Hamas declares cease-fire
Hamas will permit Israel a week to withdraw its forces from the Gaza Strip and lift the blockade.
Israel is withdrawing its forces, despite a few clashes with Hamas in the north of the strip. Hamas has retained its rocket-firing ability, suffered little damage to its smuggling tunnels, and still remains in power.
So what exactly has Israel achieved from this offensive other than causing utter destruction for the lives of the Palestinians?
Hamas also needs to tread water with its people. The Gazans do not pour passion for Hamas as the Shi'ites do for Hezbollah in Lebanon. Of course, the blockade hasn't made Hamas' rule of Gaza easy. Israel hasn't given any indication that it will permanently open the crossings, such negotiations are still continuing in Egypt. The one and major positive element of Hamas is that it is mostly clean and corrupt free. The millions of dollars that will now come in aid from Iran, Qatar et al. will reach the people and help reconstruct what remains.
But the cease-fire, as highlighted below, does not give way for a long-term solution. We have returned to square one. Nothing was achieved, nothing was changed, despite Israel's promises to "change the reality" in Gaza. All Israel has achieved is the killing of any possibility for a peace settlement. Hamas was shifting towards a moderate position and warming to a two-state solution. You can bet that such a shift is off the cards now.
And Abbas? It depends if the Egyptians succeed in persuading Hamas to allow his forces to operate in Gaza. I certainly doubt it, and if Hamas does cave in, Fatah's every step will be scrutinised. It indeed creates a very insecure situation in Gaza, for the Gazans and Israel.
Abbas has come out weaker, and has played into the divisions of the Arab world. Instead of standing unconditionally, shoulder-to-shoulder with his fellow suffering Palestinians (as every president of a nation should), he jumped from Cairo and Riyadh - two Arab states that have become increasingly isolated and resented in the Arab world - singing the king's tune.
Now that the war is over, Abbas' presidency has come into question. Hamas will include this in the negotiations. Technically, Abbas is no longer the president of the Palestinians, as Hamas has thus far refused to recognise his legitimacy. Abbas needs Hamas' approval to continue his term, which appears unlikely unless a deal can be reached in Egypt.
Thus, for the moment, all eyes are on the diplomatic front in Cairo to see who can gain what out of which deal. Unfortunately, there is no fair arbitrer. The Egyptians, Europeans and Americans want to weaken Hamas, and Syria/Iran want to strengthen it and give it international recognition.
Syria and Iran will be pleased Hamas survived the onslaught, and will strongly push for a settlement that will favour the Islamists. Israel invaded, bombarded, slaughtered, dropped illegal chemical weapons on civilians and still achieved nothing. Hamas' major concern now is for the people of Gaza, and lifting a blockade that has rendered the vast majority of Gazans impoverished.
Israel yesterday declared it has won the war, ended its three-week offensive and ceased fire.
Olmert stated that: "Conditions have been created whereby the goals set at the launch of the operation have been more than fully achieved."
What conditions and goals is he referring to?
Former Israeli Foreign Minister, Shlomo Ben-Ami 'suggested that Israel's assessment that Hamas had been "badly beaten" was wishful thinking.'
The leaders of Israel, aware of its blunders in Lebanon, seem to be keeping a happy face in contrast to the obvious.
At the onset of this war, the Israeli trio of Olmert, Livni and Barak stated clearly it wanted to "change the realities" in Gaza and topple Hamas from power. It soon downgraded their objectives to merely halting rocket fire.
Indeed, Hamas has been inflicted a heavy blow to its arsenal, but neither its core military or political infrastructure has suffered anything it can't recover from. Hamas still retains the ability to launch rockets, and is still in charge of the Gaza Strip.
Also, Israel has arrived at this cease-fire after only 4-days of truly engaging Hamas fighters in urban warfare. Throughout this conflict, Hamas had been trying to lure the IDF into street battles where it knows it can upstage the "invincible army". Wind back the clock 2 years, Hezbollah defeated the Israelis convincingly in urban battles in South Lebanon, preventing an IDF penetration into the country.
Assuredly, the IDF still had a psychological hangover from its last war with Hezbollah, and after 4-days of urban warfare with Hamas in Gaza, the signs weren't promising. Judging by reports from Western, Arab and Iranian media, the IDF did an excellent job of surrounding populated enclaves, but failed to penetrate them due to stiff resistance from hundreds of Hamas fighters.
Western media reports of Israel entering a dense neighbourhood were often conflicted several hours later when Iran's PRESS TV would announce that the IDF had retreated from the same neighbourhood due to heavy resistance.
It became obvious that this mission was going nowhere.
Israel was faced with stark choices.
1/ Withdraw without achieving its objectives and lose the support of the Israeli people.
2/ Sign an Egyptian cease-fire that will pave the way for its withdrawal, lift the siege, and work out a way to end weapons smuggling (which I believe to be entirely impossible to achieve, weapons will always find their way into Gaza). The Egyptian cease-fire doesn't hand Israel its objectives, and the Israelis know this. Also, any cease-fire deal would automatically recognise Hamas as the legitimate ruler of Gaza, which is in essence a victory for Hamas.
3/ Continue fighting to a dead-end, and risk a high death toll of IDF should it continue in urban warfare. The Israelis are aware that it is not going to win, and if it continues, the outcome will be akin to the 2006 Lebanon War.
4/ Unilaterally declare a cease-fire. This option avoids signing a deal with Hamas, but instead takes the spotlight off Israel and places it on Hamas. Israel will remain in Gazan territory, the siege will continue, but instead of Israeli guns being offensive, it will be retaliatory to any Hamas attempt to evict Israel from Gaza.
The Israeli cease-fire is bogus. It will not achieve an end to this current conflict, and it isn't designed to. It is merely a PR attempt to relieve the Israelis of the intense world pressure it is under by placing the ball in Hamas' court.
Israeli forces have no legal right to be in Gaza, and its siege is a crime against humanity. Not that Israel ever cared for international law, but these two factors prevent the cease-fire from having any legitimacy.
Israel must withdraw, lift its blockade and sign a truce with Hamas. Israel is trying to avoid this humiliating ending, but it is still in a quagmire. The Israeli public does not support a re-occupation of Gaza, and won't stomach any long-term IDF commitments to the territory.
Hamas has vowed to continue fighting, as it should whilst Israel remains on Hamas' legal territory. The Islamists won the fairest elections ever held in the Arab world in 2005, and was forced to compromise its power with an increasingly unpopular Western-backed Fatah. Therefore, Hamas is the legitimate, democratically elected ruler of the Gaza Strip.
Would Israel permit Hamas fighters to remain in Sderot or Ashkelon and choke these cities with a crippling blockade? Or Hezbollah fighters in Kiryat Shmona?
How does Israel plan to get out of the mess they created?
It cannot leave without appearing humiliated, and it cannot remain without causing internal public anger at another occupation of Gaza.
Its desire, backed by the US, to reinstate Fatah's influence in the Gaza Strip won't work. Hamas, under intense pressure from Syria and Iran, is rejecting Egypt's cease-fire proposal to allow Fatah forces to monitor the Rafah Crossing. Mahmoud Abbas has been weakened by Israel's war on Gaza. As Hamas' popularity amongst Palestinians and Arabs soar, his image as a hapless, corrupt Israeli puppet has been made clear for all.
Despite Israel and the US' attempt to portray an Israeli victory, and indeed, a change in Gaza, the only reality obvious is that nothing has changed.
Israel is stuck, and Olmert's attempt to assure the Israeli people that all is under control is far from convincing. The fighting will go on.