The World from Berlin 'No Interest in Gaza Stability'

The cease-fire may have gone into effect in mid-January, but low-level fighting continues between Israel and Hamas in the Gaza Strip. Negotiations on a longer truce are continuing in Egypt, but German commentators are not optimistic.

It didn't take long for Israel and the Gaza Strip to disappear from the headlines once the temporary truce was concluded on Jan. 18. The agreement brought to an end the three-week-old Israeli offensive against Hamas and included a pledge by the extremist Palestinian group to stop firing rockets across the border into Israel.

Palestinians pass by a shoe left behind after an Israeli strike in Rafah on Monday.

Palestinians pass by a shoe left behind after an Israeli strike in Rafah on Monday.

Since then, negotiations have been continuing with the aim of establishing a cease-fire of a more permanent nature. The violence, though, has not completely stopped. Hamas rockets continue to periodically rain down on Israeli territory -- 10 were fired on Sunday, for example. Israel has responded with air strikes, including a Monday missile attack on a car carrying a Palestinian militant in Rafah.

On Tuesday morning, a longer-range Grad missile -- the first of its kind to be fired by Hamas since mid-January -- slammed into a residential district of the Israeli city of Ashkelon. No one was hurt. But the incident provided yet another hurdle to the ongoing cease-fire talks in Egypt, which are continuing on Tuesday.

"Hamas is playing with fire," said Israeli government spokesman Mark Regev. "If there is going to be an escalation now, Hamas has no one to blame but itself."

Ongoing violence, though, isn't the only difficulty facing the Egypt talks -- already complicated due to Hamas' continued refusal to recognize Israel's right to existence and Israel's refusal to speak directly with Hamas. Voters in Israel head to the polls on Feb. 10 to elect a new government.

The war in the Gaza Strip, which began on Dec. 27 with Israeli air strikes before expanding into a ground offensive, appears to have boosted the prospects of the hawkish Likud party. The party is currently leading in the polls, opening the way for Benjamin Netanyahu to once again become Israel's prime minister. Tzipi Livni, currently Israeli foreign minister and the leader of the Kadima party -- to which outgoing Prime Minister Ehud Olmert also belongs -- is in second place. The Labour Party of Defense Minister Ehud Barak is in a fight for third with the hawkish party Yisrael Beitenu.

Livni is considered more dovish than Netanyahu, but even she has been ratcheting up the rhetoric in this season of violence. "Terror must be fought with force and lots of force," she said at a Monday security conference according to the Associated Press. "Therefore we will strike Hamas. If, by ending the operation, we have yet to achieve deterrence, we will continue until they get the message."

Given the sporadic violence that has continued since the Jan. 18 cease-fire, German commentators are pessimistic on Tuesday.

The Financial Times Deutschland writes:

"The renewed flare up of violence is not only disconcerting for the Israeli government, which had been hoping that voters next week would reward it for the victory in the Gaza Strip. Should the sporadic attacks and counter strikes develop into a regular exchange of fire then pressure would mount on US President Barack Obama to take action."

"Hamas is more than just an organization with structures that stand to be destroyed or contained. Rather, it is the expression of a militant current whose philosophy and activity is heavily influenced from outside -- namely from Iran. As long as the powers that be both within and outside of Hamas have no interest in seeing stability return to the Gaza Strip, there is no chance of a cease-fire. And the aims pursued by Tehran and Damascus in the Palestinian Territories depend on other conflicts, like Iran's dispute with the West surrounding its nuclear program."

"It is certainly possible that the recent attacks serve the purpose of drawing out the new American president -- at a time of maximum inconvenience for him."

The conservative daily Die Welt responds to Olmert's comments on Sunday that Israel's reaction to further Hamas rockets would be "harsh" and "disproportionate":

"Olmert knows: One can only deter the Islamists from further attacks with a disproportionately harsh response. That is why the Israeli air force is continuing to strike Gaza two weeks after the official end of hostilities, even as a long-term cease-fire is being negotiated in Cairo."

"For too long, the Israelis gave Hamas the impression that it could live with half a dozen rockets fired across the border each day. The war was intended to change this untenable status quo…. Now, the success of its three-week military offensive is at risk. Were the Israelis to close their eyes to the new provocations, then they could have skipped the Gaza Strip war in the first place. A war is only as legitimate as long as its aims are achieved. That is why the fighting continues in Gaza even as the talking takes place in Egypt."

The center-right Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung focuses on the election:

"Everybody knows that the relationship between outgoing Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni is strained. So it comes as a surprise that, just a few days before the Feb. 10 election, Olmert has explicitly thrown his support behind Livni…. Just two weeks ago, Olmert demonstratively praised Netanyahu, thus alienating his own party. Whether his support for Livni will help her or not remains to be seen. For a number of reasons, Olmert is tarnished and his endorsement could easily backfire. He has been seen as obsolete since the summer. It is however certainly possible that the polls showing Netanyahu's advantage over his own Kadima party has got him worried. Were Netanyahu to win, one could completely forget any 'new beginning' in the Middle East."

-- Charles Hawley; 1:30 p.m. CET


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