Saturday, February 14, 2009

Between the Lines: What's the Point of a Phony Truce?

This article appeared in The Jerusalem Post.

Primerprez can't help but wonder what the point of it all is.

If there was a truce that was observed, which not only means no rocket attacks but also not being used by Hamas to smuggle in more arms for the next round, and which did not involve releasing a thousand terrorists to be trained for the next round, it might make sense.

Unfortunately, we can already predict what will happen, regardless of the actual terms.

Hamas and other terror groups will never completely stop firing rockets at Israeli civilians; they will merely modulate the fire, trying to keep it just below the threshold which would bring a meaningful response by Israel. As time goes on, this threshold will be slowly raised.

A significant proportion, if not all, of the terrorists released by Israel will quickly go back to their favorite activity: attempting to murder Jews.

Eventually, Hamas will have reached the point where it feels prepared for another full-scale assault on Israeli civilians, this time most likely having longer range rockets capable of hitting Tel Aviv, and another war will break out, this time far more deadly, for both sides, than the last.

The Right Way

It's possible to have a sensible truce, even if it's not a permanent truce, provided it's done the right way.

Rather than Israel beginning with a position and then slowly capitulating to all the Arab demands before winding up with a truce that's still immediately violated by the Arabs while the world pressures Israel to continue to allow its people to be terrorized, Israel should simply stick to the reasonable requirements it stated at the start, beginning with the immediate, unconditional release of Gilad Shalit, untied to any release of terrorists.

Any release of terrorists should be a phased release, beginning very slowly, perhaps ten per week, and not include any terrorists with "blood on their hands." (There is nothing more counterproductive than caving in on previous red lines.)

Any violation of the truce by the Arabs, including any rocket fire by Hamas or any other terror group, any construction or repair of tunnels, any smuggling of weapons, any terror attacks must mean the end of the truce, including the closing of the crossing points, the ending of prisoner releases, and an attack on the terror infrastructure until Hamas is prepared to abide by another truce.

A repeat of past mistakes, where ill-conceived and unobserved (by Hamas) truces simply traded a temporary lessening of attacks in exchange for future more brutal attacks, would be just that, a repeat of past mistakes, but with more tragic consequences, not only for Israel but for the Palestinian Arabs as well.

PMO: There will be no ceasefire until Schalit is released

Israel will not agree to a truce with Hamas in the Gaza Strip without the release of kidnapped IDF soldier Cpl. Gilad Schalit, the Prime Minister's Office said in a statement released on Saturday.

Israel and Hamas have been holding indirect talks through Egyptian mediation since the end of Operation Cast Lead, in mid-January. For Israel, the goal of the negotiations has been to create a long-term ceasefire, and to secure Schalit's freedom; for Hamas, the main objectives are the opening of the border crossings without limitations, the release of Palestinian prisoners held in Israeli jails, and a limit to the length of the ceasefire.

Last week a number of reports surfaced suggesting that an agreement between the two sides was near, but over the weekend new reports surfaced which appeared to negate this possibility.

Israel, according to the report, demanded that the truce instead be unlimited. Sources in Hamas were quoted as saying that if Israel would accept a truce limited in time, Hamas would accept the deal by the end of the weekend. The sources added, however, that should Israel demand a longer truce, that would be rejected.

Another report pointed to a potential problem with the prisoner swap. According to Israel Radio, officials in Jerusalem said that all Palestinian terrorists released would not be allowed to return to either the Gaza Strip or the West Bank. While there was no immediate reaction from Hamas, Ahmed Yussouf, a senior official in the group told the Saudi Okaz paper that the group had demanded the release of 1,400 prisoners in exchange for Schalit.

Despite the conflicting statements and reports, it is clear there has been some movement in negotiations. Accordingly, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is expected to convene the diplomatic-security cabinet, comprised of himself, Defense Minister Ehud Barak and Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, on Saturday evening to discuss the progress that has been made, Israel Radio reported.

Some media outlets have claimed that a deal would be reached by the end of Olmert's term as prime minister. In addition, tempered optimism was voiced by exiled Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal, who on Saturday denied reports that he had claimed the talks had hit a snag.

On Friday, when asked by reporters during a visit to Doha, Qatar, about the cease-fire, Mashaal reportedly said, "It (the truce) was supposed to start on Sunday, but there has been a setback, and it will not start as it was expected."

Some of the key sticking points in the talks have been opening Gaza's borders, preventing weapons smuggling into Gaza and stopping Hamas rocket fire into southern Israel.

Egyptian state-run newspapers Friday quoted Egypt's top mediator, intelligence chief Omar Suleiman, as saying that four obstacles remained to be resolved; "firing rockets, establishing a buffer zone between Gaza and Israel, a Hamas commitment to respect calm and a halt to weapons smuggling" into the Gaza Strip.

Israeli defense officials said the talks were serious and making progress. An initial agreement could involve a partial opening of Gaza's crossings, they said, with a later agreement to include Schalit's release, in return for the release of Palestinian prisoners demanded by Hamas.

The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because the details remain classified.

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