Truce holds but both sides keep fin­gers on trig­ger

The Jewish Chronicle - - NEWS - BY ANSHEL PF­EF­FER

IS­RAELI NE­GO­TIA­TORS were seek­ing to ham­mer out a last­ing truce with Ha­mas as the JC went to press on Wed­nes­day night.

Itisun­clear,how­ever,whatthata­gree­ment will look like as Ha­mas re­fuses to con­tem­plate dis­man­tling its mil­i­tary in­fra­struc­ture and the Is­raeli govern­ment has yet to for­mu­late a de­tailed al­ter­na­tive to its pol­icy of blockad­ing the Gaza Strip.

Del­e­ga­tions from Is­rael and Gaza were hold­ing sep­a­rate meet­ings in Cairo on Wed­nes­day to try to reach an agree­ment on the fu­ture of the Strip as a cease­fire, which be­gan on Tues­day morn­ing, fi­nally held af­ter 29 days of fight­ing and seven bro­ken truces.

OnMon­daynight,Pales­tinian groups agreed to the Egyp­tian cease­fire pro­posal — es­sen­tially the one that had been on the ta­ble for over three weeks — and un­con­di­tion­ally ended all war­fare at 8am on Tues­day morn­ing.

Is­rael agreed and, on Tues­day, all its ground forces left the Gaza Strip, tak­ing up “de­fen­sive po­si­tions” on its bor­ders.

Be­fore leav­ing, the IDF car­ried out an in­ten­sive op­er­a­tion to de­stroy 32 tun­nels ex­ca­vated by Ha­mas. Nearly half of the 82,000 IDF re­servists called up for the op­er­a­tion were dis­charged. Although a sus­tained pe­riod of calm ap­peared more likely on Wed­nes­day, the Is­raeli govern­ment did not have a de­tailed plan on Gaza’s fu­ture — other than main­tain­ing the block­ade.

On Mon­day, For­eign Min­is­ter Avig­dor Lieber­man sur­prised mem­bers of the Knes­set For­eign and De­fence Af­fairs Com­mit­tee with the sug­ges­tion that they “con­sider re­turn­ing the Gaza Strip and bor­ders to a UN man­date”. So far, he has found no back­ing for the pro­posal.

One for­mer of­fi­cial at the Na­tional Se­cu­rity Coun­cil said that “in the past we tried to put for­ward ideas on how to open up Gaza, de­spite Ha­mas, but it never got onto the agenda”.

Another for­mer se­nior ad­viser in the Prime Min­is­ter’s of­fice said: “We have an op­por­tu­nity now to put for­ward a vi­sion for Gaza’s eco­nomic devel­op­ment, which will be linked to the de­mil­i­tari­sa­tion of Ha­mas and the other Pales­tinian or­gan­i­sa­tions there, un­der in­ter­na­tional su­per­vi­sion. That will take creative think­ing but this is the mo­ment to try such a plan.”

One ma­jor ob­sta­cle is very low level of trust be­tween the Is­raeli govern­ment and the PA, which would be the main party to im­ple­ment any such fu­ture plan in Gaza.

As the IDF with­drew from Gaza, re­crim­i­na­tions be­gan within Is­rael, mainly from the right, that the op­er­a­tion had not been not in­ten­si­fied and the Ha­mas lead­er­ship re­mained in place.

Prime Min­is­ter Ben­jamin Ne­tanyahu had res­o­lutely op­posed ex­pand­ing the op­er­a­tion and faced down cabi­net min­is­ters who were ini­tially against ac­cept­ing the cease­fire on Mon­day night. While sur­veys car­ried out this week gave the prime min­is­ter high ap­proval rat­ings, nearly half the Is­raeli pub­lic was in favour of con­tin­u­ing the cam­paign and bring­ing down Ha­mas.

At a press con­fer­ence on Wed­nes­day, IDF Chief of Staff Lieu­tenant Gen­eral Benny Gantz said: “The re­sult in Gaza is de­struc­tive, and the tragic blame is on the lead­ers of Ha­mas who op­er­ated from civil­ian cen­tres. Ha­mas has suf­fered a very heavy blow to all its strate­gic and tac­ti­cal ca­pa­bil­i­ties.”

An Is­raeli sol­dier in a Merkava tank near the border with Gaza

UN pro­posal: Lieber­man

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