The "news of the truce" disseminated by Hamas and Egyptian Foreign Ministry spokesmen do not indicate that a Gaza Strip ceasefire has been agreed upon already. Just like in every negotiation session, the Palestinians again rush to report a "final agreement" immediately after reaching an agreed upon position amongst themselves.
As the Egyptian mediator between Israel and Hamas, Intelligence Chief Omar Suleiman, did not reject Hamas' position out of hand, the group's spokesmen rushed to the media in order to announce a breakthrough, even though Israel has not yet expressed its position. The objective of this is to press the Israeli government to accept Hamas' terms by presenting it in the world as the party responsible for unraveling an agreement that has already been reached and sabotaging the chances of a lull that is within reach.
Hamas is not the only party to utilize this pressure tactic in the indirect negotiations. The Palestinian Authority also does it, as do Hizbullah and the Syrians, in every negotiation session they engage in. Therefore, for the time being we should approach the report that the ceasefire will go into effect in two days cautiously. At the same time, the aspect that does grant the announcement certain credibility is senior Defense Ministry official Amos Gilad's trip to Egypt.
Major General (res.) Gilad is the government's representative in the indirect talks with Hamas and the very urgency of his trip indicates that there are apparently things to discuss and that the Hamas delegation in Cairo presented answers that may satisfy Israel's demands, in the estimate of the Egyptian mediator.
5 conditions; 3 phasesLast week, the security cabinet accepted Defense Minister Ehud Barak's proposal whereby Israel would agree to a temporary truce in the Strip, should the following five conditions be met:
1. Hamas will obligate to end the rocket fire and terror attacks, as would other terror organizations and armed groups in the Strip. Simultaneously, Israel will completely end its military operations in the Strip. In simple language: Quiet in exchange for quiet.
Hamas already accepted this condition, yet Israel asked for an obligation that the other armed groups in the Strip would honor the ceasefire – without Israel obligating to end anti-terror activity in the West Bank. The Egyptians engaged in separate talks with the representatives of 12 Gaza organizations on this matter and secured their agreement to this condition.
2. Hamas will stop smuggling weapons and military know-how to the Strip and stop sending people for training in Iran. In addition, it will stop developing and producing rockets, missiles, and sophisticated explosive devices, stop digging tunnels, and put an end to its effort to build up military fortifications. On this front we still do not know whether Hamas agreed to Israel's condition. Even if there is agreement, Shin Bet and Military Intelligence officials clearly know that Hamas would violate its obligation on this front.
3. Egypt will conduct vigorous intelligence and operational activity all across the Sinai Peninsula, at sea, along the Sinai shores, and deep within Egypt, in order to thwart the smuggling of arms into the Strip, as well as the smuggling of explosive materials, explosive experts, and machinery used for producing arms. The Egyptians have already obligated to this and there are indications they intend to deliver on their pledge with the assistance of American experts.
4. Should the ceasefire be honored by Hamas, Israel will gradually open the Gaza crossings to the transfer of goods. However, the Rafah Crossing will only be opened after an agreement is secured on a monitoring mechanism to be adopted via cooperation among the Egyptians, the Palestinian Authority (Mahmoud Abbas' people,) and international observers.
5. After the opening of the Karni and Sufa Crossings to the unlimited transfer of goods into the Strip – and before the Rafah Crossing is opened to Gaza residents – negotiations in respect to Gilad Shalit will be accelerated in the aims of reaching a deal.
6-month truceShould agreement be reached on these five points, the agreement will be carried out in three phases: First, the fighting on both sides will end. Second, after several days of quiet, Israel will open the Karni and Sufa Crossings to the transfer of large quantities of food, fuel, building materials, and other goods required in order to stimulate economic activity in the Strip. In the third phase, the negotiations on releasing Gilad Shalit in exchange for 350 Palestinian prisoners, in line with an agreed upon list, will be renewed. Simultaneously, talks will get underway and arrangements will be made to open the Rafah Crossing.
We are not talking about an agreement that both parties will sign, but rather, pledges that Hamas and the other Palestinian groups, just like Israel, will make to the Egyptian mediator. The understanding is that the lull will last for six months with an option for extending it. There is also an understanding that the Egyptians will attempt to convince Israel to extend the ceasefire to the West Banka as well.
Yet three main problems are currently threatening to thwart the agreement on a ceasefire.
First, Hamas' pledge to put an end to its military buildup and smuggling efforts. Second, flexibility on the part of the Israeli government and Hamas leadership on the question of the prisoners Hamas wants Israel to release in exchange for Gilad Shalit. Third, agreement amongst all sides regarding monitoring arrangements and the identity of observers in respect to the movement of people and goods through the Rafah Crossing.
Should these problems not be resolved in the coming days, the ceasefire agreement won't last for long and will be violated within a few weeks. So for the time being, there is no need to pin many hopes on a long-term lull agreement, even if the Egyptians declare within days the date and time of the truce's start.