Is a unilateral peace accord tenable?

A shaky ceasefire between Israel and Hamas appears to be holding. MENASSAT looks into the ceasefire agreement and what is at stake as Palestinians dig out the dead from under the rubble.
A young Gazan surveys the rubble of his destroyed home in the days since the Israel-Hamas ceasefire went into effect. © Ola Mahdoun


BEIRUT, January 20, 2009 (MENASSAT) — Israel and Hamas announced separate ceasefire agreements over the weekend that appear to be holding, as Palestinian ambulances began digging out the dead from areas that were unsafe before the lull in fighting.

At last count, more than 1,300 were killed and 5,300 wounded during Israel's three-week military operation, including more than 400 children, medics on the ground said.

Israel reported 13 killed, including 10 soldiers.

The figures are wildly disproportionate, and questions abound as to what was actually accomplished during Operation Cast Lead.

For example, going back to Israel's original premise for carrying out the assault: Has Israel deterred Hamas from firing off more Qassam rockets into southern Israeli towns?

Israeli military analysts like Alon Ben-David contend Israel knew it would never fully eliminate every Hamas fighter or destroy every rocket.

But neither did the Israeli military, according to Ben-David, push into the most densely populated areas of Gaza City where there certainly would have been many more Israeli soldiers killed.
What is clear is the impasse that existed between the two belligerent parties is still present, and nothing has changed on this front.

Hamas' future in Gaza

Hamas and its supporters, and even its detractors in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank are now more entrenched then ever in their hatred of Israel and their support of Hamas.

On the other side, will Hamas and its leadership continue to rule in Gaza?

The short answer is yes, but the more nuanced answer does not account for the actions of the other armed factions that have agreed, with Hamas, to halt their rocket attacks on Israel while the Israeli forces withdraw.

Will Hamas be able to control them?

Much will depend on Israel's pledge to send badly needed humanitarian aid, medicine, food and fuel. Conditions in Gaza prior to the Israeli offensive were already dire after a nearly two-year-long Israeli siege.

One military officer was quoted by Agence France Presse as saying that Israel agreed to let "nearly 200 trucks loaded with humanitarian aid through into Gaza and to supply 400,000 liters of fuel to the territory."

Hamas' ability to control even its own fighters will also depend on Israel's pledge to pull its troops out of Gaza. Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said he wants the troops out as soon as possible, and withdrawals have already begun.

CNN on Wednesday quoted an IDF statement claiming that the last Israeli troops had left Gaza.

A gain for Hamas?

If Israel then ends the siege, opens the border for passage of goods, Gaza will in fact be in a better long-term position than it was before the 23-day offensive began.

Despite Israel's reasoning for the offensive—to halt Qassam rockets—it is clear by looking at history that any Israeli military, legal, or political decision regarding the Palestinians, is awlays based on defense—defense of the Jewish population, carried out through warfare and/or brutal suppression of the Palestinian people.

In this case, as an exiled Palestinian-Israeli analyst and former member of the Israeli parliament, Azmi Bishara, said, Israel implemented the siege in Gaza to weaken and destroy the spirit of the Palestinians and their support for Hamas.
"When it did not work to break the will of the Palestinian people... Israel realized that the rockets were a response to the siege, and they went to the next phase which was direct military aggression, which is actually now directed against civilians to punish them for their democratic choice."

In this case, Israel failed in bombing Hamas into submission, and also in having Palestinians turn on their leaders for supposedly using them as so-called human shields.

It seems Israel forgot that history did not begin on December 27, but that Palestinians have been living under the abuse of the Jewish state since 1948. 

Abu Mazen, Fatah and Hamas

At the international level, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon is urging Arab leaders to back Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas—Abu Mazen—in his bid to unify the war-ravaged Gaza Strip with the West Bank.

"The Palestinians themselves must face the challenge of reconciliation, and work to achieve a unified government under the leadership of President Abbas," Ban told an Arab League economic summit in Kuwait.

But Fatah and Abu Mazen both have a credibility problem these days, in large part because they are associated with corruption and complicity with the West and with Israel.

Hamas won legislative elections in 2006 precisely because the Fatah-dominated Palestinian Authority was widely seen as corrupt in both the West Bank and Gaza.

Fatah did not help its cause during the three-weeks of Operation Cast Lead. Israeli security forces and Fatah-affiliated security forces aligned with the Palestinian Authority were heavy-handed in suppressing mass protests in support of Gaza in cities and towns throughout the West Bank.

And with the Palestinian elections coming up, Fatah's conduct during the war and the issue of who will rebuild Gaza will undoubtedly dominate the campaign of both parties.

With reconstruction pledges that will likely be in the hundreds of millions to billions, questions of corruption and who controls this money could very well widen the gap between Hamas and Fatah.

Ziad Abu Ein, Deputy Minister of Prisoner Affairs and a veteran of 13 years in Israeli prisons, told The Independent that if Hamas can actually claim victory in Gaza, "There will be a problem in the West Bank. More people will support Hamas, and the Arab regimes will have problems too."

Arab and international response

The Gaza war also exposed deep-seated issues between Arab states and their handling of diplomatic and business ties with Israel.

With scenes of the carnage on television igniting the Arab streets for weeks, the Qatar government called an emergency meeting in Doha to bring about a ceasefire in Gaza.

The meeting was called 48-hours before an Arab economic summit in Kuwait, and on Sunday, the host country Qatar, the only Arab Gulf state to have direct trade ties with Israel, and Mauritania both froze economic and political ties with the Jewish state.

Regional power brokers Egypt and Saudi Arabia shunned the Doha meeting, preferring to merge the Gaza discussion into the economic summit, which did not sit well with other regional players.

"The Kuwait summit is a chance to find a joint Arab stance," Iraq's Foreign Minister Hoshiyar Zebari told Reuters.

But at the Arab Summit on Monday, the fault lines opened up between Arab leaders. Syria urged the participants to declare Israel a "terrorist entity" over their Gaza offensive, and echoed the demands of the Palestinian leadership that Israel open all border crossings and end its blockade of Gaza.

Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, who was vilified in the Arab street for cooperating with the Israeli blockade and keeping the Rafah border crossing closed during the Israeli attack, said in Kuwait on Monday that Hamas had invited the Israeli aggression by refusing to extend an earlier 6-month ceasefire agreement with Israel.

The summit was held in an attempt to foster unity between the two rival Arab camps—the so-called moderates, including Egypt, Saudi Arabia and some Gulf countries, and the "resistance camp," including Syria, Iran, now Qatar, and two non-state actors, Hamas and Hezbollah.

While Saudi Arabia announced a one billion dollar aid package to rebuild Gaza and called for overcoming political differences that can be exploited, Syria, which suspended indirect peace talks with Israel, said a 2002 Arab-endorsed peace initiative with Israel was dead.

But it is too early to predict how the Arab alliances will play out.

Nadim Shehadi, a research fellow at the UK-based think-tank Chatham House, believes that people will be forced to choose between two options.

"People will evaluate what happened … and they will either think that radical politics are only bringing destruction and killing and move to a more moderate view, or Hamas and Hezbollah will have strengthened support and there will be more radicalism."

Obamania vs. Al Jazeera International effect

On the media front, Israel also picked a good timing for announcing its unilateral ceasefire—three days before the much hyped inauguration of President Barack Obama on Tuesday.

Ironically, now that journalists are finally starting to get some access to Gaza, their reports will likely be pushed out of the headlines because of the global Obamania.

While everyone is busy watching Obama, the truth about Gaza will be dug out from under the rubble to little effect, or will possibly remain buried there.

Israel's decision to ban the western media from entering Gaza did provide an opportunity for the Al-Jazeera's English. With few other English or foreign language TV stations managing to get reports out of Gaza, more people tuned into Al Jazeera English.

A few days ago, a Swedish TV-critic urged viewers in his country to tune into Al Jazeera to gain wider perspectives on the war in Gaza and the politics around it.

But Israel's banning of the foreign press from Gaza may have been an ill-fated decision for the Jewish state since the few voices coming out of Gaza have been that of Arab and Iranian satellite stations such as Al-Jazeera, Al-Arabiya, and Press TV, who unsurprisingly, provided their own side of the story.