a public relations move. It could also be understood as an attempt to pave the way for a ground invasion.