After the traumas of the IDF attacks on Gaza and the attack on the Mercaz Harav Yeshiva in Jerusalem, there has been a lull in violence. Experience teaches that, even when a situation looks really bleak, it may be that secret negotiations are going on. They are denied, of course, but that is for political reasons. It seems there may have been negotiations between Israel and Hamas, perhaps brokered by Egypt. Israel denies such a deal, claiming that Hamas has acted only because of Egyptian pressure, but Mahmoud Abbas says it has been made. Some Israelis are calling for Hamas to be included in the negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians. Hamas claims that the reduction in violence is because Israel realizes its attacks on Gaza have failed to achieve their purpose.
Israel ordered the IDF to show restraint in Gaza and the IDF withdrew ground troops and ceased air attacks. The rocket attacks from Gaza declined dramatically. There are Israeli reports that an informal, unofficial set of rules have been agreed during Condoleeza Rice’s recent visit. However Israel killed five wanted militants on the West Bank, risking retaliation from Islamic Jihad.
It seems that the IDF may have agreed to stop attacks in Gaza if the rocket attacks cease. However air attacks will take place (and have recently taken place) if rockets are fired at Sderot. Apparently the IDF has said it will mount ground attacks if Ashkelon is hit by rockets. The last such ground attack resulted in over 100 Palestinian deaths. It is likely that Hamas has reduced its attacks partly due to pressure from Egypt. General Omar Suleiman, Egyptian chief of intelligence, is due to visit Israel but his visit has been postponed more than once. Egypt is itself unhappy about the extremism of Hamas and its effect on extremists in Egypt which threaten the government. So the Egyptians are keen to help with negotiations and to seek a ceasefire. They will be rewarded by military aid from the US. Amos Gilad, a leading light in Israel’s security establishment has visited Suleiman in Egypt. Apparently Israel has agreed to more Egyptian forces moving to Sinai and to the Rafah border being opened under the control of a joint commission composed of Israel, the Palestinian Authority, Egypt, the EU and the UN. This arrangement could provide a foundation for a ceasefire. Both Hamas and the PA have accepted this agreement, which has been brokered by Egypt. But Hamas is demanding an end to the economic siege of Gaza, which is not fully acceptable to Israel. Hamas also wants its own supporters involved at the Rafah crossing which is a problem for Mahmoud Abbas and the Palestinian Authority. However, it seems that Hamas may be happy with a low-key involvement, allowing Salam Fayyad, PA prime minister, to oversee the security forces, and this may prove acceptable to the PA.
Another helpful move is that Israel and Egypt have agreed that Egypt should largely take over from Israel as the main electricity supplier to Gaza.
However, there is no room for complacency about terrorism. On the Israeli side some very inflammatory statements have emerged from the Israeli right wing concerning revenge for the attack on the Mercaz Harav Yeshiva. Rabbi Dov Lior, a graduate of the yeshiva, now head of the Council of Rabbis of Judea and Samaria, pronounced in 2004 that the IDF was justified in killing innocent people. On the Palestinian side, Israel claims to have intelligence of a number of planned terrorist attacks. Their main concern is at the possibility of a combined Hezbollah, Syrian, Iranian response to the assassination of Imad Mughniyeh.
According to the Lebanese newspaper Al Akhbar, which is linked with Hezbollah, Syria has conveyed to Israel its willingness to hold peace talks, on condition that there is a ceasefire with the Palestinians, that Israel is willing to withdraw from all “occupied Arab territories” and that simultaneous peace talks take place with the Palestinians and the Lebanese. An Arab summit will take place in Damascus between March 25th and 30th.
Meanwhile the Israeli- Palestinian peace talks have resumed
1. For an effective ceasefire between Israel and Hamas. 2. For the failure of revenge attacks by either right wing Israelis or extreme Palestinians. 3. For God to prosper helpful moves by the Arab nations, especially Egypt. 4. For peace between Israel and Syria.