Egypt worked this week to formalize a cease-fire between Israel and Hamas after both sides virtually ended all military operations in response to what one analyst called an attempt to “calm down the criticism” from within.
“This is a time to lick the wounds and to calm down the popular criticism being heard in both Israel and in Gaza,” said Mordechai Kedar, an expert in Arab affairs at Bar-Ilan University, following a period of intense rocket attacks on Israel and IDF counter-efforts in Gaza. “People are aggravated at the situation and neither Israel nor the authorities in Gaza are deaf or blind. Although the Hamas regime in Gaza is doing its best to shut down criticism, it cannot ignore it. This is the real reason for the apparent truce.”
Arie Kacowicz, a professor in the Hebrew University’s International Relations Department, said Egyptian authorities are now trying to “put in effect a formal cease-fire that would include an agreement about the opening of border crossings between Israel and the Gaza Strip and between Gaza and Egypt. Until that is solved, there will be no cease-fire.”
The Israeli newspaper Haaretz quoted sources as saying that both Israel and Hamas have agreed to post members of the Palestinian Authority’s Presidential Guard at all crossing points. But it also quoted Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh as saying Wednesday that before a cease-fire is implemented, Israel would have to agree to “end all aggression against our people” — including all operations in the West Bank, which Israel has steadfastly refused to do.
In fact, Israel early Wednesday killed a member of the Islamic Jihad terrorist group during an operation at his home in the West Bank town of Tulkarem after he refused to surrender to Israeli troops. Islamic Jihad vowed to retaliate “deep inside the Zionist entity.”
The relative lull in the fighting comes just a week after more than 120 Palestinians in Gaza — a number of them civilians — were killed by Israeli forces in response to a stepped up rocket and missile attack on Ashkelon and such Israeli border towns as Sderot. One Israeli civilian was killed, along with two Israeli soldiers.
In response, UJA-Federation of New York, in concert with the United Jewish Communities, which represents all Jewish federations in North America, decided to grant another $3 million to help “frontline workers care for the most vulnerable and to boost the sagging economy.” This money is on top of $20 million that has been provided during the last 18 months.
And a consortium of human service agencies assembled by UJA-Federation responded to help those affected by last week’s terror attack that killed eight students at a Jerusalem yeshiva.
UJA-Federation has established a special Sderot fund. Online donations may be made at www.ujafedny.org/terrorvictims.
Meanwhile, One Family Fund, a non-profit organization that helps terror victims, is slated to hold simultaneous rallies worldwide on March 20 to show solidarity with the people of Israel. The one-hour event, to be carried live on the Internet (www.together4israel.org), will start with an event in Sderot, the reciting of psalms at the Western Wall, and then switch to rallies in England, Congregation Kehilath Jeshurun in Manhattan (at 5 p.m.), the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles and finally Australia.
The event is being held on Purim because that is when, according to the Book of Esther, Esther asked Mordechai to unite all the Jewish people to pray for her success in approaching the king of Persia to reverse a decree to kill all the Jews.
The lull in fighting has led to the planned resumption of peace talks between Israel and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. Vice President Dick Cheney is expected to meet with Israeli and Palestinian leaders when he visits next week. Sen. John McCain of Arizona, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, is also expected to visit Israel next week.
“Once you get kind of a cease-fire with Hamas, you have pressure from the U.S. and the international community to move on the political process,” said Hebrew University’s Kacowicz.
But at the same time, he noted, Israel has announced plans to build another 750 housing units in Givat Ze’ev beyond the Green Line in Jerusalem, and possibly more homes in East Jerusalem — to the dismay of Palestinian Authority.
Kacowicz explained that Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert had to agree to the move to placate his rightwing coalition partner Shas.
“To save his coalition he has to walk the tightrope and maintain a balance between the two” competing groups, he explained.
In another development, Iran is poised to solidify its place as the king of the Arab world when Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad takes his seat at the Arab summit meeting March 29. The meeting is to be held in Damascus; Iran was invited for the first time. The invitation came from its one true friend in the Arab world, Syria.
“Never mind that it is not an Arab country and that most of the countries there would not like to see it,” Kedar said. “It is the most powerful player in the Arab world. And what this signifies is the weakness of the Arab system. All of the internal struggles and disputes in the Arab world have allowed Iran to infiltrate through the cleavages to become the most powerful actor in the Middle East.”
And the Saudis, who threatened not to attend the summit unless Syria stopped blocking the selection of a new president in Lebanon, are likely to attend even if the selection is not made. Kedar said the Saudis do not want to be “blamed for taking the Arab political system apart.”