The Egyptian-brokered ceasefire between Israel and Hamas that went into effect at 2 am this morning appears to be holding, and it was not preceded by any massive rocket barrage from the Gaza Strip as had been feared. There was fire at Israeli border settlements last night.
Israel is describing the ceasefire as “unconditional” and “mutual”. The reason for agreeing to it, as presented to ministers in the security cabinet, was that Israel’s goals had been achieved: Hamas had sustained several severe blows, most of its rocket production capability had been destroyed, as had most of its tunnel network and underground facilities and special weaponry such as drone submarines. According to the military briefing, half of the Gaza Strip terrorist organizations’ stockpile of rockets has been fired or destroyed, and about 150 terrorists have been killed, many of them of senior ranks in Hamas and Islamic Jihad.
On the diplomatic front, Israel has enjoyed impressive and perhaps surprising support from many European countries, which prevented a negative decision from Israel’s point of view by the EU. Some countries even sent senior envoys to express support, which is more than a symbolic gesture. Vis-a-vis the Americans, the picture is a little more complicated: declarations by the administration in support of Israel’s right to defend itself against the rocket attacks, but impatience to see a ceasefire and criticism of the deaths of children in IDF attacks.
Israel is stressing that there is no condition for the ceasefire apart from its mutuality, while Hamas spokespersons are declaring victory over the Jerusalem issue, as though Israel has undertaken to avoid entering the Temple Mount and to freeze the eviction of Arab residents from Sheikh Jarrah.
At the security cabinet meeting which unanimously approved the cease-fire, the question was asked, “OK, that’s it for now, what next?” There was no clear answer, and ministers were instructed not to give interviews or speak to reporters about the meeting.
All the same, according to the information that has reached us, what has been agreed is a temporary truce, accepted in part for humanitarian reasons, to give some respite to residents of the Gaza Strip and to enable vital supplies to be brought in. During the truce, indirect negotiations will take place, mainly through Egyptian mediation, but involving other parties as well.
An important condition that Israel has laid down in the negotiations, and that has firm European backing, is that there should be no rehabilitation of the Gaza Strip, no consignments of cement and building materials, while the terrorist organizations renew their military capabilities.
Also on the table is an Israeli proposal to transfer control of the Gaza Strip to international bodies. The gaps between Israel and Hamas are wide, and the organization will presumably not agree to restrictions on renewal of its military capability and will circumvent any that are imposed.
It is also likely that there will be renewed rocket fire during the negotiations, and the test for Israel will be how it responds to that and to the breaches that will occur of any agreement reached. In the end, Hamas is a terrorist organization that seeks to annihilate Israel, and only toppling its rule will remove the strategic threat that it presents.
Published by Globes, Israel business news – en.globes.co.il – on May 21, 2021
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