Masthead graphic based on a painting by Gudrun Thriemer.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

"The Gaza ceasefire and domestic politics," Bitterlemons, Edition 43, December 1, 2008.

Contrary to the expectations of many analysts, the ceasefire that was agreed in June between Hamas in Gaza and Israel and lasted longer than any other ceasefire since the establishment of the Palestinian Authority, has been facing serious difficulties in recent weeks.

The past month witnessed a return to violence that included rocket fire from Gaza at Israeli areas and Israeli air raids and shelling that left many casualties on the Palestinian side, in addition to the tight blockade Israel has imposed that has seen only four shipments of humanitarian goods reach Gaza since November 4.

Why does a ceasefire that lasted successfully for five months face these problems only a month before it was due to end or be extended?
Ghassan Khatib is vice-president of Birzeit University and a former Palestinian Authority minister of planning. He holds a PhD in Middle East politics from the University of Durham.

The closer our elections loom the greater the interest of Kadima and Labor to restore calm to Sderot and reconstitute the ceasefire. Confronted with photos of dead civilians and wounded soldiers the Israeli public--70 percent of which, according to the latest survey by the Berl Katznelson Institute, have lost faith in peace--tends to look for solutions involving force....

Hamas left peace negotiations in the hands of the PLO on the assumption that the gap between Palestinian and Israeli demands could not be bridged. One year after Annapolis, Hamas' gamble appears to have been justified. The "economic peace" that Netanyahu promises the Palestinians instead of negotiations does not come anywhere near answering the expectations of Fateh, which has championed the two-state solution. But Netanyahu's solution is likely to be welcomed by Hamas PM Ismail Haniyeh. Since winning the Palestinian parliamentary elections in February 2006, Hamas has repeatedly offered Israel both a ceasefire and a cessation of the peace process in return for de facto cooperation in matters of daily life.
Akiva Eldar is a senior columnist and editorial writer at Haaretz daily newspaper. He is coauthor of "Lords of the land: the war over Israel's settlements".

For Israel, the calm means that the political divisions between Hamas and Fateh, the West Bank and Gaza Strip, will deepen. At the same time, Israel faces a dilemma. On the one hand, it has no answer to the rocket fire from the Gaza Strip. On the other, Israel is not in a position to launch a comprehensive military operation against Gaza for a number of reasons: first, it would mean re-uniting the Gaza Strip and the West Bank under Mahmoud Abbas, which Israel does not want since the current situation is an excuse for Israel to stay away from a political agreement with Abbas. The second is that it would simply be too costly, and Israel is not ready for this.

Hamas is also very interested in the calm. Over the past five months, the movement has consolidated its grip on power over the Gaza Strip. It has been able to impose order and end the lawlessness of some major families here. It is the calm that has enabled the movement to concentrate its efforts on exercising its power here.
Mkhaimar Abusada is a professor of political science at al-Azhar University in Gaza.

...looking to the months ahead, we confront only two likely scenarios: either an ongoing ceasefire, however unstable and tentative, or a return to conflict along limited terms whereby Hamas fires rockets at a gradually expanding radius of Israeli villages and cities and Israel responds with painful blows that fall short of any pretense of ending the fighting and resolving the issue. The first scenario would serve the political prospects of both moderate Palestinians and Israelis; the second would play into the hands of the hawks on both sides.
Yossi Alpher is former director of the Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies at Tel Aviv University.

Read the whole issue here =>
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