Decision on Gaza cease-fire postponed

Gov't sources say Olmert, substantially weakened by Talansky affair, can't pass a cease-fire deal.

barak olmert 224 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
barak olmert 224
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert was scheduled to meet Sunday morning with Defense Minister Ehud Barak and Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni to discuss the Egyptian proposal for a cease-fire in Gaza, but a final decision on the matter was not expected until next week. The decision to hold the meeting - the first time the trio were to meet since Barak called for Olmert to step down in light of the latest corruption investigation, and Livni called for primaries in Kadima - came after a discussion Olmert held with Barak Saturday night on the situation. An official in the Prime Minister's Office said that the recommendations from that meeting would be brought to the security cabinet the following week for approval. Government sources said it was difficult to imagine that Olmert, who has been substantially weakened politically as a result of the Talansky affair, could now accept a cease-fire deal. Furthermore, without the release of kidnapped soldier Cpl. Gilad Schalit or an iron-clad guarantee to stop weapons smuggling into Gaza, it is unlikely such a deal will gain the public's favor. "He would come under intense criticism from the Right, and the government isn't strong enough to withstand it," one source said. By the same token, the source also said it was unlikely Olmert would now approve a massive incursion into the Gaza Strip, and that each of the three ministers who would have to sign off on such an action - Olmert, Livni and Barak - were suspicious of the other's motivations. Instead, the source said, what was more likely was stepped up action inside the area, but not an all-out incursion similar to Operation Defensive Shield in the West Bank in 2002. Amos Gilad, head of the Defense Ministry's Diplomatic-Military Bureau, who was scheduled to travel to Cairo Sunday to brief Egyptian intelligence chief Omar Suleiman on Israel's response to the proposal, will wait another week to go to Egypt until the security cabinet convenes and makes a decision. Defense officials said Israel was disappointed with the proposals, which - despite demands by Barak and Gilad - did not provide for the release of Schalit, who is being held by Hamas in Gaza, or a guarantee that Egypt will stop the weapons smuggling under the Philadelphi Corridor. "This is a watered-down deal," one defense official said. "It is difficult to see how we can accept it." Hamas reportedly rejected the inclusion of Schalit in a truce arrangement at first, though other reports say that the Islamist group subsequently indicated that it was prepared to consider setting Schalit free in exchange for the release of a large number of its prisoners. Hamas also wants Israel to open the crossings into Gaza as soon as rocket fire on southern Israel from Gaza stops. Israel has objected to the demand, conditioning it on progress on Schalit's release and the extent to which the cease-fire is maintained. Last week, Olmert vowed that a solution to the ongoing rocket attacks and mortar shelling of Gaza-area Israeli communities was imminent. "It wouldn't be right to get into details and hold discussions through the headlines," he said last week. "Suffice it to say that we are convinced that the situation in which the South is currently in can in no way continue - the crossroads of decision on how affairs will be managed is very close."