As Israeli delegates arrived in Cairo Monday to negotiate a long-term ceasefire between Israel and Hamas, Jerusalem demanded an end of all hostilities and the demilitarization of Gaza. Officials threatened that “all options are on the table” to achieve that goal, emphatically not excluding a renewed and expanded ground operation in the Strip.
Yet it remains unclear how Israel will go about achieving these goals. Hamas did not acquiesce to Jerusalem’s requirements during last week’s three-day truce, which suggests that the organization has not been deterred by the month-long war and has enough stamina to continue fighting until its demands are met.
Israel knows that. So what does Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu really expect to get out the Egyptian-brokered talks? A thorough demilitarization of Gaza, for which he has repeatedly advocated, seems an unrealistic pipe dream, as Hamas will never agree to lay down its weapons. (Though not for lack of trying, as evidence by a new diplomatic push by Finance Minister Yair Lapid announced Monday night.)
Moreover, Hamas vows to continue attacking Israel until the blockade on Gaza is entirely lifted, a stipulation that Israel resolutely rejects. In light of these facts, some are predicting that the Cairo talks are doomed to fail and that Israel will find itself unable to escape the loop of tit for tat, forced to wage an ongoing war against Hamas.
In official Israel, cautious optimism reigns. “The jury is still out, and all options remain on the table,” a senior Israeli official told The Times of Israel on Monday. “The goal we set out at the beginning — sustained peace and security — will be achieved one way or another, through diplomatic means or through military action, or a combination of them both.”
Israel is well aware that the 72-hour truce might not last beyond its expiration at midnight on Wednesday — if it even makes it that long, the official allowed. “There are nine ceasefires that Israel has accepted and honored, and Hamas has rejected and violated all of them. We are realistic and we remain vigilant, with the military ready to act.”
“It’s clear now that Hamas’s minimum demands are far more than the maximum Israel can agree to,” Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman said Sunday, calling on the government to “defeat Hamas, clean up the area, and exit as quickly as possible.” At present, this options appears highly unlikely. On Monday, Liberman insisted that, no matter what, the current war must not “end with Hamas leaving with the feeling that terror pays.”
Also on Monday, Internal Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovich told Ynetthat there is “little chance of reaching an agreement.” After the 72-hour truce, “we’ll return to fighting and we’ll need to progress to the next stage, which is the decision-making stage,” he predicted.
No one in the government talks about the possibility of an extended, ever-reoccurring cycle of violence, a war of attrition, in which Hamas and Israel find themselves unable to reach a lasting ceasefire. But some Israel analysts believe that such a scenario is unavoidable.
Reassurances by Israeli officials that quiet had been restored in the south may have been slightly premature, Finance Minister Yair Lapid said Monday, amid mounting anger by southern residents over having been given the all-clear to return home last week only to see rocket attacks from Gaza resume shortly after.
On Wednesday, the military’s homefront command arm withdrew emergency instructions for residents of the south, and IDF chief Benny Gantz said that residents “can return to their homes, work the fields and resume their good quality of life in the same manner as before,” as a three-day ceasefire appeared to spell the end of fighting.
On Friday, though, rocket fire resumed following Hamas’s refusal to extend the ceasefire, leading many residents and political leaders in the south to express frustration with the government.
Criticism of the government’s handling of the Gaza war is reaching fever pitch. No one seems to understand what direction Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is pulling them in vis-a-vis Hamas. And everyone is getting the feeling that the terrorists increasingly determine the flow of life in Israel.