Haaretz (Editorial)
May 1, 2008 - 5:25pm

The Egyptian effort to achieve a cease-fire on the Israeli-Palestinian front seemed close to success yesterday, at least in terms of achieving the consent of the Palestinian side. This assessment must be made with reservations, because negotiations on such complex issues, and with a dozen Palestinian factions, are liable to fail even at the last moment.

In any case, it looks as though we can already now praise the seriousness of the Egyptian activity, designed to mediate between the Palestinians and Israel.

Israeli critics of the proposed calm are correct in pointing out the defects in the cease-fire's outline. Acceptance of the continued strengthening of Hamas in Gaza is liable to reinforce the extremist elements in Palestinian society. Hamas can also claim to have achieved for the Palestinians what Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) failed to achieve, and use the cease-fire as a lever for imposing a veto on any progress in the diplomatic process. However, the main fear is that the period of calm will be exploited for the acquisition of weapons and the manufacture of explosives that will serve the organization if it decides to violate the cease-fire.

All these are important factors that must be weighed, but they are countered by other considerations, which should tip the overall balance to the positive side.

The Palestinian factions are supposed to accept the separation between Gaza and the West Bank in terms of Israeli security forces activity. The Israel Defense Forces can continue to operate in the West Bank for the next six months against the terror organizations, without fearing the collapse of the cease-fire in Gaza. Israel, for its part, will not be able to claim that the activity of the terror organizations in the West Bank is considered a cease-fire violation. In other words, the state of warfare between the IDF and the terror organizations in the West Bank will continue as was.

Three years ago, this aspect was an obstacle to the success of the de facto calm in Gaza, in advance of the evacuation of the settlements in the Strip. Even if the calm is described this time as temporary and limited to a few months, the Israeli-Arab conflict has already known cease-fires and armistice agreements that began that way and lasted much longer.

The cease-fire also requires the opening of the Rafah crossing; without it Gaza will continue to be in a state of agitation and to threaten both Egypt and Israeli communities. That is also the reason why Egypt is acting with the utmost determination to establish the cease-fire. It seems that this time Israel also understands the importance of opening the crossings, particularly after becoming aware that closing them has prevented neither the arming of Hamas nor its attacks.

It is easy to be skeptical about the chances of the calm enduring. The past years, full of disappointments, justify an attitude of "respect him and suspect him." But if the pessimists are right, the calm is fated to collapse quickly with one excuse or another.

On the other hand, Israel can contribute a great deal to prolonging the cease-fire by gradually removing the sanctions from Gaza, and particularly by promoting diplomatic steps vis-a-vis the Palestinian Authority. Instead of rejecting the calm and helping the gloomy forecast to come true, it would be better to give a chance to the hesitant step to achieve a cease-fire.


American Task Force on Palestine - 1634 Eye St. NW, Suite 725, Washington DC 20006 - Telephone: 202-262-0017