Israelis and Palestinians in Gaza remained on edge this week as an unconditional 72-hour Israeli-Hamas truce began Tuesday and analysts predicted a tough road ahead in trying to nail down a peace agreement.
“If this cease-fire holds, there will be an extended period of negotiations to determine whether a set of durable agreements will be reached,” said Aaron David Miller, a scholar at the Woodrow Wilson Institute for Scholars and a former adviser to six U.S. secretaries of state.
He said there are three possible resolutions: the transformation of the Gaza Strip into a demilitarized zone, which would then allow the Israelis and Egyptians to open Gaza’s borders; Israeli troops would remain out of Gaza while Hamas stands down and quiet returns without any agreements; or something in between.
But Seymour Reich, a former chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, said the “current situation is untenable” and that Secretary of State John Kerry should quickly restart peace talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority to reach a negotiated two-state solution.
“Israel is losing friends all over the world,” he said. “Even the relationship with the U.S. has weakened and has to be corrected. … A two-state solution would have to include Gaza and [Palestinian President Mahmoud] Abbas would have to take over the political aspects of Gaza. Maybe Egypt will help along those lines.”
But Miller said he would “forget a two-state solution at this point — it is way too early to make judgments about that.”
And Gerald Steinberg, a political science professor at Bar-Ilan University, said of Hamas: “There is no chance a terror group would give up its power” to the Palestinian Authority.
“Like all other negotiations, there will have to be a mix between Hamas’ goals and what it will have to accept — so things are going to be unstable for a long period of time,” he said. “It may go through the motions in the next few days, but all sides know that these will be temporary, tactical moves and not anything Israel can rely on in the long term.”
Yossi Alpher, a Middle East analyst and former adviser to Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak, agreed that the “temporary cease-fire cannot be sustained over any serious period of time. … Humanitarian issues will be discussed and I assume Israel will be forthcoming as long as what enters Gaza is verifiable humanitarian support and not material with which to make more bombs.”
“Hamas wants an airport, a seaport and it wants passages open to the West Bank and Egypt,” Alpher noted.
(Egypt said Tuesday that Hamas demands for an airport and a seaport are off the table.)
“The extent Hamas can be flexible about disarming depends on how badly it was hit and whether it will accept that it is the weaker party and has to make serious concessions,” Alpher observed.
The Israel Defense Forces said Tuesday that since it launched Operation Protective Shield July 8 in response to persistent Hamas rocket fire on Israeli communities, Israeli forces carried out over 4,000 strikes on targets in Gaza that killed about 1,800 Gazans, including 900 terrorists. Some 400,000 apartments were reportedly destroyed. Palestinian officials put reconstruction costs at $6 billion to rebuild 100,00 homes, 50 factories and to restore water and electricity.
The conflict also cost the lives of 64 Israeli soldiers, 11 of them by Hamas gunmen who emerged from so-called terror tunnels dug under the Gaza-Israel border. Hamas’ rockets also killed three civilians. A total of 3,356 Hamas rockets were fired, and Israeli officials said another 3,000 were destroyed, leaving Hamas with about 3,000 primarily short-range rockets. All 32 known tunnels leading into Israel were also destroyed.
Hamas is said to have started its rocket attacks in response to an Israeli crackdown on Hamas’ infrastructure in the West Bank following the kidnapping of three Israeli teenagers whose bodies were later found. Israeli authorities blamed three Hamas terrorists, and on Tuesday announced that the commander of that terror cell has been arrested and that he admitted Hamas financed the kidnapping.
Rep. Steve Israel (D-Huntington, L.I.), who is leading a bipartisan nine-member congressional delegation on a weeklong trip to Israel, said he has found that Israelis — who previously favored a quick end to conflicts — “want the government to finish the job.”
The congressman, who is head of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, said Israelis appear resigned to the conflict but also “deeply frustrated with the complete double standard that much of the world is showing towards Israel for doing exactly what the rest of the world would do in Israel’s position.”
Israel was thus critical of both the United States and the United Nations for their condemnation of the Jewish state after 10 children at a United Nations school were killed in a rocket attack Sunday.
The U.S. blamed Israel and said it was “appalled” by this “disgraceful” act.
“We ought not to publicly criticize until we know the absolute truth, and then only when it is warranted,” the congressman said.
But pictures of civilian deaths in Gaza and repeated criticism of Israel’s conduct of the war by the United Nations have tarnished the Jewish state’s image among young Americans, according to polls late last month by Gallup and the Pew Research Center and focus groups of 12 young congressional staffers.
An analysis of the staffers’ reactions written by Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi and Meagan Buren for a select group of Jewish institutions and obtained by JTA concluded: “It appears that the negativity and lack of support among young people is tunneling its way into congressional offices, even while the congressmen and senators remain steadfast on the surface.”
Among the statements the dozen congressional staffers agreed on: “Israel attacked Gaza in a wild overreaction,” and that Israel is “not peace loving.”
JTA said its own interviews with some staffers found a combination of reasons for waning support for Israel among once solid pro-Israel Democrats. Among them: anger at how the Netanyahu government handled its relationship with the Obama administration, weariness of a decade of U.S. involvement in wars, and the plain orneriness of younger people.
Nevertheless, President Obama signed legislation this week overwhelmingly approved by both houses of Congress authorizing $225 million in extra funding for Israel’s Iron Dome anti-missile system, and authorized resupplying the IDF with additional ammunition.
Charges that Israel has committed war crimes in Gaza have been rampant throughout the nearly month-long conflict. Michael Walzer, an expert on ethics in wartime and a contributing editor at The New Republic, said he was unaware of any specifics but knows the “code of conduct and the rules of engagement of the IDF and they do not permit soldiers to engage in killing of that sort.”
In a conference call arranged by Americans for Peace Now, Walzer was asked about Hamas’ claims that it had fired rockets into Israel because of the “siege” Israel imposed on the Gaza Strip.
“I’m not inclined to believe that justifies the firing of rockets into Israel — and the firing of rockets does justify … Israel’s response,” he said. “It is on Israel’s part a just war, but over the long haul Israel’s policies produced periodic crises that could have been avoided by a government committed to defeating the settlement movement and moving towards Palestinian statehood.”
Dore Gold, a senior adviser to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, said Egypt must be involved in any resolution of this conflict because it is “deeply concerned by the Hamas military infrastructure.”
“There are jihadist organizations … that according to Egyptian security authorities underwent training and received assistance from Hamas in the Gaza Strip,” he said, adding that one of the groups blew up Coptic churches in Alexandria.
Gold stressed that Israel wants to see the Gaza Strip demilitarized, something that is reflected in the Oslo Accords Israel signed with the Palestinians.
In a statement, J Street said it would like to see the Palestinian Authority “centrally involved in building a political process that will help create long-term solutions to this conflict …”
But Mordechai Kedar, a professor of Arabic studies at Bar-Ilan University, said he would not involve the PA because “it can’t be trusted.”
“All the PA leaders want to do is take money and put it in their private accounts in Switzerland,” he said. “And the sentiment among Palestinians in Gaza is so negative against the PA that I don’t see it functioning well there.”
Another analyst said the war might have actually boosted the standing of Hamas among Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank because it is seen as having stood up to Israel whereas the PA was viewed as conspiring with Israel.
And Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman said he too is opposed to involving the PA in the Gaza Strip. He is quoted as saying that Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas “may act against Hamas in Gaza, but he also acts against us in the international forums. It is he who pushed the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva to establish a commission of inquiry and he who is pushing for processes against us in the UN Security Council in New York.”
Just two weeks ago, Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon said PA troops should be deployed on Gaza’s borders, particularly at the Rafa crossing.