The Israel-Gaza ceasefire took effect early this morning, and at the moment calm is prevailing. The deal is roughly as follows:
Step 1: All violence between Israel and Gaza stops, including rocket and mortar fire and border-breach attacks. Importantly, this includes all the militias which operate in Gaza, such as Islamic Jihad and the Army of Islam, whose support for the cease-fire Egypt apparently negotiated. If calm prevails for three days, Israel will begin easing restrictions at the Karni and Sufa crossings so that large quantities of fuel, food, construction materials, etc., can be sent into Gaza.
Step 2: Hamas ends its weapons smuggling under the border with Egypt, stops building rockets and explosive devices, and stops sending members of its group to Iran for training. This will be both the most difficult part of the truce to monitor, and the condition Hamas will be most likely to violate (if the calm can’t be used as a re-supply period, what good is it to Hamas?). In order to verify that Hamas is not re-arming, Egypt has pledged to patrol its border with Gaza vigorously in order to suppress smuggling, and has been supplied with tunnel detection equipment and training by the United States to do so. The problem here is that Egypt has always claimed it is trying to prevent such smuggling, has rarely shown any competence in doing so, and now will have a strong incentive to claim that it is discharging its obligations, regardless of the reality.
Step 3: Assuming that both the attacks and smuggling have stopped, the cease-fire will enter the Gilad Shalit phase. According to Amos Gilad, the defense ministry official who has been most intimately involved in negotiating the truce, the opening of the Rafah Crossing — Gaza’s main crossing point to Egypt — will be contingent on the safe return of Shalit. Gilad added that:
We need a total ceasefire — all included. If tomorrow morning one single rocket is fired, it will be a violation of the agreement. There is no room for interpretation, and no mediating body is needed. We will not accept the firing of even one Qassam. Egypt, on its side, is committed to preventing the smuggling activity from Gaza. It’s simple; Egypt has a border with Gaza, through which weapons and terrorists are smuggled. Smuggling is a serious violation of the terms. Any such infraction will lead to a change in Israel’s stance from the way in which it was presented to the Egyptians.
So what might happen in the coming days? On the basis of the history of cease-fires with Hamas — click here to refresh your memory — there is little hope for the calm to last, and Israeli officials seem far more insistent than in years past that any act of terrorism emanating from Gaza will represent a violation of the agreement, and thus its termination.
Or will it? The Israeli government is in disarray, and the desire for a respite from Gaza is strong. There is a risk, in other words, that continued weapons smuggling would be ignored, so long as it is discreet; minor attacks would be dismissed as the work of rogue factions; and, salved by the appearance of success, the government would acquiesce to a new status quo that would allow Hamas to get what it wishes out of the cease-fire: an easing of the blockade, a demonstration to Gazans that resistance works, and a chance to re-arm. This morning, Bibi Netanyahu condemned the entire concept behind the cease-fire: “If Hamas has grown weaker, why allow it to become strong again?” Good question.
And a final thought: if ever there was concrete evidence needed that the peace process is over, this cease-fire is it. It is a result of negotiations between Israel and Hamas that have been hosted by Cairo, while Fatah, Abbas, and the Bush administration watched from the sidelines. The United States and its preferred interlocutors have had no role to play. If the cease-fire holds, Hamas’s status as the government of Gaza will be dramatically enhanced, as such status will have acquired the de facto approval of its neighbors. Hamas will have demonstrated an ability to successfully negotiate with foreign powers, control the many clans and factions which operate in its territory, and, should the Rafah crossing open, will possess operating borders with two countries. It will be hard to carry on among Palestinians with the argument that violence and resistance are political dead ends. And the fracturing of the Palestinian body politic, its surrender to geographic and cultural reality, will be all but complete.