Gaza Talks in Cairo May Resume Sometime, but Israeli Leaders Assume Hamas Will Take Over the West Bank: Crises are Certain, Peace is Not
by YOSSI MELMAN in Tel Aviv
[Yossi Melman is co-author of the best seller Every Spy a Prince and the new, updated history of Israeli intelligence and security, Spies Against Armageddon: Inside Israel’s Secret Wars. This is adapted from his article in Tuesday’s Jerusalem Post newspaper.]
There were five possible outcomes to the Gaza ceasefire talks in Cairo — which abruptly ended, when the violence resumed on Tuesday night (19 August): a long-term agreement, which is not very likely at this point; an Egyptian announcement that the sides had agreed to extend the truce; simultaneous announcements by Israel and Hamas that the truce would be extended; a “narrow” agreement, which would allow for the truce to be extended while a number of measures are implemented in the field, such as the opening of crossings; or another 24-hour extension of the truce, in an attempt to reach a long-term arrangement.
However, in the background there was always an additional possibility that neither side seemed to desire: the resumption of the war.
Therefore, the IDF and the Israeli defense establishment were not taking any chances and were also prepared for this outcome. The train route from Sderot to Ashkelon, part of which is exposed to fire from Gaza, was shut down on Sunday. At some of the kibbutzim near Gaza, the kindergartens were reinforced with concrete walls (which begs the question: Why was this done at the last minute? The defense establishment had 14 years to do it.)
Most importantly, the IDF vowed to respond to every rocket with especially strong firepower. “One thing is clear. We will not accept a war of attrition,” Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon emphasized on Monday evening.
Israel’s updated military doctrine, in this Gaza war, is to hit back even harder whenever Hamas fires rockets: at the rocket launchers, of course, but also more broadly against key Hamas facilities and leaders.
Shin Bet — the domestic security agency — meantime clarified the timing of its revelation on Monday that Hamas was trying to create a potent military infrastructure in the West Bank: so as to launch major terrorist attacks against Israel from a new direction, but also to stage a coup d’etat that would remove the more moderate Fatah faction from power in the West Bank.
Shin Bet officials said the revelation — which received wide media coverage as a new claim by Israel — was not meant to affect the Cairo negotiations. It was mere coincidence, they said: connected to the filing of indictments against around 70 suspects in the terror ring.
Shin Bet contends that the release of the information on the terror plot was not meant to serve as propaganda or psychological warfare to drive a wedge between Hamas and the Fatah-led PA (the Palestinian Authority) on the day that the future of the Gaza ceasefire was being determined.
Now it is clear that even if the ceasefire were extended, the chances of reaching a long-term understanding between Israel and Hamas through the Palestinian Authority were (and remain) low.
The bitter truth is that the government of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, which until now was dismissive of PA President Mahmoud Abbas and did everything it could to fritter away nine months of fruitless negotiations (mediated by America’s John Kerry), is now interested in putting Abbas in power in Gaza. It seems obvious that the Fatah faction would be better than the murderous, racist, implacable Hamas.
On the other hand, Israel’s government doesn’t hide its strong skepticism about Abbas and his ability to rule in the West Bank.
This government’s belief is that Hamas, either through the ballot box or by way of the gun, will eventually take over the West Bank.
Either way, the Israeli government does not truly want a peace agreement or other understanding that it will obligate it to evacuate settlements and relocate settlers. Some in the government simply believe that the entire West Bank is rightfully Jewish territory — based on both the Bible and the lightning Six-Day victory in 1967. Others mostly stress the dangers that Israel would have to cope with, if Palestinians fully controlled the West Bank, leaving the Jewish state extremely thin and vulnerable.
Therefore, all the Netanyahu government does now is manage crises, like that occurring in Gaza today. Israel will continue to jump from crisis to crisis.