Tel Aviv Diary: Israelis Wary of Cease-Fire

Israeli soldiers
Israeli soldiers prepare armoured personnel carriers (APCs) at a staging area outside the northern Gaza Strip July 27, 2014. Ronen Zvulun/Reuters

Today was one of uncertainty here in Israel. Was there going to be a ceasefire or was there not? Israel stated it was willing to extend the ceasefire last night. Despite Israel’s willingness at 8:03, when the 12 hours ceasefire ended, Hamas fired missiles into Israel. At 11:30, a mortar was fired and landed among Israeli troops stationed near the border in Israel and killed one. At midnight, Israel officially offered to extend the ceasefire for another 24 hours.

Hamas was silent, but answered in the morning by firing missiles deep into Israel. So it seemed that there would be no ceasefire. Then, suddenly at 1:30, Hamas asked for a humanitarian ceasefire. Israel did not answer immediately, and at 2:03 Hamas fired additional missiles into Israel. Hamas fired missiles into Israel all afternoon. Meanwhile, Israel told the United Nations that it was unwilling to officially declare a ceasefire, since Hamas had violated every ceasefire thus far. But, Israel added that silence would be greeted with silence. Israeli commanders in the field were ordered, as of 2:00 PM, not to begin any initiatives against Hamas and to only respond to Hamas’s actions.

The expectations are that, with the Feast of Eid al-Fitr taking place tomorrow, for at least the next 24 hours there will be, more-or-less, a ceasefire. However, as I write this, missiles were fired at several cities in Israel. What will happen now is unclear.

At this point, the Israeli public are not in favor of a ceasefire. An unprecedented 87% of the public is opposed to a ceasefire, with 67% of the public believing that the only goal of the project is to end the rule of Hamas in Gaza. I can not think of any time in Israel’s history, since the ’73 Yom Kippur War, that the Israeli public was as united. This is despite what, for Israel, has been the heavy loss of life over 40 soldiers have died. 19 days of running in to the shelters has convinced the Israeli public that the only solution is to end the rule of Hamas in Gaza.

Interestingly, despite the overwhelming support for making the goal of the war to end the rule of Hamas in Gaza, Prime Minster Netanyahu and others in the security cabinet have not adopted that goal. The reason seems clear. Any attempt to advance deeper into Gaza will, without a doubt, result in an increase in the number of deaths and destruction on the people of Gaza. While Hamas seems to welcome that, the Israeli government has been doing all that it can to not fall into this trap. 

If Israel has had a hard time dealing with the pictures of death and destruction in Gaza until now, any additional  advance will only result in many more worse images. If a diplomatic solution is not found after the current temporary ceasefire, Israel may feel forced to move forward. At the moment, Israel has destroyed 21 of the 32 tunnels and it continues throughout the ‘sort-of’ ceasefire to carefully destroy the remaining tunnels.

Today, the Israeli press published the full text of Secretary Kerry’s peace proposal.  Most of the discussion today in Israeli media tried to understand how Kerry could be so naive with his proposals. The overall consensus was that Kerry hurt much more then he helped. First he rushed to come and do something, despite Israel and Egypt begging him to wait.

What seems most astounding to Israelis is the fact that Kerry seemed to have developed his plans with Turkey and Qatar, the most extreme of the Muslim states that oppose Israel. Turkey and Qatar are the two countries closest to Hamas and instead of working with Egypt or the Palestinian Authority, Kerry came up with a plan that he developed with them. One of the leaders of the Palestinian Authority said today that Kerry just does not understand the politics of the Arab world.

The Israeli government, who rejected the plan Friday night, was stunned by a plan that talked about all of the specific needs of Hamas, while only referring to Israeli security needs in the most general of ways. In Israel, the belief is that if and when a ceasefire is reached, it will only be reached through the diplomatic efforts of the Egyptians.

Political historian Marc Schulman is the editor of historycentral.com. 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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