According to the New York Times' Ethan Bronner, most Israelis, even residents of Sderot, reacted with fury to last week's announcement of a cease-fire agreement between Israel and Hamas. (Well, not actually a ceasefire (hudna), as Hamas political head Khaled Mashaal helpfully explained, since that would have implied a recognition of Israel, something Hamas will never grant, but rather a tadhiya, or informal cessation of hostilities.) Israelis were right to be outraged.
Even the United States State Department, which is pressuring Israel to conclude some form of final status agreement this year with the Palestinians, even if it is wholly incapable of being implemented, expressed muted displeasure at the Egyptian-brokered cease-fire agreement. State Department spokesman Tom Casey noted, "Saying that you've got a loaded gun to my head but you are not going to fire today is far different from taking the gun down, locking it up, and saying you are not going to use it ever again."
Once again Israeli leaders have negotiated as if Israel they were suing for peace because her situation is desperate and no alternatives exist to the acceptance of any kind of accord, no matter how temporary the respite it might offer. Prime Minister Olmert resembles nothing so much as a man conducting a clearance sale of the assets
In one week, he offered to give Mt. Dov to Lebanon in return for the Lebanese government's agreement to negotiate a peace treaty with Israel – an offer that was summarily rejected. And he practically begged Syrian dictator Bashar Assad to meet with him face-to-face a few weeks hence in Paris – an offer that Assad haughtily disdained.
Even former U.N. Special Envoy to the Middle East Terje Roed-Larsen, normally a reliable critic of Israel – Larsen was one of those who falsely informed the world that a terrible stench of death permeated the air in Jenin during Operation Defensive Shield – expressed amazement at Olmert's generosity towards Syria. He accused Israel of having provided Syria with legitimacy absolutely for free. Europe was once again courting, rather than isolating Syria, precisely because of its indirect negotiations with Israel via Turkey, Larsen charged.
Finally Olmert appears ready to exchange Samir Kuntar, the brutal murderer of 4 Israelis in Nahariya in 1979, and other prisoners, for the two Israeli reservists being held by Hizbullah, Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev, though no sign of life has been received of either since their capture. For Israel to once again exchange live prisoners for dead bodies would only endanger future Israeli captives by demonstrating to their captors that their value in subsequent prisoner exchanges does not decrease with their death.
NEARLY TWO DECADES after Oslo, our leaders still cannot get beyond their fixation with negotiations and written agreements and recognize that in our rough neck of the woods the key to the game is the image one conveys: Are you projecting strength or desperation?
Last week's tahdiya only bolstered Hamas' confidence that it confronts a faltering, uncertain opponent. In the wake of more than two years of constant missile attacks from Gaza, Israel still could not bring itself to undertake a major ground action in Gaza. It blinked first at the prospect of military confrontation, despite its overwhelming superiority in arms.
The cease-fire provided Hamas with a number of significant gains as well. In continuation of the pattern established long ago at Oslo and entrenched since then, Israel gave away tangible assets for nothing more than future promises. Indeed Hamas offered nothing at all. Rather it received an option, if it so chooses, to stop missiles attacks on Israel for the next sixth months.
Israel failed to gain even the one benefit that might perhaps have softened the blow of the cease-fire in most Israelis’ eyes; the return of IDF captive Gilad Schalit, who was kidnapped by Hamas more than two years ago. Prime Minister Olmert proclaimed on many previous occasions that there would be no cease-fire without the return of Schalit.
Olmert negotiated as if Hamas had no interest in a cease-fire and the cease-fire were purely to Israel's benefit. Just the opposite is closer to the truth.
The closure of Gaza, in the aftermath of repeated Hamas attacks in or near the major checkpoints, had rendered life very difficult for the vast majority of the Gazan population. And those difficulties were reflected in declining popularity for Hamas. But now Israel has crowned Hamas with new heroic status for having stood strong in the face of nearly daily threats from Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak and others that a major ground operation was imminent.
By negotiating with Hamas and holding out the possibility that Hamas will be responsible for largest terminal between Gaza and Egypt, Israel effectively crowned Hamas as the legitimate rulers of the Gaza Strip, and conferred upon them heightened status internationally.
Well into the Oslo process, Shimon Peres continued to provide full-time public relations for Yasir Arafat and the Palestinian Authority. Those pro-Israeli groups who attempted to circulate evidence of Arafat's duplicity by showing the contrast between his Arabic and English statements, or who highlighted the impact of ongoing Palestinian terrorism on Israeli life often found their efforts deliberately undermined by the Israeli Foreign Ministry under Shimon Peres.
The legitimacy conferred upon both Hamas and Syria by Israel's engagement is of a piece with the earlier defenses of Arafat and the PA. We cannot expect the rest of the world to isolate states and other entities as rogue states, if we are simultaneously conducting diplomatic negotiations with them. Thus in the wake of the announcement of the cease-fire agreement the EU immediately issued a call for Israel to lift the blockades of Gaza and France opened up secret bilateral negotiations with Hamas.
If there is anything to the notion that Fatah is more "pragmatic" or "moderate" than Hamas, then Israel has only succeeded in strengthening Hamas vis-a-vis rival Palestinian factions. Not coincidentally did Mahmoud Abbas, who once described Hamas control of Gaza as totally illegal, respond to news of the cease-fire by traveling hat in hand to Gaza for reconciliation talks with Hamas.
Above all, Israel gave Hamas time – as much or as little as it needs. Time to prepare for the upcoming Paletinian Authority elections. And time to prepare for the next round of hostilities with Israel. Though the cease-fire agreement also proscribes weapons smuggling into Gaza, it is extremely unlikely that Israel would ever declare the cease-fire abrogated because of weapons smuggling in the absence of missile fire from Gaza. The determination of large-scale weapons smuggling by Israeli intelligence would not likely convince the Europeans, or even the Americans, that it was of a sufficient magnitude to justify military action by Israel.
So we can be confident that Hamas will continue to smuggle weapons into Gaza and train in preparation for a military confrontation with Israel. The longer that confrontation is postponed, the stronger Hamas will be and the higher the Israeli casualties.
Finally, the biggest winner from the cease-fire, argued historian Michael Oren in the Wall Street Journal, is Iran. Iranian proxies already threaten Israel from the North and South. And the cease-fire agreement, by allowing the travel of Gazans to the West Bank and holding out the possibility of extending the cease-fire to Judea and Samaria as well, only hastens the day when Israel faces another Iranian proxy to the East. The mocking Iranian response to the European-American offer of a package of incentives last week – we will gladly accept your assistance in building nuclear plants but not at the cost of the cessation of our own enrichment efforts – reflects the Iranians confidence that things are going their way.