Israel is not ruling out a cease-fire in the Gaza Strip if it results in a significant change in the situation inside Gaza and a restoration of quiet to the South, diplomatic officials said Saturday night.
The officials’ comments came as the UN Security Council issued a statement calling for a cease-fire, and as the foreign ministers of the US, France, Germany and Britain were set to discuss the situation at a meeting in Vienna on Sunday, on the sidelines of their talks with Iran.
Israeli officials were not speaking of the conditions they would demand for a cease-fire, but among the ideas that have been discussed are the dismantling of the rocket capabilities inside Gaza, similar to the manner in which the chemical weapons were dismantled in Syria; developing a mechanism to enforce the cease-fire; and a restoration of Palestinian Authority – not Hamas – control over the area.
Diplomatic officials said Israel was in contact with third parties about the possibilities but would not provide concrete details. Turkey and Qatar have reportedly also put cease-fire proposals on the table, but these have been rejected by Israel.
“The goals of Operation Protective Edge remain restoring quiet to Israel for a long period of time while delivering a significant blow to Hamas and the terrorist organizations in Gaza... whether through military means or diplomatic ones,” one official said.
“Israel will weigh any proposal that will bring about an achievement of those goals,” the official continued. “If Hamas will continue to fire on Israeli citizens, the IDF will increase the power of its blows against Hamas and terrorist organizations in Gaza.”
The officials said Israel was not responding to any particular cease-fire that has been proposed.
On Friday, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said the situation in Gaza was a stark reminder of the need for Israel to hold on to territory for security purposes.
In a brief press conference he held just before Shabbat, Netanyahu said the terror kingdom that Hamas had set up in Gaza – where there are not only thousands of rockets, but also well over a thousand tunnels – will not be allowed to be replicated in the West Bank.
“We need to understand one fact: We are living in a Middle East that is being taken over by radical Islam, leading to the collapse of a number of counties and [these Islamists] knocking on our doors both in the North and the South. I say we cannot allow a situation where we get Gaza in Judea and Samaria,” the prime minister stated.
“Today I think that Israel’s citizens understand why I say all the time that there cannot be a situation in any agreement that we will give up security control from the Jordan River westward,” he continued. “I don’t want to create another 20 Gazas in Judea and Samaria.”
Netanyahu also addressed the importance of territory, where if Israel left the West Bank completely there would be the possibility of thousands of tunnels burrowing into the country.
“There are 1,200 tunnels in the 14 kilometers between Egypt and Gaza,” he revealed, adding that Egypt had sealed most of them.
The tunnels, he said, illustrated that territory “has tremendous importance.”
Netanyahu, who took questions from reporters for the first time since Operation Protective Edge began, pledged it would continue until quiet is restored. He did not, however, reveal his thinking on the question that is sure to be widely discussed at Sunday’s cabinet meeting: whether or not to launch a ground operation inside Gaza.
“We are weighing all possibilities and are prepared for all possibilities,” he said, adding everyone understood that he could not give details of tactical decisions. He said that as of late Friday afternoon the IAF had hit more than 1,000 Hamas and Islamic Jihad targets and that the “military blow” would continue until Israel was sure that quiet had been restored. He did not widen the goal to destroying Hamas or retaking Gaza.
Netanyahu, who spoke Thursday night with US President Barack Obama and had also spoken with numerous world leaders, said “no international pressure will prevent us from acting with all our strength against a terrorist organization that calls for our destruction.”
He added that there was understanding for Israel’s actions among the leaders he spoke with and that the slow and measured manner in which Israel entered the operation had been due not only to operational considerations, but also to the desire to create an international atmosphere that would understand why Israel felt the need to hit Hamas.
“All the leaders understand our need to act,” he said. “I also asked them what they would do. Would they be willing to absorb rocket barrage attacks on London, Washington, Paris and Moscow? Of course not.”
Netanyahu also sent a warning to Hezbollah, saying Israel would act aggressively against any others who fire missiles on Israel.
“I would not recommend that anyone test us,” he said.
Netanyahu was full of praise for the country for its “fortitude,” and for the Iron Dome anti-rocket defense system. He said that over the years his governments had spent billions in protecting the home front.
Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman, speaking a couple hours after Netanyahu in an interview on Channel 2, called on the government to “go all the way” and “eradicate the Hamas regime in Gaza.”
Liberman, who has called on the government to reconquer Gaza in the past and last week broke with Netanyahu after what he said was his unhappiness with the restraint the prime minister had been showing, said the goal was “not to reestablish Jewish settlement there” but to remove the threat of Palestinian rocket fire on Israeli towns.
“After Operation Cast Lead and Operation Pillar of Defense, we can’t have a situation where we don’t finish the job because that will only lead to a countdown before the next operation,” the foreign minister said.
Hamas and Islamic Jihad officials on Saturday denied reports of an imminent cease-fire with Israel and vowed to continue their attacks on Israel.
Ziad al-Nakhleh, deputy head of Islamic Jihad, said talk about a cease-fire was nothing but rumors.
“All what is being said about a truce is incorrect,” Nakhleh said. “So far there is no serious talk about a cease-fire.”
He called talk about a cease-fire “premature,” adding that the previous 2012 truce between Hamas and Israel had been “behind our backs.”
Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum said his movement would continue to target Israel as long as the IDF military operation continued.
He also criticized Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas for saying over the weekend in an interview with the Hezbollah-affiliated Al-Mayadeen TV station in Lebanon that Hamas’s conditions for a cease-fire were “unnecessary.”
In the interview Abbas indirectly condemned Hamas and other Palestinian terrorist groups in the Gaza Strip for “trading in blood.”
Barhoum said Abbas saw himself as a “third party” in the current crisis.
“Abbas has destroyed the reconciliation agreement with Hamas from day one,” he charged. “Abbas has failed to assume his responsibility as president.”
Abbas, meanwhile, continued to talk to world leaders about the need for a ceasefire.
On Saturday he received a phone call from UK Foreign Secretary William Hague. He also talked to Tunisian President Moncef Marzouki and Arab League Secretary-General Nabil Elaraby about the situation.
Arab League foreign ministers are scheduled to hold an emergency meeting in Cairo on Monday at the request of the PA leadership to discuss the latest developments in the region, PA Foreign Minister Riad Malki announced.