Wednesday, April 30, 2008

THE HAMAS CEASE-FIRE OFFER

Hamas is reportedly offering to end the bombardment of Israel from Gaza, cease terrorist attacks and halt arms smuggling.

In return, Israel would have to cease all retaliatory military activities inside the Strip and extend the arrangement to Judea and Samaria at a pre-determined future date. Moreover, Israel would have to agree to the opening of the Rafah crossing between the Egyptian Sinai and Gaza and ease the shipment of cargo via Israel.
The Egyptians are now working on getting the smaller extremist groups active in the Strip to abide by any deal Hamas makes.

Hamas made its tahadiyeh offer to Egyptian intelligence chief Omar Suleiman, who has been trying to broker a deal that would bring a respite to Sderot and other Israeli border communities while improving humanitarian conditions in the Strip, where most people live on UN food aid.

LET'S REMIND ourselves of just what Hamas is, and what it wants. In Arabic, the word hamas means zeal. It is also an acronym for Islamic Resistance Movement. Hamas's founding charter commits it to the destruction of Israel, and to raising "the banner of Allah over every inch of Palestine."

How did such an organization come to control Gaza? In the summer of 2005, Israel - not wanting to rule over a million Palestinian Arabs and recognizing that it had no partner for peace - unilaterally withdrew its soldiers and uprooted its settlements from the Strip. The response of the Palestinian polity could not have been more unwise.

In January 2006 the Palestinian people gave Hamas a large majority in its parliament. When the international community insisted that Hamas accept previous (unfulfilled) PLO commitments, including an end to violence, Hamas cut a interim deal with PA President Mahmoud Abbas. The two factions would rule jointly in order to keep the international aid spigot flowing.

Nonetheless, on June 25, 2006, Palestinian extremist groups crossed the Gaza-Israel border at Kerem Shalom, via a tunnel, and killed two IDF soldiers while kidnapping Cpl. Gilad Schalit, who remains in Hamas captivity.

Then in June 2007, Islamist forces violently ousted Abbas's Fatah supporters and, in effect, created a rump Palestinian government of their own. That's when Gaza was placed under more stringent Israeli and international sanctions.

In response, the Islamists accelerated their war of attrition against Israel, even as they cynically exploited the suffering of their own population. They trained their guns on "the Zionist entity" while expecting it to provide them with butter.

In January 2008, Hamas orchestrated the destruction of the border fence between Gaza and Sinai. That intensified pressure on Egypt to come up with a solution.

Suleiman is expected to come to Israel soon to sell his deal with Hamas to Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, Defense Minister Ehud Barak and Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni.

THE PROSPECT of a six-month truce is superficially enticing - even one that is, in the words of Hamas chief Khaled Mashaal, purely "tactical." Youngsters in Sderot would have their first Kassam-free summer in seven years; the nation could observe a tranquil 60th Independence Day, and the coming holidays - Jerusalem Day and Shavuot - could be enjoyed in serenity. Regrettably, however, experience shows that Hamas will use this time to rearm and regroup, then come at Israel twice as hard.

Moreover, the price of saying yes would be a massive boost to Hamas's standing and torpedo any prospect of cutting a deal with moderate Palestinians.

Unfortunately, the situation is exacerbated by Abbas. Concluding his final White House meeting with George W. Bush on Saturday, the Palestinian leader told his people that the peace talks with Israel are going nowhere because of "settlement expansion."

Yet negotiating precedent makes plain an Israeli readiness to dismantle the overwhelming majority of settlements, and Olmert has stressed repeatedly his sense of an Israeli imperative for an accommodation. If the talks are indeed as fruitless as Abbas claims, therefore, he must be making unrealistic demands, from a position that combines weakness with ineptitude.

So what should Israel do about Hamas's truce offer? A counter-proposal might be the wisest approach.

First, Hamas should free Gilad Schalit in an exchange palatable to the Israeli body politic; next, it should allow American-trained forces loyal to Abbas to be redeployed throughout Gaza. Only then should Jerusalem accept a truce - with the explicit proviso that any sign of enemy war preparations would instantly void the cease-fire.

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