Seven hours before the five day cease-fire was scheduled to expire, when everyone wanted to know what would happen at midnight on Monday, the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) dropped a bombshell.
In a briefing to journalists, a senior official in the organization revealed that a massive Hamas terrorist network had been uncovered in the West Bank and Jerusalem, which planned to carry out attacks in Israel, start a third intifada and build the infrastructure for a military overthrow of the Palestinian Authority, like the one Hamas carried out in Gaza more than seven years ago.
Despite this, all eyes were on the talks that carried on until the late hours in Cairo, and everyone was asking, “What is going to happen?” The problem was that no one knew – not even the prime minister or the defense minister. And if they had an idea, they weren’t going to run and share the information with the others – not with the cabinet ministers and not with the public through the media.
The fact that the Israeli delegation to the talks remained in Cairo is a good sign. It signified that the talks continued until the last minute and that neither side was interested in blowing up the negotiations.
Security sources in Israel said that all sides, including the Palestinian Authority, Hamas in Gaza, its military wing and the Islamic Jihad, were ready to continue the cease-fire. The problem was with Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal, who appeared to be fighting for his honor and his ego more than he was fighting for his organization.
The discussions were, and will continue to be, based on the Egyptian initiative, which calls for the cease-fire to be extended indefinitely, with both sides promising to hold serious and comprehensive negotiations in a month’s time on all the relevant issues, including the construction of a large seaport in Gaza. According to the sources, no possibility has been rejected outright.
There were five possible outcomes to the talks: a long-term agreement, which is not very likely at this point; an Egyptian announcement that the sides had agreed to extend the truce; a joint announcement by both sides that the truce would be extended; a “narrow” agreement, which would allow for the truce to be extended while a number of measures are implemented in the field, such as the opening of crossings; and a 24-hour extension of the truce, in an attempt to reach a long-term arrangement.
In the background, however, there was an additional possibility that none of the sides want: the resumption of fire.
Therefore, the IDF and the defense establishment are not taking any chances and are prepared for this outcome. The train route from Sderot to Ashkelon, part of which is exposed to fire from Gaza, was shut down on Sunday. At some of the kibbutzim near Gaza, the kindergartens were reinforced with concrete walls (which begs the question: Why was this done at the last minute? The defense establishment had 14 years to do it).
Most importantly, the IDF vowed to respond to every rocket with especially strong firepower.
“One thing is clear. We will not accept a war of attrition,” Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon emphasized on Monday evening.
The Shin Bet clarified that the timing of its revelation on Monday was coincidental and connected to the filing of indictments against some 70 suspects in the terrorist ring. The Shin Bet contended that the release of the information on the terrorist plot was not meant to serve as propaganda or psychological warfare to drive a wedge between Hamas and the PA on the day that the future of the cease-fire in Gaza was being determined.
Now it is clear that even if the cease-fire is extended, the chances of reaching a long-term understanding between Israel and Hamas through the Palestinian Authority are low. The bitter truth is that the government of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, which until now was dismissive of PA President Mahmoud Abbas and did everything it could to fritter away nine months of fruitless negotiations, is now interested in putting him in power in Gaza. On the other hand, the government doesn’t believe that he has the ability to rule in the West Bank.
This government’s belief is that Hamas, either through the ballot box or by way of the gun, will eventually take over the West Bank. Either way, the Israeli government does not want a peace agreement or other understanding that will obligate it to evacuate settlements and relocate settlers.
Therefore, all it does now is manage crises, like that occurring in Gaza today, and it will continue to jump from crisis to crisis.