Israel ignores peace
Despite offers of a ceasefire from Hamas, Israel looks set on a full-blown attack on Gaza that could seriously backfire, writes Khaled Amayreh in Ramallah
Hamas has been sending definitive signals of its willingness to sign a dignified truce with Israel in return for its lifting its harsh blockade on the Gaza Strip as well as ending bloody and unrelenting Israeli attacks which wreak death and havoc on the coastal territory's civilian inhabitants.
Ismail Haniyeh, prime minister of the Hamas-led government in Gaza, said this week that the Islamic movement was "willing and ready to examine any serious proposal that would put an end to Israeli aggression." Similarly, Hamas spokesman Ayman Taha told reporters in Gaza earlier this week that Hamas welcomed third-party intervention to bring about a ceasefire.
"The ball has always been in the Israeli court, not in our court. The resistance is not the cause, but the effect, of Israeli aggression. If Israel stops its crimes and lifts this oppressive blockade on our people, the resistance would stop," Taha said.
Taha was responding to remarks made by visiting French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner during a meeting in West Jerusalem with Israeli politician and Meretz leader Yossi Beilin. Kouchner reportedly said that France was willing to play the role of "mediator" or "facilitator" between Hamas and Israel for the purpose of reaching a ceasefire.
Kouchner's statements represented something of a departure from usual EU policy against making contact with Hamas until it recognises the legitimacy of Zionism (the Jewish character of Israel) and abandon violent resistance to the Israeli occupation. Taha challenged Kouchner to act on his remarks, saying that the French official should visit Gaza to see how things are on the ground.
Hamas has been reluctant to appear publicly as seeking a ceasefire with Israel for fear that this would undermine the movement's image as a resistance group as well as harm relations with allies in the region. Hamas was also concerned that a ceasefire with Israel would provide Fatah, its arch foe, with valuable propaganda ammunition to discredit the movement.
Increasingly deadly attacks waged by the Israeli army in Gaza, however, met mostly with silence or indifference by the bulk of the international community, appear to have convinced the movement that a ceasefire agreement inclusive of lifting the 20-month-old harsh blockade on Gaza would be an important achievement and popularity booster for Hamas.
One Hamas leader in Gaza told Al-Ahram Weekly that the movement didn't want to give Israel the propaganda tools it needs to continue its genocidal policy.
"They are trying both to mislead and desensitise world public opinion by claiming that the problem lies in Palestinian rockets originating in Gaza. Meanwhile, they are annihilating entire Palestinian families and are calculating that if the world accepts 10 or 20 Palestinian victims per day, then the world can be desensitised into accepting 50 or even 100 victims per day. It is genocide by retail," the official said on condition of anonymity.
A second likely reason for Hamas's willingness to reach a ceasefire with Israel is its deepening rift with the Western- backed Palestinian Authority (PA) in Ramallah. This week, two young Palestinian men confessed on television to having been instructed by Fatah leader Al-Tayeb Abdul-Rahim to murder Haniyeh in return for a hefty sum of money.
The first man told interrogators that he was instructed to detonate a bomb in his hands next to Haniyeh while praying during Friday congregational prayers. The second said he was instructed to kill Haniyeh during a public gathering. Fatah officials in Ramallah dismissed the confessions as "fabrications" but didn't elaborate further.
What is certain is that mutual distrust between Gaza and Ramallah has reached its highest point since Hamas's counter- coup against Fatah in Gaza nearly 20 months ago, even reaching suspicion of treachery. Hamas believes that Israel, probably in collusion with Fatah, is planning an all-out onslaught against the Hamas government in Gaza probably in mid- March or early April.
Hamas's predictions to this effect are not without warrant. Israeli leaders, particularly the manifestly hawkish Defence Minister Ehud Barak, have been promising for some time that Israel will embark on a "huge military move" against Hamas in the near future. Western intelligence sources have also been speaking of a probable Israeli onslaught on Hizbullah as part of Israel's overall efforts to restore its army's deterrent value, especially in the wake of the Winograd Report that admitted Israel's defeat in its war on Lebanon in 2006.
The Ramallah regime of Mahmoud Abbas, while saying publicly it is against an all-out Israeli attack on Gaza, seems inclined to stand aside if military action would lead to the decimation of the Hamas government. Abbas and his Fatah aides realise there is no way to recover Gaza save by defeating Hamas and that this goal can only be achieved by Israel. Abbas also realises that appearing to work in cahoots with Israel would expose the PA as a quisling entity.
From Israel's point of view, a decisive campaign in Gaza, whatever that means in real terms, is increasingly desirable, especially for Barak. The former Israeli prime minister, who is trying to endear himself to the Jewish Israeli public for electioneering purposes, would like to project himself as the "leader" who was able to defeat Hamas.
Another important goal Barak hopes to achieve is to use Palestinian division to convince or even bully Abbas into accepting a scandalously dismal "peace deal" on Israeli terms. Consequently, it is probable that Israel will not agree to any ceasefire proposal forthcoming from Hamas.
Indeed, more likely is that Israel will continue to provoke Hamas and other Palestinian factions to continue firing homemade projectiles from Gaza onto Israeli settlements in the vicinity. Needless to say, Israel's main method of provocation is murdering civilians, including children, and creating outrage throughout Gaza.
In this strategy Israel that can always bank on blanket US support, despite its brutal intent and actions. Yet the decimation of Hamas is unlikely to lead to stability, neither in Palestine nor in the region. Added to provocation of the killing of Imad Mughniyah and Israel's standoff with Hizbullah, an attack on Gaza could trigger a far wider war.