Truce holds but both sides keep fingers on trigger

By Anshel Pfeffer, August 7, 2014
An Israeli soldier in a Merkava tank near the border with Gaza

An Israeli soldier in a Merkava tank near the border with Gaza

Israeli negotiators were seeking to hammer out a lasting truce with Hamas as the JC went to press on Wednesday night.

It is unclear, however, what that agreement will look like as Hamas refuses to contemplate dismantling its military infrastructure and the Israeli government has yet to formulate a detailed alternative to its policy of blockading the Gaza Strip.

Delegations from Israel and Gaza were holding separate meetings in Cairo on Wednesday to try to reach an agreement on the future of the Strip as a ceasefire, which began on Tuesday morning, finally held after 29 days of fighting and seven broken truces.

On Monday night, Palestinian groups agreed to the Egyptian ceasefire proposal - essentially the one that had been on the table for over three weeks - and unconditionally ended all warfare at 8am on Tuesday morning.

Israel agreed and, on Tuesday, all its ground forces left the Gaza Strip, taking up "defensive positions" on its borders.

UN proposal: Lieberman

UN proposal: Lieberman

Before leaving, the IDF carried out an intensive operation to destroy 32 tunnels excavated by Hamas. Nearly half of the 82,000 IDF reservists called up for the operation were discharged.

Although a sustained period of calm appeared more likely on Wednesday, the Israeli government did not have a detailed plan on Gaza's future - other than maintaining the blockade.

On Monday, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman surprised members of the Knesset Foreign and Defence Affairs Committee with the suggestion that they "consider returning the Gaza Strip and borders to a UN mandate". So far, he has found no backing for the proposal.

One former official at the National Security Council said that "in the past we tried to put forward ideas on how to open up Gaza, despite Hamas, but it never got onto the agenda".

Another former senior adviser in the Prime Minister's office said: "We have an opportunity now to put forward a vision for Gaza's economic development, which will be linked to the demilitarisation of Hamas and the other Palestinian organisations there, under international supervision. That will take creative thinking but this is the moment to try such a plan."

One major obstacle is very low level of trust between the Israeli government and the PA, which would be the main party to implement any such future plan in Gaza.

As the IDF withdrew from Gaza, recriminations began within Israel, mainly from the right, that the operation had not been not intensified and the Hamas leadership remained in place.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had resolutely opposed expanding the operation and faced down cabinet ministers who were initially against accepting the ceasefire on Monday night. While surveys carried out this week gave the prime minister high approval ratings, nearly half the Israeli public was in favour of continuing the campaign and bringing down Hamas.

At a press conference on Wednesday, IDF Chief of Staff Lieutenant General Benny Gantz said: "The result in Gaza is destructive, and the tragic blame is on the leaders of Hamas who operated from civilian centres. Hamas has suffered a very heavy blow to all its strategic and tactical capabilities."

Last updated: 4:45pm, August 7 2014