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(photo credit: AP [file])
The pressure is on for another Egyptian-brokered Gaza cease-fire deal between Israel and Hamas. A bad arrangement would further consolidate Hamas's control over the Strip, leave Gilad Schalit in captivity, throw open the crossing points, and allow for the continued smuggling of ever-more lethal armaments under the Philadelphi Corridor. On the plus side, it would deliver southern Israel from enemy bombardment - give or take the occasional "unauthorized" barrage - for about a year.
While Israel has been funneling tens of thousands of tons of humanitarian goods into Gaza - earmarked for UNRWA, the World Food Program, the World Health Organization and others; along with truckloads of diesel fuel and cooking gas - the Palestinians have "supplied" Israel with deadly cross-border ambushes and fusillades of rockets and mortars. Hamas explains that in the absence of a formal cease-fire, it will do nothing to hinder other "resistance groups."
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert insists that Israel "will not go back to the rules of the game" which prevailed prior to Operation Cast Lead. But it sure does look that way: Aggression from Gaza is met with Israeli airstrikes, tit-for-tat. Citizens in the south are again having to calculate whether it is safe to walk their children 30 meters to kindergarten, or more prudent to drive.
Our leaders - eight days from national elections - are talking tough, though at cross-purposes. Hamas is taking no chances; its key operatives are back in hiding.
The debate over whether the war ended "too soon" is being answered in the affirmative every time an insolent Hamas violates the interim cease-fire.
Arab media reports say that a tahadiyeh, or temporary truce, could kick in as early as Thursday if, in Hamas's words, Israel stops "torpedoing" Egyptian efforts.
WHAT kind of cease-fire would benefit Israel's interests? A one-year hiatus in Kassam and mortar attacks in return for lifting the "siege" is a bad idea. Been there, done that.
A good deal would give Israel a buffer zone between it and the Strip. It would provide for tight control over the crossing points from Egypt, and from Israel, into Gaza. Our security is dependent on effective monitoring by reliable parties of who comes in and goes out, and what material is brought into the Strip.
An effective deal would have Egypt genuinely securing its side of the border; and we may be starting to see this happening. Lately, Egyptian authorities have exploded several tunnels on their side; and with outside support (under international pressure), they've installed security cameras and sensors. Cairo is taking advice from US engineers on how to interdict the tunnels, and they've deployed better-motivated, better-trained personnel.
While the main responsibility for security along the Philadelphi Corridor and the Rafah crossing necessarily falls on Cairo - it must ensure that terrorists and money for terror do not routinely flow into the Strip - Western-trained Palestinian Authority personnel, accompanied by EU monitors, should be on the Gaza side.
Under no circumstances should the crossings be opened, beyond humanitarian aid, until Hamas frees Gilad Schalit in an exchange Israeli security officials can live with. So far, Hamas has not budged from its demand that Israel release 1,000 handpicked inmates involved in some of the most monstrous bloodbaths of the second intifada. This must not happen.
For a viable cease-fire, it's clear the Palestinians need to put their house in order. But the PA and Hamas remain in violent confrontation.
The reconstruction of Gaza is also dependent on Palestinian reconciliation. Donors should insist that the Palestinians drop their opposition to a genuine rebuilding of the territory that does away with the refugee camps and squalid townships. But for the Palestinian predilection to wallow in victimization, Gaza could today be a Singapore on the Mediterranean.
ISRAEL'S outgoing cabinet must not allow itself to be stampeded into a bad cease-fire deal. The harsh reality may be that once a new government is formed, it will find it necessary to order the IDF to retake and hold the Philadelphi Corridor, along with parts of northern Gaza.
If the Arab world and the international community don't want that to happen, now is the time for them to lean on Hamas.