Israel accepted another cease-fire on Tuesday, for the 12th time in 50 days, with this one open-ended and brokered again by the Egyptians. It began at 7 p.m.
Shortly after the cease-fire went into effect, Palestinians poured onto Gaza’s streets to celebrate “victory,” while in Israel government representatives spoke of a feeling of an opportunity missed, along with cautious optimism that as a result of Operation Protective Edge Hamas’s control of Gaza has been dealt a fatal blow.
Intelligence Minister Yuval Steinitz, a close ally of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, said that while Hamas was not knocked out, it was delivered a severe blow that could very well be the beginning of the end of its control of the Gaza Strip.
Hamas started this round with 10,000 rockets, and is now estimated to possess between 2,000 and 3,000. It started with Hamas possessing some 32 attack tunnels leading into Israel, and the army destroyed all the ones it had identified. And Hamas has had hundreds of fighters, including commanders, killed.
“Hamas destroyed Gaza, harmed itself, and didn’t achieve anything,” he said. “Hamas knows the truth, they can celebrate, but they know the truth.”
He said that if Hamas violates the cease-fire, then the option of militarily subduing the organization still remained.
Senior diplomatic officials said that given the history of the last dozen truces, most of which Hamas violated before they expired, the IDF remained prepared for any eventuality.
In Ramallah, meanwhile, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas sought to take center stage by announcing the truce with Israel. In a televised speech, Abbas said that the Palestinian leadership accepted Egypt’s cease-fire call. He thanked Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi for his efforts to “stop the aggression and bloodshed” in the Gaza Strip.
Shortly after Abbas’s announcement, hundreds of Hamas supporters took to the streets of Ramallah to celebrate “victory” over Israel, just as thousands did in Gaza.
They carried Hamas and Palestinian flags and chanted slogans praising Hamas’s armed wing, Izzadin Kassam, for “defeating” the IDF.
Some Palestinians were reportedly wounded when Hamas supporters fired into the air in celebration of their movement’s victory.
Senior Hamas leader Mahmoud Zahar appeared on the streets of the Gaza Strip on Tuesday for the first time since the beginning of Operation Protective Edge to declare celebrations for the “victory” against Israel.
Zahar said that the Palestinians would build their own airport and seaport without asking for anyone’s permission.
“If they attack our airport and seaport, we will attack theirs,” Zahar told Hamas supporters. “We struck the theory of Israeli national security and managed to deter them without being deterred ourselves.”
Zahar called for copying the Gaza experience in the West Bank and Jerusalem in order to prepare for the “project of liberation.”
He said that Hamas was now facing two tasks; first, to rebuild all the houses that were destroyed and, second, to show that the Palestinians are capable of targeting any part of Israel.
Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri and other senior officials of the movement told reporters outside Gaza City’s Shifa Hospital that the ceasefire agreement was a “great victory for the Palestinian people and resistance.”
Zuhri said: “We scored victory when we destroyed the myth of the army that can’t be defeated and when we closed the Zionist airspace, shelled cities and forced Zionists to go into hiding and flee the areas close to Gaza.”
The Hamas spokesman said that his movement has issued an order “allowing ‘settlers’ to return to their homes near the Gaza Strip.”
Zuhri said that the Palestinian achievement was not in securing the opening of the border crossings, but “paving the way for the next phase of liberating Jerusalem and the land of Palestine. Today, we are closer to Jerusalem.”
Senior Israeli officials, however, said that the cease-fire gave Hamas nothing that they have asked for. Channel 2 reported that the deal was foisted upon Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal, who lives in Qatar, by Hamas’s leadership living amid the ruins of Hamas’s victory.
The Egyptian cease-fire proposal was very similar to the one that Israel accepted and Hamas rejected over a month ago, on July 15. The general parameters of the cease-fire is that this one will not be limited in time, that Israel will allow humanitarian aid – under supervision – into Gaza to begin rebuilding, and that within a month both sides will raise other issues.
Israel will raise the demilitarization of the Gaza Strip, and the steps needed to ensure that Hamas does not rearm, while Hamas will demand a seaport, airport, the opening of border crossings, the release of prisoners freed in the Gilad Schalit deal and then rearrested and the transfer of money to pay Hamas salaries.
A month ago these were Hamas’s demands for stopping the fighting, demands that Israel made clear were completely unrealistic.
Senior diplomatic officials said that Hamas’s efforts to bring Turkey and Qatar into the cease-fire process had failed.
“Hamas took the toughest hit it has ever taken and all its dreams of a victory picture failed to materialize,” one senior official said. He said that the IDF hit some 5,200 targets over the last 50 days and killed around 1,000 terrorists, including senior commanders.
The members of the eight-person security cabinet were updated and briefed about the Egyptian proposal, but were not asked to vote on it. This was widely interpreted as a sign that Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon were not confident that they would have mustered enough votes to approve the cease-fire.
Along with Netanyahu and Ya’alon, Finance Minister Yair Lapid and Justice Minister Tzipi Livni would have likely voted for it, while Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman, Economy Minister Naftali Bennett, Public Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch and quite possibly Communications Minister Gilad Erdan would have voted against.
Officials in the Prime Minister’s Office said that the security cabinet in the past authorized Netanyahu and Ya’alon to decide on whether to accept a cease-fire, and so there was no need to once again take the matter to a vote. The official said that the attorney-general gave a legal opinion on this matter.
Earlier in the day, at a conference of jurists held specially at the Leonardo Hotel in Ashkelon, Aharonovitch showed why Netanyahu was hesitant to bring the cease-fire to the security cabinet, saying that “terrorist organizations” need to be subdued, and ”there is no justification in waiting 50 days, and we have the ability to subdue them. We need to make decisions.”
A few hours before the cease-fire went into effect, Aharonovitch said that “we tried another solution, to come to an arrangement.”
Aharonovitch said that he lost his patience for negotiations, “and I think the time has come to subdue them, the job of the army is to defend the citizens of Israel.”
Aharonovitch said that it was okay for differences to be raised in the cabinet and for criticism to be voiced. But, he said, “it is forbidden that things be leaked out form the cabinet. Once and for all there is a need to put an end to these things and a polygraph test needs to be administered once and for all get rid of those who leak.”