Masthead graphic based on a painting by Gudrun Thriemer.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Hamas and Israel announce independent ceasefires

The Reuters reports that on Sunday Hamas announced a one-week ceasefire.

In Cairo for talks with Egypt, Ayman Taha, a Hamas official, said the group and other factions were announcing a Gaza ceasefire "starting immediately," that Israel had a week to withdraw, and demanded that Israel open all Gaza border crossings for the entry of "all materials, food, goods and basic needs".

At the same time leaders of Britain, the Czech Republic, Egypt, France, Germany, Jordan, Spain Turkey, and UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, met in the Egyptian resort of Sharm el-Sheikh, to coordinate policy on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

A similar announcement came from Damascus where Palestinian factions had been meeting. Mussa Abu Marzuk, deputy leader of Hamas's political bureau, stated, "We in the Palestinian resistance movements announce a ceasefire in the Gaza Strip and demand that enemy forces withdraw in a week and open all the border crossings to permit the entry of humanitarian aid and basic goods."

Factions at the Damascus meeting included Hamas, Islamic Jihad, Al Nidal, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), and al Saeqa.(Al Jazeera Jan 18 09)

Mark Regev, spokesman for Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, responded to a United Nations call for setting a withdrawal timetable, saying, "We can't talk about a timetable for withdrawal until we know the ceasefire is holding." Previously, in announcing a unilateral ceasefire Saturday night, Olmert had said, "If Hamas entirely ends its rocket fire on Israel, Israel will consider an IDF withdrawal from the Gaza Strip" (Ha'aretz Jan 18 09).

According to Al Jazeera, the declared aim of the Israeli offensive was an end to rocket fire from the Gaza Strip into Israel. However, a few days before the Israeli ceasefire or the Hamas truce, Palestinian Ghassan Khatib noted in BitterLemons that "The war started with limited and defined objectives. These have since been modified" (Jan 12 09).

Ha'aretz quotes Regev on the unilateral ceasefire: "If the quiet holds, there will not be any problem dramatically increasing aid like food and medicine. If this quiet holds, we will work with the international community for reconstruction....But you can't have anything close to full normalization of the crossings as long as Gilad Shalit remains a hostage."

Arguably of greater long-term significance, it is clear that both sides can, have and do negotiate with one another, however indirectly.

Nevertheless, as Khatib points out

"In the West Bank, meanwhile, the Fateh leadership and the Palestinian Authority have received a triple blow. Israel's war on Gaza has transformed them into bystanders. They are neither party to the war, nor will they play any significant role in ending it. This helpless position follows on from the failure of the Annapolis process that the Fateh leadership gambled on. On top of that, the PA has to play an ugly policing role in the West Bank to prevent protesters in demonstrations from reaching Israeli checkpoints and Hamas supporters from manipulating the massive popular support for Hamas to destabilize the PA's control.

Al Jazeera explores this question in a feature entitled "Can Abbas survive the Gaza war?"

IN WHAT some may see as a completely unrelated development on Sunday, Noble Energy Inc. and the Delek Group Ltd. announced the discovery of three large gas fields off the coast of Haifa.

Speaking on Army Radio, Yizhak Tshuva, one of the owners, called the find "one of the biggest in the world," and claimed that "We will no longer be dependent [on foreign sources] for our gas, and will even export" (Jerusalem Post Jan 18 09).

The discovery inspired big gains on the Tel Aviv stock market (nearly 4 percent). Israeli environmentalists have called for plans to construct a coal-fired electrical plant at Ashkalon to be abandonned.

Rabbi Michael Melchior of the Meimad-Green Movement party said that in the past, strategically, Israel could not depend on clean natural gas, "since its reservoirs are located in hostile countries." But with the new discovery, "We should build a plant powered by natural gas instead."Recommend this Post

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Daniel said...

Indeed, finding a local source of energy is good news. And natural gas, my students tell me, burns far cleaner than coal and we wouldn't need to invest heavily in transportation costs. However, I hope this won't set back the clock on the real long term, local solution - solar.