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Gaza Cease-Fire Crumbling

The Palestinian Islamic Jihad and Hamas threatened to end the weeklong Gaza Strip cease-fire Sunday, during which Qassam rocket fire into Israel has continued, though at a much lower rate. Virtually all of the Palestinian factions have demanded that the Gaza cease-fire be expanded to include the West Bank. Israel has steadfastly refused to end policing operations there and has been met with increased resistance.

Hamas called off all talks with Fatah centered on forming a new unity Palestinian government, saying that the ceasefire has been observed to the detriment of the Palestinians, claiming violations by Israel. Arutz Sheva reports that Hamas distributed a flier to Palestinians to make the statement.

The Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) warned of renewing its attacks on Israel ‘in the coming hours’, also citing Israeli violations, and called on other Palestinian factions to renew their attacks on Israel as well. PIJ spokesman Abu Ahmed said, “The calm is on the edge of collapse due to the continued Zionist violations and the attacks against our Palestinian people in the West Bank and Gaza. Nobody should blame [Islamic Jihad] for any reaction its brigades take in the coming hours in response to the violations by the Zionist occupation.” The PIJ has fired several Qassams into Israel since the cease-fire.

Stating that Israel was “strong enough to allow the restraint to continue,” Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has chosen to continue observing the Gaza cease-fire regardless of the Palestinian developments and calls for renewed attacks. His decision is embodied by Israeli Defense Minister Peretz’s changes to the rules of engagement for IDF troops, who made effective a change that allows the IDf soldiers to fire upon only terrorists that are preparing to launch Qassam rockets or pose a direct threat to IDF troops.

In the Cabinet meeting, Israel’s Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni argued for the restraint on the basis of considering international public opinion. She said that Israel should “tell our friends in Europe that the cease-fire is broken on a continuous basis by the Palestinians, and that is something we are emphasizing. But it is equally important, because of our responsibility for the lives of Israelis, to take the right decisions with an eye on the future.” The European Union is consistently critical of Israeli operations.

But others were opposed to both the new rules of engagement and the continued ‘turn the other cheek’ observation of the cease-fire. Internal Security Minister Avi Dichter argued that the continued lack of response to Qassam attacks betray the “very definition of self-defense.” Defense minister Amir Peretz offered also that Israel could not be expected to continue its restraint for “much longer” in the face of continuing attacks.

It is feared that the cease-fire is being used by Gaza terrorists of all stripes to focus on re-arming through smuggled weapons that have found their way into Gaza via tunnels beneath the Gaza/Egypt border. It is feared and speculated that the next round of the conflict will include a much better armed and prepared Hamas-led Palestinian front from Gaza and the West Bank simultaneous with a northern front with a resumption of the war with Hizballah.

Feedback

What does Hamas want? Hamas leaders know there is no chance of destroying Israel and that the continued fighting merely prolongs the suffering of the Palestinian people. For the most part Hamas leaders are mindful and realize that the sole political card left in their hands is non-recognition of Israel. However, they will surely give it up for a substantial quid pro quo, such as the adoption of the Saudi initiative as the basis for negotiation with Israel

Adopting the initiative would indeed encounter some of the known risks for Israel, but would be accompanied by a window of opportunity for change. Disregarding this potential negotiation jump-off entails an even greater risk - making the conflict unsolvable in our generation and probably the next, with all the inherent dangers.

Then, of course there is the other, more sinister, faction that advocates eternal warfare for some mystical and essentially unachievable purpose.