Tel Aviv Diary: The Waiting Game Continues. Is the Ceasefire On or Off?

Palestinian fishermen return to the sea during a 72-hour ceasefire in Gaza City August 11, 2014. Siegfried Modola/Reuters

Tel Aviv -- Today was a day of waiting in Israel. Would an agreement be reached with Hamas before the ceasefire runs out tonight at midnight? Might the ceasefire be extended, even if an agreement was not reached? You could not go far – indeed, anywhere in Israel today – without these questions coming up in conversation.

Clearly, Israelis are all hoping this war is over. But as the evening proceeded, the picture became clear that no agreement has been reached between Israel and Hamas in Cairo. The Israeli delegation left Cairo for home this evening. Hamas scheduled a press conference for 9:30 pm. The question remained: Would Hamas agree to extend the ceasefire as Egypt was demanding? A little after 9:00 pm Hamas delayed its press conference. Then, around 9:40 pm, sirens were heard again in Southern Israel as missiles were fired from Gaza. Hamas claimed they were not responsible.

The level of war weariness here is palpable. Israeli TV channels that had been broadcasting special coverage from morning to night since the war broke out did not interrupt their regular programming tonight. When the missiles were fired, a series of orange rectangles appeared on the screen to indicate the cities that had been targeted. The main radio news channel announced there was a "red alert" and returned to the regularly scheduled basketball game.

The Israeli Defense Forces called up more reserves today and called back troops that had been given leave. The army made it clear that if the ceasefire is broken, this time the army would react more vigorously than it did the last time. Was that just a threat? Was the army planning a major action?  

At 11:20pm, word began to filter out that the ceasefire had been extended for an additional five  days. By all accounts, the Egyptians pressured Hamas (as strongly as they could) to extend the ceasefire. Earlier, the Egyptians had presented their own plan for long term ceasefire, but said it would require more time to fully work out the agreement. At the last moment, Hamas agreed to the extension.

It would seem Hamas was not willing to walk away from the Egyptian proposal and return to war – a war which its people do not want to resume. Tonight, the average Israeli is, on the one hand, heaving a sigh of relief as tomorrow may be another quiet day. On the other, Israelis feel frustrated that we all held our breath tonight, questioning whether the war was going to resume or not – knowing  there was nothing we could do about it.

As midnight neared, more rockets were fired at Southern Israel – a total of five. These were not fired in the minutes before the ceasefire was supposed to go into effect but during the "ceasefire."

Will this ceasefire hold? At this moment, it is not clear. Over the past weeks there has been much speculation about the split between the political and military wings of Hamas. Does the continued rocket fire mean that Hamas's political wing is not calling the shots? The Israeli government has ordered the army to respond to the rocket fire. It’s therefore not clear -- as of now -- whether the new ceasefire is now in effect.  

If the ceasefire does hold, the next deadline is Monday night at midnight. It is unlikely that an agreement between the sides will be achieved by then since neither side has been willing to make compromises. Both sides believe they won and are acting accordingly. So Monday night will be another tense night.

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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