The Israel-Gaza ceasefire is off to a predictably shaky start as anticipated in this previous blog post. In the weeks since the cease-fire went into effect, six rockets have been launched from Gaza in Israel (thankfully no fatalities), the limited opening of the crossing to allow supply into Gaza has been partially suspended, two Palestinians were killed in IDF operations in the West Bank, and one Palestinian farmer was injured by IDF fire into Gaza.
What this looks like to me is that the various actors are testing the parameters of the new rules of the game. The question is whether any escalation by either side will lead to the collapse of the cease-fire.
The fact that the cease-fire is not extended to the West Bank will be a constant source of friction as Palestinian groups in particular will be under pressure to respond from Gaza to losses in the West Bank. This seems to be what was happening when Palestinian Islamic Jihad fired the first cease-fire breaking rockets after two of their militants were killed in an IDF raid in Nablus. Interestingly, the Fatah affiliated al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade carried out the other rocket attacks, which possibly was a predictable Fatah effort to embarrass Hamas.
Hamas has not launched its own rockets, but according to the cease-fire it is Hamas’s responsibility to also prevent other groups from shooting. Hamas is aware that if it cannot do this then it is less of an address for a deal than it has tried to establish itself as. The Hamas position so far has been to avoid armed confrontation with the competing PIJ or Fatah militia (it is trying to avoid having the criticism that is directs against Fatah, namely that is has become an Israeli security sub-contractor, turned on its head and used against itself) but it has used the bully pulpit and declared that any rocket fire is now against the Palestinian national interest. This is an interesting development in itself.
Israel’s response - suspending the easing of the closure - is also an act in testing how far one can push the envelope within the rules of this new game. Israel TV Channel Two’s lead analyst Ehud Ya’ari referred to these incidents as being basically teething problems as all sides adjust themselves to the new realities and his impression at least is that both sides still intend to pursue the cease-fire.
The voices in Israel who opposed this effort in the first place are now seizing on these infractions to push for an abandonment of the cease-fire in order to launch a major military operation. Also notable is that the Palestinian PM Salam Fayyad was very outspoken in his support of the cease-fire and his support of the Palestinian unity talks during his speech at the Berlin Donor’s Conference this week. While the Quartet, also meeting in Berlin, expressed its support for what it called “Egyptian efforts to restore calm to Gaza and Southern Israel and welcomed the period of calm that began on June 19th.” One thing is for sure – the residents of Gaza and southern Israel have been able to breath just a little easier this past week
The prisoner exchange negotiations for the release of Gilad Shalit, who marks two years in captivity this week, also seemed to have been stepped up a gear.
And now to Friday morning’s event.
From 9:30 to 11:00 am the New American Foundation will be hosting a panel discussion, which my colleague Steve Clemons has decided to call “Making Sense of the Arab Israeli Nightmare”. Joining myself on the panel will be Aaron Miller, former US negotiator and adviser to six Secretaries of State and author of the indispensable book The Much Too Promised Land: America's Elusive Search for Arab-Israeli Peace, and my NAF colleague Gaith Al-Omari, who is also at the America Task Force on Palestine and who was an adviser to President Abbas and a Palestinian negotiator.