The World from Berlin: 'Israelis only Trust the Cease-Fire as Far as They Can Throw It'

A cease-fire brokered by Egypt between Hamas and Israel is scheduled to go into effect on Thursday morning. While both sides are hoping the agreement will pave the way to peace, doubts are considerable and German commentators see it more as a lull in a storm that will continue to rage.

A Hamas supporter carries a mock Qassam rocket during a demonstration against Israel.
REUTERS

A Hamas supporter carries a mock Qassam rocket during a demonstration against Israel.

Egypt has successfully negotiated a cease-fire between Hamas and Israel that is scheduled to begin Thursday at 6:00 a.m. local time. If the cease-fire remains stable, it will make lives easier for people living in southern Israel. But how long can it possibly last?

The hope is that the six-month cease-fire can end a year of fighting that has seen over 400 Palestinians and seven Israelis die since Hamas wrested control of the Gaza Strip from Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas's Fatah faction in June 2007.

For the Israelis, it should bring a pause in the shower of daily rocket and mortar attacks launched from the area. And for Gaza's long-suffering 1.4 million Palestinian population, the agreement brings hope of the opening of border crossings to Israel and Egypt and an infusion of much-needed fuel, electricity and food.

The Israelis also hope that the calm might bring an opportunity to negotiate the release of Gilad Schalit, an Israeli soldier kidnapped by Hamas two years ago.

"Thursday will be the beginning, we hope, of a new reality where Israeli citizens in the south will no longer be on the receiving end of continuous rocket attacks," Israeli government spokesman Mark Regev told reporters Wednesday. "Israel is giving a serious chance to this Egyptian initiative, and we want it to succeed."

Regev also called on Lebanon to open "direct, bilateral" peace talks.

His counterpart for Hamas, Sami Abu Zuhri, said: "We in Hamas are committed to what we have declared."

Despite these assurances, both sides view the truce as fragile. For its part, Israel has said it will continue its preparations for large-scale military action should the truce fail.

Speaking at a conference in Berlin on Tuesday, German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said, "The conditions for a peaceful solution are better today than they have been in the last 10 years. The opportunity is here, but time is short."

German commentators don't seem to share this optimism and, instead, view the cease-fire as a tactical move on both sides. While they see such moves as the only eventual way forward, they don't have much faith in this particular one:

The center-left Süddeutsche Zeitung writes:

"Both sides could really use this pause to catch their breath. Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is fighting for his political survival. It would certainly help his standing if Gilad Schalit, the soldier kidnapped by Palestinian militants on June 25, 2006, were freed. Schalit's homecoming out of Gaza should be part of the current agreement. And Hamas wants their share, too: the re-opening of the Gaza border. Hamas needs this success because even its supporters are slowly starting to lose patience."

"Another important news item also emerged Tuesday. A representative of Palestinian President Abbas traveled to Gaza for the first time to negotiate the possibility of a reconciliation between the enemy Hamas and Fatah camps. Meanwhile, French President Nicolas Sarkozy would like to organize an historical handshake between Olmert and Syrian President Bashar Assad in Paris this July. Many are trying to undo the Gordion knot that is the Middle East, but it can only be solved in that way."

The Handelsblatt financial daily writes:

"The motives behind the agreement are disconcerting on both sides because the motives are not entirely peaceable."

"Israel wants to show that it has exhausted all diplomatic options before launching planned military operations in the Gaza Strip. In Jerusalem, people only trust the promised cease-fire as far as they can throw it and fear that extremist splinter groups won't care a bit about Hamas' plans."

"Meanwhile, Hamas will try to take advantage of the cease-fire to strengthen and consolidate its position in Gaza. It will now promote not only its military, but also its domestic agenda, which includes a lot more than just improving the supplies available to Palestinians in Gaza. Israel's agreement to open the borders will contribute to the movement of goods. But for Hamas it's about more than that. At the same time, it also wants to promote the Islamization of Palestinian society in Gaza."

-- Josh Ward, 12:00 p.m. CET

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