Monday, July 14, 2014

Israel And Hamas - Take The Deal

Egypt has floated a cease-fire agreement that could bring an end to violent hostilities between Israel and Hamas. The deal, which calls for a cease-fire followed by high-level talks in Cairo, is an important opportunity for both sides.

Operation Protective Edge has hurt Hamas' ability to strike Israel. One Israeli intelligence estimate (which may be exaggerated) says 55% of Hamas' rocket launchers and 40% of their rocket arsenal were destroyed. Its unity agreement with Fatah is fraying further as Palestinian Prime Minister Abbas condemns Hamas rocket attacks. Hamas leader in Gaza Ismail Haniyeh's comments tonight indicated there may also be some policy disagreements between himself and Hamas' leader Khaled Meshaal who has spent much of the conflict building connections in Qatar.

Israel has suffered some of the most intense rocket salvos in recent history. Daily life has been significantly disrupted across the country, including in major population centers. Some Israelis have sustained serious injuries including two Bedouin girls today, one of whom is in critical condition. Israelis remain fearful and bomb shelters remain open. Prime Minister Netanyahu is under pressure from the far right to start a ground operation that Israel will not win and that will further degrade Israel's already bad international standing. Israel is also under pressure from human rights groups and the international community to cease attacks which are killing and injuring innocent Palestinians along with Hamas operatives.

The United States should remain quiet in this period. Any appearance that the US supports the agreement will make it harder for Hamas to sign without looking like it is capitulating to Western interests. It will also complicate the US' ability to apply pressure on the Sisi government in Egypt during a critical period in the country's history. Upon concluding the agreement, however, the US would do well to express support for all parties and offer support to help maintain the agreement.

This cease-fire agreement is an opportunity for both sides to claim victory. Hamas can claim it forced Israel to sign an agreement after targeting its cities. Israel can argue it forces Hamas to a cease fire through the success of Operation Protective Edge. A cynic would argue that both sides have only worn each other down after weeks of fighting and over 170 people killed. However this opportunity is one that would halt violence and put policy options back on the table that would move both sides' interests forward. It's time for Israel and Hamas to take the deal and stop the fighting.