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March 13, 2012
Despite the news of a last minute ceasefire agreement between Israel and Palestinian militant groups in Gaza, few believe that the Egypt-backed agreement will hold for long. According to a Reuters’ report “Israel and militant factions in the Gaza Strip have agreed to an Egyptian-mediated truce to end four days of cross-border violence…. [A senior Egyptian security official] said both sides ‘agreed to end the current operations’ including an unusual undertaking by Israel to ‘stop assassinations’ in a deal expected to take effect at 1 A.M. local time.” However, even as the agreement was announced, reports of ongoing exchanges of missile attacks between Gaza and Israel continued unabated.
For example, the Palestinian website Maan News noted: “Islamic Jihad held a press conference on Monday warning that it would not agree to a truce with Israel while airstrikes continue to kill Palestinians in the Gaza Strip....The PRC's armed wing, the Nasser Salah al-Din Brigades, on Monday expressed its support for Islamic Jihad's stance. Brigades spokesman Abu Mujahid urged all other Palestinian factions to join forces to face the Israeli assaults on the Gaza Strip....Senior Hamas official Mahmoud Al-Zahhar told Reuters in Cairo he expected a ceasefire to be reached, but the timing depended on Israel. ‘I expect matters will calm down,’ Zahhar said. ‘The statements coming from them (Israel) either in public or via mediators, especially Egypt, say that they do not want escalation.’”
One of the reasons why so many are pessimistic about the prospects of a lasting ceasefire is that the rationale for the surging violence still exists. Amin’s Daoud Kuttab is worried “Israel is creating facts on the ground and in the air. Palestinian aspirations to be free of foreign military occupation and to live in peace and independence alongside the state of Israel are being severely challenged. Diplomacy and nonviolent struggle remain the keys to advancing Palestinian freedom. But with the U.S. focused elsewhere and the Israeli government plowing ahead with illegal activities, there is a very real possibility of a return to the violence of a decade ago.”
Also, Joharah Baker writing on the Palestinian news site Miftah asserts “Israel wants one thing, into which it pours all of its military, political and diplomatic efforts to achieve, which is to prevent a Palestinian state from ever coming into being....Israel does not like even a whiff of Palestinian reconciliation. Even though we Palestinians have failed miserably in bringing about unity, Israel sees the effort itself as a threat. So what better way to push back even these feeble efforts than to bomb Gaza, undermine Hamas’ authority there and hopefully pit one faction against the other in a blame game of who resisted Israel less and who stuffed up the unity efforts in the first place.”
In Israel as well, while disagreeing about the desirability of the surge in violence, many see it as inevitable. In an op-ed on Haaretz, Zvi Bar'el is critical of what he sees as Israeli actions designed to escalate the conflict: “Hamas must be dragged toward military activity against Israel, and nothing is easier, at least in Israel's estimation, than to launch a ‘unilateral’ attack against a wanted non-Hamas man, to wait for the response to come, and hope that Hamas joins in. So far, it hasn't happened. Hamas still prefers the diplomatic channel and has carried on intensive diplomatic contacts over the past two days with Egypt's Supreme Military Council. Israel apparently needs to wait for another opportunity. Meanwhile, however, it has already managed to turn the attention of Arab diplomacy away from Syria and toward the Israeli-Palestinian issue. Assad must be pleased.”
In Israel, there also those who have called against the surgical strikes who many believe are the immediate cause of the current conflict. Yedioth Ahronoth’s Yakir Elkariv argues “Assassinating senior terrorists is morally right, but paralyzes much of the country” and then asks “If Israel realizes that assassinating the latest secretary general will push the entire region into yet another round of fighting and in essence paralyze the entire country south of Ashdod, what’s the point?...Even though we must fight it, we must keep in mind that every assassination merely serves to recharge it, as it feeds off on the blood and hatred for years to come....The desire to punish terrorists like Qaisi is instinctive, and when an opportunity arises, it’s hard to blame those who decide to get rid of them. Yet next time, we better not think about justice, but rather, also about the young couple forced to call off their wedding in Beersheba or the boy from Sderot who will again be spending a week in a bomb shelter instead of at school.”
And then there are others who believe the current actions of the Israeli government are the right ones. In fact some are calling for a more forceful course of action against the militant groups in Gaza. Among the proponents of this confrontational policy is the editorial staff at the Jerusalem Post who in a recent editorial argued that the time to confront Hamas was now: “as Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Benny Gantz …reiterated in December on the third anniversary of Operation Cast Lead, a military offensive in Gaza will be launched ‘sooner or later.’...Gaza’s various terrorist groups maintain a steady stream of mortar shells, rockets and missiles. Over a million of our citizens live in constant danger and our children are regularly kept home from school. Unfortunately, sooner or later our leaders will be forced to confront Hamas.”
Finally, in an op-ed on Yedioth Ahronoth, Shaul Rosenfeld makes the case for hitting Gaza ‘hard’: “What Israelis and Westerns see as an ‘intolerable loss’ is viewed by many Palestinians as a certainly tolerable sacrifice given their supreme purpose: Removing the Zionist entity from ‘the place it doesn’t belong in.’ The utilitarian language of Western logic is not the language of Gaza and the West’s loss and profit terms are not Gaza’s terms....Once Gazans realize — almost daily, and not via an operation launched every few years — that terrorism can only be left behind by death, and once Israelis realize that in the foreseeable future we shall live on our sword, and must grip it tightly at all times, we will see fewer eulogizes around here, and the lives of our southern residents will be little more bearable.”
Middle East In Focus is a synopsis of commentary and news from Middle Eastern and other international media. Its purpose is to provide a succinct and balanced summary of the main developments and views that are often overlooked or not properly reflected in the U.S. media. For the most recent collection of articles on and from the Middle East, please go to: http://mepc.org/articles-commentary/articles-hub. Comments and feedback are welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org.