Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Saving Hamas

P. David Hornik

Hamas, under pressure from Israel’s partial blockade of Gaza, Israel’s military activities, and Egypt’s clampdown on the Rafah crossing between Gaza and Sinai, is pulling a trusty weapon from its sheath that will probably get it out of this jam: a ceasefire.

According to a deal being discussed by Hamas and Egyptian intelligence minister Omar Suleiman, Hamas is talking about a stoppage of rocket fire and other terrorist attacks on Israel for six months. Israel is saying in return that the deal would have to apply not only to Hamas but also to the smaller terrorist factions in Gaza, and would have to include a total halt to weapons smuggling into the Strip.
The Olmert government has good reason to try and sound stringent this time. During a previous almost-six-month “ceasefire” with Hamas that lasted from November 26, 2006, to May 15, 2007, various Gazan terror groups never ceased to fire, launching a total of 315 rockets at Israel without a single Israeli response.

But even if Hamas et al. were to genuinely hold their fire this time, senior Israel Defense Forces officers are against such a deal and Maj.-Gen. Yoav Galant, head of Southern Command, has reportedly “expressed fierce opposition” to it.

It’s not hard to see why: Israel’s chances of enforcing a no-smuggling clause would be nil; Hamas would use the time, as Galant warned, to “rebuild its damaged infrastructure and increase its arms smuggling under the Philadelphi Corridor from Sinai”; Egypt has reportedly already assured Hamas that the Rafah crossing, used in the past to smuggle terrorist personnel and funds, would be reopened.

Nor is that all: reportedly Hamas, in cooperation with its parent Egyptian Islamist organization the Muslim Brotherhood, has already acquired and transferred to Gaza know-how and equipment to make bomb-carrying drones; reportedly Iran is already succeeding to smuggle rockets and other advanced weapons into Gaza by sea.

Against these rational military and strategic considerations, however, stands the Olmert government, led by Israel’s most superficial, incompetent, sound-bite prime minister of all time and easily enticed by short-term promises of respite or, as Hamas calls it, tadhiyyeh.

It’s hard to imagine Olmert resisting the chance to declare a ceasefire as Israel’s 60th anniversary celebrations in May approach; it’s much nicer to have a party when the only aerial explosions are fireworks instead of rockets bursting in air beside terrified citizens. Olmert would also like to claim he’s making progress toward freeing captured Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit even though a ceasefire wouldn’t change the fact that the chances of Hamas proposing terms for a prisoner exchange that even Olmert can live with are small.

And still another factor likely to dispose Olmert toward a ceasefire is that the Bush administration is now also, reportedly, pushing for it.

Bush’s plans to visit Israel on May 14, its 60th Independence Day, don’t seem to have affected the usual disdain for Israel’s independent decision-making as pressure grows to accept a deal with Hamas. Quiet in Gaza, the U.S. believes, will increase the likelihood of Israel and the Palestinian Authority signing a peace settlement by the end of 2008.

Bush’s perseverance toward that goal is especially striking given that PA president Mahmoud Abbas didn’t share Bush’s enthusiasm after their meeting in the White House last Thursday.

Bush, in his upbeat report on their parley, said that he “assured the president that a Palestinian state is a high priority for me and my administration. A viable state, a state that doesn’t look like Swiss cheese, a state that provides hope…. I am confident that we can achieve the definition of a state.”

Abbas, though, in an interview to a decidedly un-Israel-friendly Associated Press reporter, said that “Frankly, so far nothing has been achieved.” He complained especially bitterly about Israeli building in places he demands to be Judenrein and about Bush’s, and Rice’s, refusal to commit to driving Israel back to the 1967 borders. He didn’t mention any problems on the PA side like persistent terrorism and inculcating anti-Israel hatred in a whole generation.

Despite, though, the Israeli military’s well-founded objections to a ceasefire and the stark irrationality of subordinating all other concerns to creating a Palestinian jihad-state by the end of this year, Hamas knows the weaknesses of its Israeli and American opposite numbers and knows it has a good chance of being saved by them once again.

The U.S., after all, initially pushed to allow Hamas to run in the 2006 PA elections and, almost two months ago, put a quick stop to what finally looked like a larger-scale Israeli campaign to hit Hamas hard. Why change now?

P. David Hornik is a freelance writer and translator living in Tel Aviv. He blogs at He can be reached at

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