During the last couple of days, the United States, the EU and its single member states along with other Arab and international players have been calling for a ceasefire which would guarantee the – at least temporary – cessation of hostilities between the Hamas terrorist movement and the State of Israel.
Egypt has been at the forefront of the aspiring brokers of such an agreement and President Morsi has increasingly been portraying himself as a possible deal breaker. In the meantime the EU and the United States are moving to push Israel into what they consider a policy of restraint vis-à-vis the growing escalation.
While discussions at the highest level are underway, what appears to be crystal clear is that no matter the imposed diplomatic outcome, the essential divergences between Hamas and Israel will persist and these opposing interests will remain at the center of the security problem for the people living within the range of rockets’ barrages and under Hamas rule.
For Hamas the underlying objectives which may lead to some sort of a truce are the following: 1) all border crossings to and from Gaza should be opened 24 hours a day, a step which would effectively end the embargo over Gaza, 2) Israel would need to stop targeted strikes against its personnel and 3) it requires to be able to keep all of its arms and have the rest of Gaza’s terrorist movements to remain armed as well.
On the opposite side of the spectrum the Jewish State demands that: 1) all terror groups should be disarmed; 2) a guaranteed halt to rocket attacks on its territory and a 3) mutally agreed long-term ceasefire.
It is clear that the two belligerents’ objectives and standards are absolutely parallel and a point of contact may not be obtainable for the moment.
As such, why are the United States, the European Union and the majority of Arab States calling for a ceasefire? What would be the expected results of such a strategy?
Part of the international rhetoric is based on limiting the suffering of civilians and unarmed populations. Yet, it is hardly debatable that no imposed or unilateral ceasefire will help solving the solution.
A similar situation has been visible at the end of Operation Cast Lead, when Israel single-handily ceased operations. Following the 2008-2009 military maneuvers against Hamas, a period of relative calm has been verified.
Relative as the number of cross border attacks reached an all-time low of “only” 231 registered rocket and mortars attacks in 2010.
These ceasefires do indicate one reality: the cessation of combat operations following tactical victories by Israel did not lead to a long lasting security arrangement.
Provided the international community is sincerely interested in bettering the lives of civilian populations in Israel and Gaza, a ceasefire for the simple sake of putting a stop to hostilities should be avoided as it does not solve any of the existing issues and does not help in changing the ideology behind the conflict.
There are no doubts that, even if Hamas offensive arsenal may be depleted after successful operations by the Israeli military, the terrorist movement will use its regional patronage network to acquire additional weaponry and work on closing the technological gap it now separates it from Israel. A period of calm may follow the interruption of operation Pillar of Defense but it would not represent a concrete step forward as Hamas would maintain the will to wage war against Israel.
The reason why today the local population of Gaza is undergoing a certain degree of socio-economic hardships is directly linked to the government in place in the Strip. By imposing an elusive end to hostilities, the international community will enable Hamas to brag about their alleged “victory” against Israel while it further fortifies its position in Gaza, locking the locals deeper into a downward spiral. Surviving through international aid and blocked under an authoritarian and fundamentalist government will never represent a step forward economic development and stability for the people of Gaza.
A long lasting peace is possible only when residents of the Gaza strip will have the opportunity to renounce to terrorism and its death oriented mentality while entering into a situation bent toward negotiating with Israel and recognizing it as a sovereign State.
Due to the present hardships this is not a realist situation as long as Arab and regional powers are not fully dedicated in providing the people of Gaza with a true alternative to violence which would enable them to renounce to Hamas ideology.
This will not be an option as long as the terrorist movement is maintained into power by its supporters and the indirect action of the international community. Nothing indicates that the Hamas reacts positively to limited military actions. True deterrence is also highly damaged by incessant calls by the international community to restrain the Israelis use of force.
In the present scenario, there are effectively two options: either Israel is able to conduct a full scale operation eradicating and annulling the Hamas threat or the incumbent ceasefire will only solidify the present status quo.
A status quo which sees an average of 3 attacks per day in Israel (since 2001) and which is maintaining the Palestinians living in Gaza stuck into a war-oriented mentality.
As the peace prone section of the Gaza population represents only a scattered minority, if the status quo is preserved this portion of the local inhabitants will remain unable to weigh heavily against the Hamas terrorist movement.
The death of civilians and the general loss of lives is and will remain an horrible tragedy which should at all times be avoided, nevertheless the US, the EU along with other good willed states need to honestly face their aspirations and help Israel remove Hamas, the major cause of conflict, which is leading to the suffering of both Israelis and Palestinians.
A ceasefire which does not include a full disarmament of Hamas and the normalization of Gaza relations with Israel will only benefit the terrorist movement and will prepare the ground for a future and possibly deadlier round of violence.