Analysis: The new MOU: Serious commitment, or a straw for Israel to grasp?

A document with the US is a lot easier to get than a cessation of hostilities with Hamas.

livni rice memo signing 248.88 ap (photo credit: )
livni rice memo signing 248.88 ap
(photo credit: )
Sandwiched between her final press conference and public farewell, outgoing US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice made time on her last official working day to throw Israel a lifeline for ending its conflict with Hamas. In a hastily prepared signing ceremony, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni joined Rice in committing to a "memorandum of understanding" for enhancing international efforts to stop Hamas's weapons smuggling. At the ceremony, Livni thanked Rice for concluding this MOU "in record time" - so fast, indeed, that few of the details have been clarified. The documents refers to efforts to combat smuggling of weapons and technology to terrorist groups through military and intelligence cooperation - policies already in place between Israel and the United States, and on paper with allied countries as well. When asked at a press conference about the nuts and bolts of this agreement, and what it provides beyond what's already in place, Livni acknowledged that it was more a vague place to start than a detailed destination. "This is a beginning," she said. "I completely agree that we have now an understanding and it needs to be translated, also in the future, to more concrete measures." She noted that it makes the issue more of a priority, and it could potentially help with further international action and agreements to pressure Iran on weapons supplies, particularly by enlisting NATO in interdicting smuggling from Teheran and Damascus. It also holds out the promise of more US funding for these efforts. But its most important contribution is as a path to a cease-fire. On Friday, Livni called the MOU "a determined, united and effective effort by the international community against terror groups such as Hamas," a primary Israeli stipulation for a cease-fire. It has yet to be seen whether the two-and-a-half page document can deliver that, but what is already clear is that it gives Israel something it can point to as an achievement from its Gaza operation, which it can then use as a reason for winding down its military operations and signing on to a cease-fire - even unilaterally - minutes before the new Obama administration takes over. After all, on the ground right now, little has changed. Hamas is still lobbing rockets at Israel, some of them going farther than ever before; IDF soldier Gilad Schalit is still being held hostage; and Hamas, continuing its shrill call for the destruction of Israel, has been reluctant to make any public statements indicating it would accede to a cease-fire. The last time Israel was in this situation - when it battled Hizbullah in Lebanon 2006 and also couldn't put an end to the Katyusha firing while hostilities raged - Jerusalem was able to claim victory thanks to United Nations Resolution 1701 which called for greater international and Lebanese efforts to prevent Hizbullah from rearming and maintaining its military presence in southern Lebanon. Aside from the fact that 1701 hasn't stopped Hizbullah from restocking its arsenal to the tune of three times what it was in 2006, according to the latest Israeli estimates, in the case of Hamas, Israel didn't want to see the UN play a decisive role. Israeli officials said such a resolution could heighten Hamas's stature by recognizing it as a party and therefore confer on it greater legitimacy. So that left a document with the US, in connection with Egypt-mediated talks, for Israel to make use of. And despite Rice's packed end-of-term schedule and recent brouhaha with Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, that, it turns out, is a lot easier to get than a cessation of hostilities with Hamas.