“We won,” Ehud Olmert declared to the Israel public on Saturday night. His declaration of victory coincided with the implementation of a unilateral ceasefire — it might better simply be called a fleeting Inauguration lull. A tourniquet will be applied to Gaza for just along enough that Israel can claim it did its best not shower blood on Washington’s parade.
It is important for Israel that this be a unilateral ceasefire because for its current leadership there is greater political jeopardy in being perceived as having made a deal with Hamas than there is in the likelihood that the fighting will drag on without any clear resolution.
Israel’s ideological investment in the claim that Hamas cannot be negotiated with provides the conceptual bedrock for the argument that the organization must be crushed. For that reason, Israel has been concerned that Hamas’ solid record in being able to enforce last year’s truce must now be obscured (as I previously documented) and negotiations at establishing a real truce take place without Israel demonstrating good faith.
Obama’s challenge, once in three days he is forced to engage in a crisis that he has thus far merely “monitored,” is quite simple: Can he approach this issue in the same spirit with which he has already demonstrated he intends to confront every other issue — by being practical, pragmatic and empirical?
The roadblock to political progress right now is ideological intransigence — on the Israeli-US side. This has led to the current implausible situation: the idea that a ceasefire can be set in place without Hamas’ agreement. It’s like watching a driver who is stuck in the mud and who insists the best way of getting out is by spinning his wheels even faster. This is not a practical, pragmatic or empirical way of dealing with the problem.
Obama’s inclination at this point may well be that he does not want to rush into a situation where the risks seem high and the rewards elusive. Yet he is surely realistic enough to be able to see that Israel’s myopic leaders are incapable of digging themselves out of the crisis they have created.
On one point Obama needs to be absolutely clear right from the outset: the charade in which the US and its allies persist in talking about making “progress” in the “peace process” needs to be abandoned. The process has broken down; it has failed. Those who still claim that they are inching the process forward have as much credibility as the auto executives in Detroit who claim they are the visionaries who can save America’s car industry.
The unilateral nature of the Israeli declaration is no coincidence. In Saturday’s declaration of a ceasefire, Israel is hoping to send the message that Hamas is not a legitimate actor.
So who is the ceasefire actually with? It is, not coincidentally, consistent to some extent with the Egyptian-Turkish-Hamas negotiations which called for a ceasefire for 10 days during which the parties would agree to border crossing mechanisms, followed by an Israeli withdrawal, and an opening of the borders to humanitarian and economic aid.
However, by making the ceasefire a unilateral affair, accompanied only by an arrangement with the US (with whom Israel signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) on Friday regarding the prevention of weapons smuggling), Israel can continue its attempts to politically isolate and ostracise the Hamas government in Gaza.
That obviously serves the election campaign narrative of the Israeli governing coalition – yet if Hamas has no political stake in maintaining the ceasefire, it obviously will have little incentive to keep the peace. No one watching the news in the last weeks will have missed Hamas officials shuttling back and forth to Cairo and Doha for both the private and public relations component of preparing a ceasefire. There was a practical reason for the diplomatic activity that included them – they were the ones ruling Gaza. [continued…]