US Secretary of State John Kerry (left) meets with Egyptian President Abdel Fatah al-Sisi in Cairo..
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Considering the experience with the previous cease-fires over the last three weeks, all violated by Hamas, it is too early to tell whether the 72-hour one that went into effect Friday morning will indeed hold.
But one thing is clear: what a difference a week makes.
Last Friday US Secretary of State John Kerry presented Israel with a draft of a cease-fire that had Israel seeing red.
That draft – which Israeli officials interpreted as placing Israel and Hamas on par – said the sides would meet in Cairo to “negotiate resolution of all issues necessary to achieve a sustainable cease-fire,” and then essentially spelled out all of Hamas' demands.
Israel's concerns about the tunnels and the rockets were given short shrift, encapsulated in the catch-all phrase -- almost as an after-thought -- that the negotiations would address “all security issues.”
The joint UN-US statement Thursday night announcing the current cease-fire was a different beast altogether, making no mention whatsoever of Hamas' demands, beyond saying that the parties will be going to Egypt for negotiations aimed at reaching a “durable cease-fire,” and that “the parties will be able to raise all the issues of concern in these negotiations.”
This proposal was very similar to the original Egyptian proposal put on the table back on July 15, the eighth day of the fighting, which Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu accepted, and Hamas rejected. That proposal called for a 48-hour cease-fire, after which the sides would hold indirect negotiations in Cairo over a more sustainable arrangement.
At that time, some 190 Palestinians had been killed in the fighting, but Hamas rejected the deal, miffed because their demands were not met and they were not consulted by Egypt in formulating the proposal. Now, two weeks later, a badly beaten and bruised Hamas has accepted something very similar.
Hamas, aided by Qatar and Turkey, rejected the original Egyptian proposal, thinking they could dictate better terms. They wanted the negotiations to start while they were still firing rockets on Israel, and they had four primary demands: opening the border crossings, lifting the blockade, allowing the transfer of funds to pay salaries, and getting Israel to release the prisoners it released as part of the Gilad Schalit deal in 2011, but re-arrested last month following the kidnap and murder of the three Israeli teens.
Talks on those issues will surely take place in Cairo now, but not with Hamas having the upper hand, not with Hamas able to dictate terms, not with Hamas firing rockets, and not without Israel being able to set its terms. A key term will be conditioning any easing of the blockade, or opening of the borders, to ensuring that following this round of fighting, Hamas will be unable to rebuild and re-arm.
The formula likely to animate Israel's policy is that the scope of reconstruction will be dependent on the extent of demilitarization. Or, in other words, destroy the underground terror kingdom, and be able to build Gaza above-ground.
And here Egypt's role will be essential, as it controls the main border crossing at Rafah, and will be able to control not only who and what goes in and out, but also which money is allowed in for reconstruction.
Will it be money from Qatar, which supports Hamas and radical political Islam? Or will it be money from Saudi Arabia, which supports Egypt and the Palestinian Authority and is petrified of the type of radical political Islam that Hamas represents?
While Qatar and Turkey, Hamas' primary backers alongside Iran, were mentioned in the draft presented to Israel last week -- something else that infuriated Jerusalem -- in the current cease-fire announcement they were not singled out for mention.
The major imponderable right now is the tunnels. Friday’s cease-fire allows for forces on the ground to remain in place, something else not mentioned in last week's proposal, but makes no mention of what is, and is not, included in the cease-fire.
Israel has said that it will continue work to destroy the terrorist tunnels, and it remains to be seen how Hamas will respond if indeed the IDF blows up additional tunnels during the cease-fire period.
Hamas rejected the Egyptian proposal over two weeks ago thinking that one of two things would happen: it would either succeed in carrying out a spectacular attack that would shake Israel to the core, after which they could claim victory; or the mounting civilian casualties would compel the US and Europe to force Israel into a cease-fire on its terms.
Neither of that transpired.