After eight days of hostilities, a ceasefire between Hamas and Israel seems to be holding. But three key issues remain – the ceasefire’s durability, the Israeli public’s concerns about the deal, and whether Egypt can turn its peacemaker role in to peace enforcer. Here is a round up of opinion – from the airwaves, online and in newspapers – to capture the discussion and debate.
Former U.S. Senator George Mitchell was instrumental in helping bring peace to Northern Ireland. As President Barack Obama’s Special Envoy for Middle East Peace, he made no progress and resigned his position in 2011. Mr. Mitchell had, as President Obama himself put it, “the toughest job imaginable.”
He shared his assessment of the Israel-Hamas ceasefire with CNN, just hours after it came in to effect calling it a “big step forward” by bringing an end to the violence.
“On the other hand, past experience tells us it will be difficult to have a really enforceable truce that takes place over a long period of time. They’ve been through this before several times,” he told CNN’S Anderson Cooper.
Nicholas Burns, a former U.S. ambassador and diplomat who served in the Middle East and as U.S. Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs at the State Department during the George W. Bush presidency, takes a different view. In an interview with PBS Newshour, he said “Israelis have made the point that they will defend their country. Their Iron Dome anti-missile system responded very, very well to the rocket attacks.
“And on the Palestinian side, I think Egypt, Turkey, and Qatar will make sure that Hamas adheres to the cease-fire terms. They will put enormous pressure on the Hamas leadership to cease and desist,” he added.
Mr. Burns said he sees a way for the U.S. to help strengthen the ceasefire and make it durable.
“Henry Kissinger after the October war of 1973 negotiated a series of disengagement agreements between the Egyptian and Israeli armies at that time. That's probably where the United States should put its emphasis.
“Can we strengthen and make more durable the cease-fire arrangements in Gaza? Will Israel agree to ease up on the economic restrictions on a very badly suffering civilian population among the Palestinians, and can the Israelis be given, in turn, some confidence that Hamas is not going to strike again? I think that's where you will see the American effort over the next couple of days and couple of weeks,” said Mr. Burns.
Israeli public debate
In an op-ed titled “The head says yes, the stomach says no” in the newspaper Israel Hayom, columnist Boaz Bismuth tries to convey the conflicted feelings felt by many Israelis.
“Our brains are fans [of the agreement] because Hamas took a major hit. Hamas commander Ahmed Jabari left the arena forever and most of the long-range rockets Hamas could launch were destroyed,” writes Mr. Bismuth, citing several more reasons why the head support the ceasefire deal.
“But our stomachs are churning because even if we won, it was not a decisive victory. In the world of imagery in which we all live, the sense of victory is no less important than the win itself. We must admit that the operation ended with Hamas raising its head. We would prefer to see the operation end with a headless Hamas,” says Mr. Bismuth.
Israeli Noam Sheizaf, who writes for 972mag.com, cautions any rush to conclusions about the ceasefire agreement and what it means for Israel.
“It’s too early to estimate the long-term effect of operation Pillar of Defence. What seems like a victory at present could turn out to be a defeat, and vice versa. The Second Lebanon War was considered a failure for Israel both locally and internationally, but it seems that it caused more trouble for the Hezbollah than anyone imagined at the time,” writes Mr. Sheizaf.
“Similarly, Israelis celebrated the success of Cast Lead in 2009, but none of the operation’s stated goals were met, and the devastating toll in Palestinian lives that assault took ended up haunting Israel,” he adds.
The backlash against the Israeli leadership following the ceasefire agreement prompted a reply from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Facebook, as reported by Mr. Sheizaf: “I realize that there are citizens who expect a harsher military action and we may very well need to do that. But at present, the right thing for the State of Israel is to exhaust this possibility of reaching a long-term cease-fire. As Prime Minister, I have the responsibility, and it is the highest responsibility, to make the right steps to ensure our security. That is what I have done and it is what I will continue to do.”
Some of the strongest criticism comes from the Israeli right. "The goals were not achieved. There is no security for the residents of southern Israel and of central Israel. Deterrence was not restored. There was no resolution. Hamas achieved exactly what it wanted,” said Shaul Mofaz, Kadima party leader, according to Reuters. Mr. Netanyahu’s handling of the hostilities will likely be an election issue as Israelis prepare to vote in two month’s time.
Egypt enforcing the ceasefire
Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi has received widespread praise for helping deliver a ceasefire agreement between Hamas and Israel. There was a great deal of skepticism whether Mr. Morsi, whose roots are in the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood movement, would be of help or an obstacle towards any deal.
But only a day after Mr. Morsi helped negotiate a ceasefire agreement, he is coming under pressure from the head of the Muslim Brotherhood.
"The enemy knows nothing but the language of force," said Mohammed Badei, who is described as the General Guide of the Muslim Brotherhood. "Be aware of the game of grand deception with which they depict peace accords," he is quoted by Associated Press in a statement issued Thursday.
The comment only highlights Mr. Morsi’s balancing act: keeping his base happy while fulfilling Egypt’s obligations in its 1979 peace treaty with Israel and as a peace broker in the Israel-Palestinian conflict.
“It is surely one of Hamas’s goals to make sure that an Egyptian government beholden to the Muslim Brotherhood embraces Hamas and in so doing takes the first steps to effectively (if not formally) breaking its peace treaty with Israel,” writes Daniel Brumberg , co-director of Democracy and Governance Studies at Georgetown University, in a blog post for Foreign Policy.
“If Morsi cannot accept this smothering embrace, neither can he afford to broker a compromise that simply reinstates another fragile truce and puts Egypt again at risk in a few months. Instead, in the coming months he must clearly signal that a democratic Egypt will now take the lead in pushing all key regional parties towards making an enduring peace,” argues Mr. Brumberg, adding that such an Egyptian role would be a “very hard pill for Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood to swallow.”
The expectation of Hamas and the 1.6 million residents of Gaza is that the ceasefire will lead to a loosening of the blockade by Israel of the Hamas-controlled territory. But Israel wants an effective system of monitoring and stopping the flow of weapons in to Gaza through underground tunnels originating in Egypt. This will be a test for Mr. Morsi’s government - as pointed out by George Mitchell, President Barack Obama’s former envoy to the Middle East.
“Remember this is a vast territory, much of it desert, not very well policed, not very well governed, a lot of competing local interest – the Bedouin interest that are contrary to those of the national government in some cases here,” said Mr. Mitchell during an interview with CNN.
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