Monday, August 11, 2014

'Circus Of Ceasefires' Leaves Israelis Irate, What Will Come From Cairo Talks

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.”

While insisting that the government will somehow succeed in restoring calm, the senior official acknowledged that Israel might be in for one or maybe more rounds of violence.
“One way or another, our goal will be achieved. But it might not be achieved quickly,” the senior official said, warning of what could be a prolonged conflict.
How long will it take until Hamas gives in to Israel’s demands? “As long as it takes,” he said.
In Cairo, Jerusalem will try to work out a deal that will guarantee a sustained period of quiet, the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity. “No missiles, no terror tunnels.”

Israel’s five-person delegation will “obviously” be talking about demilitarization, the official said, acknowledging that Netanyahu does not imagine the destruction or removal of all illicit arms that currently exist in the Strip, but rather aims at the prevention of rearmament by Hamas and other terrorist groups there. (The delegation comprises senior Defense Ministry official Amos Gilad; Shin Bet chief Yoram Cohen; Netanyahu’s associate Yitzhak Molcho; Maj.-Gen. Nimrod Shefer, the head of the IDF’s Planning Directorate; and the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories, Yoav Mordechai.)
“We will be talking to Egypt about not allowing them to rearm — that’s the first stage,” the senior official said. In the long term, Israel hopes for Gaza to be demilitarized entirely, with the help of the international community, he added, but refused to elaborate.
According to an unconfirmed report on Channel 2 Monday night, Israel’s delegation in Cairo is basically demanding a return to the understandings that were agreed upon at the end of Operation Pillar of Defense in November 2012.

Those arrangements provide for an end to violence, and for eased access to Gaza, and would doubtless be spun by Hamas as dramatic gains, the TV report said. In practice, however, Israel would supervise any access to Gaza from its side, and Egypt would oversee any access from its side, while having Mahmoud Abbas’s Palestinian Authority deploy 1,000 security troops at the Rafah Border Crossing. And Israel and Egypt would work together to prevent Hamas from rearming.
Israel is ready to give the Palestinian Authority a leading role in the rehabilitation of the coastal enclave, Netanyahu said last week. “It’s important in the reconstruction of Gaza, in assuring the humanitarian aid and also the security questions that arise, that we have these discussions and the cooperation with them.”
A few weeks after Israel condemned Abbas for building a unity government backed by Hamas, Abbas is now apparently considered good enough to be trusted with guarding the Rafah crossing between Gaza and Egypt.
“Let’s be frank: The PA security force is preferable to Hamas,” the senior Israeli official said.
Netanyahu’s vision of Operation Protective Edge’s endgame, hazy as it is, does not satisfy most members of his cabinet.

“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.

Lapid: We May Have Spoken Too Soon About Quiet Being Restored

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.

“The first role of the Israeli government is to provide security for its citizens,” Lapid said during a visit to the southern city of Sderot. “Perhaps it was too early to declare the quiet that had not yet come.”
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.

Hundreds of families from the villages in the vicinity of Gaza protested what they said is the government’s failure to provide security in Israel’s southern regions. The sentiment, which is shared by Israelis across the country, is that the army pulled out of Gaza too early.
A number of cabinet ministers agree. Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, Economy Minister Naftali Bennett and Interior Minister Gidon Saar advocated fully destroying the Hamas regime and its military infrastructure.
Yesterday, more than 40 rockets were fired at Israel. Although Israel insists it will not negotiate under fire, it nevertheless continues to agree to temporary ceasefires and is once again participating in talks in Cairo.
These repeated ceasefires have become a local joke, as everyone knows that Hamas does not intend to honor its side of the bargain. Israel agrees to these truces, only to be bombarded the very second they expire.
Israelis are taking exception to this bizarre reality. It simply cannot continue, they say.

The former head of the Shin Bet (Israel’s internal security agency, Avi Dichter, said it was time to really defeat Hamas and its terrorist allies. “Hamas must be defeated militarily and the Gaza Strip be demilitarized,” he wrote.
Alex Fishman, a political commentator for Israel’s Yediot Ahronotnewspaper, called the on-again-off-again negotiations in Cairo “a three-ring circus.”
Dan Margalit, who writes for the pro-Netanyahu daily Israel Hayom, said the prime minister needs to tell Egypt, Hamas and everyone “Enough!” Margalit recommended that Netanyahu finally inform the other players that this is the last temporary ceasefire Israel will join.

It is rumored that Netanyahu and Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon want to push forward against Hamas. But their hesitation to do so is picked up upon by Israel’s enemies, who cynically make, and then break ceasefires.
But the people have no such hesitation, and have made clear, via the media and other channels, that the government has the backing of an overwhelming majority of Israelis to finish the job and eliminate Hamas.

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