Egyptian FM Ahmed Abu El Gheit (Photo: NATO)
Hamas's press conference did not yield a major breakthrough for Israel. Although Hamas seems to have reversed its earlier opposition to a cease fire, its public statements appear designed to dispel the sense that it is conceding anything. Furthermore, Hamas's various branches are sending out contradictory messages, as usual. It might be best to ignore what they have to say though, and to focus on the messages being sent out by Egypt and by Hamas-Gaza.
According to the Egyptian Foreign Minister, Hamas has agreed to the Egyptian version of the cease fire, which calls for an immediate end to the "aggression against Gaza," an opening of the crossings, and the withdrawal of the [Israeli] troops from the Strip. The Hamas people ("our brothers in Hamas") have conveyed their agreement to the Egyptians, who will in turn pass it on to the Israelis (Ha'aretz):
שר החוץ המצרי, אחמד אבו אל-ריט אמר הערב, כי החמאס הסכימה לנוסחה המצרית להפסקה מיידית של התוקפנות על עזה, פתיחת המעברים ונסיגת הכוחות בפנים הרצועה. לדבריו, נציגי החמאס הודיעו לאנשי המודיעין המצרי על עמדתם ובכוונת מצרים להעביר לישראל את מה שהושג בדיונים עם האחים מהחמאס.
These kinds of terms again seem unacceptable to me. Of course, there is a chance that the goal here is to allow Hamas to save face in public. The problem is that Hamas itself seems to think the cease fire makes too many concessions to Israel. Muhamad Nasr, a member of the political wing of Gaza, who took part in the negotiations with Egypt, disagreed with the announcement that Hamas had agreed to the Egyptian initiative. He elaborated that Hamas still has problems with aspects of the agreement:
מוחמד נאסר חבר הלשכה המדינית של החמאס שהיה שותף לשיחות הסתייג מההודעה לפיה היוזמה המצרית מקובלת על החמאס. לדבריו, ההיענות של החמאס למאמצי המצרים, אין משמעותם כי החמאס הסכים ליוזמה המצרית. יש עדיין סוגיות במחלוקת ואנחנו עדיין דוחפים את הנושא.
One positive note is that, at least according to Al-Arabiya, Hamas has agreed to the deployment of Palestinian Authority police officers to guard the Rafah border crossing, together with European monitors. Such an agreement represents a blow to Hamas, which had kicked the PA out of Gaza earlier. It would also amount to a victory for Egypt and for the other powers supporting Abu Mazen. For Israel, on the other hand, this is not a real victory. Assuming that the PA officers manage to stay in control of the crossing, they will be hard-pressed to do Israel's bidding for it. They do not represent a solution of the arms smuggling problem. And what will happen when the PA and Hamas "reconcile"?
All in all, the agreement looks good for Egypt and the PA. It was interesting to read the Hamas delegation's statement that they had considered only the Egyptian initiative. Mubarak must be pleased that his message to Hamas has hit home: we are your only salvation.
For Israel, on the other hand, Hamas's position is wholly unsatisfactory. Obviously, Israel cannot agree to a cease fire under these terms. Fortunately, Israel has some time to formulate its own conditions and to back them up with the threat of "stage 3," even if opposition to the full-scale deployment of ground forces in Gaza is growing in the military and government.
In other news, according to the IDF, Palestinians fired a phosphorus bomb at Israel yesterday. Human rights organizations have previously accused Israel of using white phosphorus in civilian areas, which, many argue, is illegal under the Geneva Conventions. The Israeli military argues that it employs phosphorus mainly for smoke screens and that its use of the chemical does not violate the conventions. Rights groups have also accused the U.S. of having used the weapon against insurgents in Iraq.