The End of the Ceasefire Looms. Hamas’s Impossible Demands

Gaza shelling
A Palestinian rides past residential buildings in Beit Lahiya town, which witnesses said was heavily hit by Israeli shelling and air strikes during the Israeli offensive, in the northern Gaza Strip August 7, 2014. Mohammed Salem/Reuters

There are less than 11 hours left to the initial Hamas-Israeli ceasefire. Israelis were quick to celebrate the seeming end of the war by returning to the shopping malls. Last night  the cafes and bars in Tel Aviv were full – like they have not been since before the war.

Many members of the kibbutzim surrounding Gaza have returned home. The call centers of the major travel centers and airlines were having a hard time keeping up with all of the inquiries from Israelis trying to book trips in what is left of the summer vacation. The Civil Command informed everyone they could return to their regular routines.

Reservists have been released from service and enlisted army troops have been reassigned. I wrote that I had posted what I hoped would be the last installment of my diary during this war. The only problem is we all forgot to ask Hamas what their plans would be.

This afternoon Hamas declared that if its demands are not met by tonight it will resume firing missiles at Israel tomorrow morning at 8:00 am, when the ceasefire ends. According to reports over the course of the day, Hamas has stiffened its position and is completely unwilling to compromise – not on the essential issues. nor in terms of extending the ceasefire.

The situation is further complicated by Egypt's position. The Egyptians are in no rush to make concessions on the question of the Rafah crossing [between Egypt and Gaza]. Their position remains that Rafah is a bilateral matter – between Egypt and Gaza – and has nothing to do with an Israeli-Hamas ceasefire.

Throughout this conflict, Israel has misjudged Hamas. Before the war began, all of Israel's greatest analysts said that Hamas had no interest in going to war with Israel again. They contended that Hamas had everything to lose and would not want to risk a war. Israeli analysts, and with them the rest of the world, still seem to be making the same mistake.

There are 1,800 dead, 32 tunnels destroyed and only 30 percent of Hamas missile supplies remain. Logic would suggest that Hamas should accept a ceasefire and get whatever it can get. However, there never was any logic in the current war. From the start, Hamas felt it was losing on all fronts, and took the chance that a war would reshuffle the deck and leave them in a better position.

Unfortunately for Hamas, they were counting on three main strategies: their rockets, their tunnels and world opinion. Thanks to Iron Dome, their rockets totally failed to do any more than limited psychological damage to Israel. Their tunnels were used successfully for small scale attacks against Israeli troops. However, they failed in their main goal of kidnapping Israeli soldiers.

Lastly, while the destruction of buildings and deaths of civilians in Gaza has certainly affected world public opinion and turned additional people against Israel, with the massive bloodshed that has plagued the Arab world in the last two years (especially in Syria), it is very hard for the current deaths to alter world opinion in the same ways it would have in the past.

What does Hamas want? Hamas has demanded that the distance Gazan fishermen are permitted to fish be increased – a demand to which Israel has agreed. It has demanded that the salaries of its employees be paid. Again, Israel agreed.

It has demanded allowing the free flow of people through the Erez crossing – on this matter Israel has only offered to be more flexible. Hamas has demanded the free flow of cement. To this demand Israel has agreed only under the condition of international control and supervision.

Hamas has further demanded the free flow of "dual use" items. Israel has said no to this. Israel has also responded with an absolute no to Hamas's demands for a port and airfield. Hamas also is insisting that its members who were arrested in the West Bank be released. Israel has also responded no to that demand.

Israel has offered to help with the wounded and with anything else it can in the area of humanitarian aid. It will be very hard for Hamas to explain to its people why it went to war and did not gain anything. Therefore, Hamas is threatening to resume the rocket fire at Israel, even if it makes no sense and they can gain little.  Tonight its spokesman warned of a long war of attrition with Israel if its demands are not met.

At this point, I would predict the chances of war resuming tomorrow morning are at least 50/50. Someone might still pull a rabbit from their hat overnight, but I would not bet on it. I hope that if Hamas does resume its fire, Israel will do its best to ignore it. While that will be hard to do, unless Israel is  willing to remove the Hamas rule from Gaza, there is little Israel can do but stand aside and let Iron Dome do its job. We should order a few more batteries and hope for the best.

If we ignore them, Hamas might finally realize there is little they can do, but accept the current terms on the table.

Political historian Marc Schulman is the editor of An archive of his recent daily reports from Tel-Aviv can be found here. He is also a columnist for the Times of Israel.

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