Thursday, April 24, 2008

Round Up

Today's big news in the Israel-Palestine perspective is Hamas's offer/ acceptance of a six-month truce over the Gaza Strip. Puts in the shade
  1. UNWRA's stopping distribution of food in Gaza, because it lacks gasoline;
  2. George Bush expressing his confidence that an agreement on a two state solution will happen before he leaves office (another "Mission Accomplished" statement? Or is he planning a coup that will declare him president for life?);
  3. CIA officials identifying North Korea and Syria as part of a nuclear axis of evil;
  4. Iranian president Ahmadinejad warning Syria against closer ties to the U.S. and Israel;
  5. declarations by Israel settlers on the Golan Heights that they will not leave, regardless of any Syrian-Israel agreement that requires their removal.
Not your typical day, not even in the Middle East.

The Hamas offer comes after negotiations with Israel through Egyptian intermediaries and perhapas after a nudge from Syria. It does not extend immediately, as Hamas wanted, to the West Bank, so the Israel army will be free to hunt Hamas, Islamic Jihad and other militants there. The move is undoubtedly motivated by short term desperation -- Hamas's realization that it cannot provide welfare for Gaza, amid its low intensity conflict with Israel and the economic blockade. The announcement by UNRWA demonstrates as much and has forced Hamas to promise UNRWA some of its own stockpiled gasoline, a move that will reduce Hamas's very limited military capabilities . The offer is a grudging acknowledgment that the blockade itself is mainly a response to the rocket attacks it orders or sanctions upon the Israeli periphery of Gaza. It is a step on Hamas's part toward political realism.

Israel will likely agree to the offer with some minor modifications. Even if it does not include Hamas's commitment to stop smuggling arms and rocket makings into Gaza, a truce would provide quiet in the south for Israel's celebration next month of its 60th anniversary. Also Israel maintains an upper hand: The offer does not demand that it end the economic blockade. Instead it will consider the security conditions that are achieved under the truce and ease the blockade accordingly. Somewhere in Saul Bellow's late novels, a character, asked what he has learned, replies "Sydney Smith, an English clergyman's advice: short views." Not bad advice for Israel and the Palestinians now.

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