Israeli Restraint Holds Gaza Ceasefire
Israel accepted Saturday a Palestinian ceasefire offer, exchanging an end to the Qassam rocket attacks from Gaza into Israeli towns for a pullout of IDF troops from Gaza. Popular Resistance Committees spokesman Abu Mujahed said, “We have set 6 a.m. tomorrow [Sunday] morning to stop firing rockets toward Zionist towns in our occupied land in return for a mutual cessation of the aggression committed against our people.” Yet only four hours after the PRC mandated timeframe, the Kassams flew once again into Sderot from Hamas, Islamic Jihad and al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades terrorists.
Nonetheless, the deal was touted as a clear Palestinian victory on the streets of Gaza, including 23-year old Abdel-Majid Ash-Shanti who said, “Thanks to God the Israeli forces have quit our land in defeat. We feel like victors.” The ceasefire may well be widely interpreted as an Israeli retreat and perhaps even an Israeli initiative of necessity.
But at issue in the immediate is not the formation of a Palestinian state nor peace with Israel. The impetus for the ceasefire is the restoration of international aid to the Palestinian Authority, which remains completely dependent on outside aid. While the various Palestinian factions remain embroiled in a hot conflict with Israel, it will be virtually impossible to form any semblance of a unity government among them. And a unity government is believed by Hamas and Fatah to be the largest step necessary restore the international aid money receipts. While accepting the ceasefire may be interpreted as Israeli weakness on the streets, the ceasefire is in fact born of Palestinian necessity. Employing the principal tactic of raining rockets on Israeli civilians is not conducive to persuading European nations to restart critical aid funds.
The deal could not have been struck without the tacit approval of Khaled Meshaal, Hamas’ Damascus-based leader who spoke of the agreement from Cairo, where the deal is believed to have been brokered. The defiant Meshaal earlier had set a six-month time limit to the ceasefire, but when asked of it on Egyptian television by Palestinian Information Minister Nabil Shaath of rival Fatah, Meshaal seemed to backpedal from the stance saying, “I said six months, but do you want more than six months? Maybe we can take eight months or a year.”
While perhaps backpedaling from his own deadline, he was clearly not backpedaling from Fatah as he used his response to assure all parties that there will be no peace but through him and therefore his Syrian hosts and Iranian tenders. Meshaal threatened a renewed intifada uprising should the period not move talks closer to a Palestinian state in the timeframe he gave, a subjective measurement to be made by the leader of a terrorist group whose charter calls for the destruction of Israel.
As was executed in the Gaza Strip by Israel under Ariel Sharon, Meshaal’s terms include an Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank. Hamas’ Izzadin al-Qassam unit spokesman Abu Obaidah said, “This is a temporary cease-fire and any Israeli assault on our people in the West Bank will be viewed as a violation of the agreement.” That temporary nature is what troubles analysts and IDF officials, many of whom believe that the ceasefire serves little more than a reprieve from Israeli fire that will be used by Palestinian terrorists to re-arm.
But, after the Qassam attacks in the early hours of the ceasefire agreement in Gaza, a hopeful Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has ordered his commanders “to refrain from responding, to show restraint and to give this cease-fire a chance to go into full, practical and comprehensive effect.”
But in the West Bank, Israeli operations continued to round up known and suspected, including killing a Popular Resistance Committees commander south of Jenin. The action prompted an immediate threat from the PRC as Yaser Maza’al, described as a senior PRC official, said that Israel should “expect revenge in both the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.” Whether that threat will pass muster with Khaled Meshaal and the Damascus headquarters and effectively end the ceasefire remains to be seen. But Meshaal’s dismissive response to Fatah’s Information Minister over Egyptian broadcast air indicates that Meshaal does not expect much to come of the ceasefire in any regards.