An attempted ceasefire brokered by Egypt has literally gone up in flames. Right after a ceasefire proposed by Egypt, which Israel accepted, was due to go into effect, Hamas and its co-jihadists gave their answer by firing multiple rockets from Gaza aimed at Israeli civilians. Hamas’s armed wing, the Izz el-Deen al-Qassam Brigades, declared that its attacks against Israel would “increase in ferocity and intensity.” That is one promise they have managed to keep.
Israel waited six hours after the truce was supposed to have gone into effect before resuming its narrowly targeted air campaign against Hamas’s infrastructure, rocket launching and storage facilities, and Hamas operatives. “Hamas has fired 47 rockets since we suspended our strikes in Gaza [this morning]. As a result, we have resumed our operation against Hamas,” an Israeli military statement said. Scores more rockets were fired by Hamas following that statement, including in the direction of Tel Aviv. Hamas’s continued attacks claimed the first Israeli fatality. Shrapnel from a mortar shell is reported to have killed a rabbi.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said, after Hamas had rejected the Egyptian truce proposal, “Hamas chose to continue fighting and will pay the price for that decision. When there is no cease-fire, our answer is fire.”
According to Egypt’s Foreign Ministry, Egypt’s proposal had called for high-level discussions in Cairo to begin within 48 hours, presumably mediated by Egypt in separate sessions with representatives from each party. The objective would have been to reinforce a temporary ceasefire with further confidence-building measures. After Egypt first advanced its proposal for a ceasefire and stepped forward to lead a mediation effort between Israel and Hamas, Secretary of State John Kerry was dispatched to Cairo to take part in the negotiations. He was ordered to turn around and return to the U.S. before reaching his destination. DEBKAfile has reported that, according to its sources in Washington, “the real reason the White House pulled Kerry out of another certain fiasco in the nick of time was incoming intelligence that Tehran had ordered its Palestinian pawn Jihad Islami to ignore the ceasefire and keep on shooting from Gaza. This left Hamas no option but to follow suit.”
Israel showed its willingness to halt its military actions to explore the possibility of negotiations. Hamas, under apparent pressure from its state sponsor Iran and other jihadist groups, summarily rejected the ceasefire proposal.
Past ceasefires, such as the one that brought a halt to hostilities between Hamas and Israel in November 2012, have proven to be short-lived. Indeed, Israel finds itself in this position every few years, and it follows the same formula: Hamas attacks, Israel responds militarily to defend itself and protect its civilians, the “international community” condemns Israel, and then a ceasefire is negotiated that solves nothing. Such ceasefires have only served to give Hamas more time and space to rebuild its arsenal with more sophisticated, longer-range rockets. And the international community has further complicated matters by legitimizing Hamas’s role as part of the “unity” Palestinian government.
Hamas and its allies claim that the only way they would agree to halt their rocket attacks this time is if all of their demands are first met, including that Israel unconditionally open all border crossings between Israel and Gaza, re-open Gaza’s sea port and release detained Hamas operative prisoners. That is not going to happen anytime soon. Opening the borders and lifting the lawful sea blockade of Gaza while Hamas remains in charge of Gaza is tantamount to inviting unrestrained wholesale attacks against Israeli civilians from all directions.
Moreover, Hamas is in no position to insist on anything. Unlike 2012, when Egypt was ruled by the friendly Muslim Brotherhood-aligned government of former President Mohamed Morsi, Egypt’s current president, Abdel-Fatteh El-Sisi, considers the Muslim Brotherhood and its offshoot Hamas as terrorist organizations. Thus, Egypt has closed its own border crossing with Gaza and destroyed Hamas’s cross-border smuggling tunnels. Moreover, Hamas, which governs Gaza, is very low on cash. Its Palestinian unity government partner, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, has refused to pay 50,000 Gaza government workers.
As for relying on Hamas’s rocket fire and the diplomatic initiatives of the Palestinian Authority to pressure Israel into accepting Hamas’s terms, Hamas is so far striking out. While Israeli civilians have been largely protected by Israel’s Iron Dome defense system, Hamas’s indiscriminate rocket campaign is backfiring – literally. Aside from Palestinian civilian casualties caused by Hamas’s deliberate use of its own civilians as human shields, one of Hamas’s rockets managed to knock out the primary electric lines in Israel that deliver electricity into parts of southern Gaza. Prime Minister Netanyahu is in no hurry to direct Israel’s electricity company to risk the lives of its workmen by going out to fix what Hamas destroyed. As a result, about 70,000 people have been without power in Gaza.
Diplomatically, Hamas’s intransigence is beginning to wear thin even on Abbas and other Palestinian Authority officials, although they have run interference for Hamas at the UN and are said to be seeking judicial remedies against Israel for alleged “war crimes.” Last Friday, even before Hamas’s rejection of the Egyptian ceasefire proposal, Abbas criticized Hamas on a Palestinian TV station for firing rockets at Israel. “What are you trying to achieve by sending rockets?” he asked. “We prefer to fight with wisdom and politics.” In an interview with a Lebanese television network, Abbas lamented that “We are the losing side.”
While condemning Israel for alleged “crimes against humanity,” the Palestinian representative at the UN Human Rights Council Ibrahim Khreisheh was actually quoted as saying last week: “The missiles that are now being launched against Israel – each and every missiles (sic) constitutes a crime against humanity whether it hits or misses, because it is directed at a civilian targets.”
For its part, Hamas has lashed out at Abbas, calling him “a criminal” and “a Likud member,” according to the Jerusalem Post. Hamas is managing to torpedo the fragile Palestinian unity government all by itself.
In order for there to be any possibility of a durable truce going forward, Israel is reportedly insisting first on the establishment of an effective internationally monitored mechanism to remove and destroy all of the rockets and mortar weapons found in Gaza as well as all production facilities for such weapons. Moreover, there must be strong security protections in place at all border crossings before they can be opened for anything other than pure humanitarian relief.
Secretary of State Kerry has reportedly offered to fly to Cairo if that could help advance the prospects for a ceasefire. At the same time, Kerry said that the Obama administration would be open to extending the July 20 deadline for a final nuclear accord with Iran. Both would be a mistake under present circumstances. Kerry would be wasting his time in Egypt. No durable ceasefire will be possible so long as Iran is effectively preventing any successful ceasefire negotiations by continuing to incite Hamas and other jihadists to carry out their war with Israel as proxies for Iran. Moreover, Iran has no intention of ending its nuclear arms development program and is only using the negotiations as a stall tactic.
Israel tried in good faith to bring an end to the cycle of violence by accepting Egypt’s proposal for an immediate ceasefire. Even UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon acknowledged in a statement “Israel’s readiness to accept the ceasefire proposal.” Hamas, by contrast, relentlessly continued its dance with death. In the same statement, the Secretary General said that he “calls on Hamas to cooperate with the Egyptian initiative.”
It is up to Hamas and its cohorts to stop the rocket attacks immediately and accept the terms of the ceasefire proposal put forth by Egypt. Only then will the suffering that the Palestinian people are now being forced to endure because of the jihadists’ reckless actions have any chance of lessening.
Freedom Center pamphlets now available on Kindle: Click here.