A fair ceasefire would bring major relief for Gaza, which would mean Hamas wins the war.
The ceasefire that the world is now pushing for – one that, as UN chief Ban Ki-Moon put it, not only ends the fighting but also ends Israel’s “chokehold on Gaza” – is one that the Netanyahu government will not accept. It should accept it, because Gazans have the right to be free, but it won’t. Its rejection of John Kerry’s offer on Friday – which reportedly would have allowed the Israeli army to go on destroying Gazan tunnels even during a week-long ceasefire – is a sign of this.
If Israel agrees to end the war on terms that grant major, transformative relief to Gaza, that largely lift the blockade on the Strip and allow Gazans substantial freedom of movement – which is what Ban and even Kerry are talking about – then Hamas wins the war.
And this Israeli government will not allow that, not only because of false national pride, but also because if Hamas wins freedom for Gaza, it will take over the West Bank, directly or indirectly. The Palestinian Authority will collapse – to be replaced by Hamas or the Israeli military, either scenario being a nightmare for Israel – or the Palestinian Authority will refuse to go on playing Israel’s cop and begin demanding freedom for the West Bank, too.
As Noam Sheizaf wrote, Israel could agree to a ceasefire that ended the chokehold on Gaza if it was ready to end the occupation of the Palestinian territories altogether, in the West Bank as well. But it’s not. And so the only ceasefire the Netanyahu government will agree to is one that gains Gaza nothing or, at most, finds Israel throwing it a bone, thereby teaching Hamas and the rest of the Palestinians that firing rockets at Israel – even under extreme Israeli provocation – gets them nothing but a lot more pain.
So long as the Israeli government is committed to ruling the Palestinians, any meaningful relaxation of that rule as a result of Palestinian pressure amounts to a Palestinian victory, an Israeli loss, and an Israeli invitation to the Palestinians to apply more of the kind of pressure that won them that first victory – in this case, violence. If this pro-occupation Israeli government agrees to anything close to allowing Gazans to control their own coast and airspace, to move to and from the West Bank by land through the Israeli border crossings, and if it releases the 58 West Bank Hamasniks it rashly and wrongly imprisoned again last month, Hamas would almost certainly keep the peace in Gaza – but the West Bank would likely explode. And if that were to happen, Gaza would probably break the ceasefire and join the fighting.
It’s really all or nothing – either Israel goes about the business of freeing the Palestinians, or it better clamp down on them good and tight for as long as it can. And since this government is not ready to do the former, doing the latter is its only option.
So when Ban says “this effort – peace effort – cannot be the same as it was the last two Gaza conflicts, where we reset the clock and waited for the next one,” and Kerry says “people in Palestine, the Palestinian territories and people in Gaza have a right to feel free from restraints on their life, where they can barely get the food or the medicine or the building materials and the things that they need,” Netanyahu and his cabinet just tune out. They’re not interested. That’s not the ceasefire they have in mind at all.
The only one they’re interested in is the kind Egypt put forward at first – a return to the status quo ante, with Gaza back in the sewer, and nothing more than vague, toothless assurances to discuss Gaza’s complaints. Hamas didn’t agree to it then, and ever since, with the scenes of mounting death and destruction in Gaza, world diplomacy has shifted toward Hamas’ position (a ceasefire that at least loosens the blockade substantially) and away from Israel’s position (a ceasefire that keeps the blockade in place).
So as the war nears the end of its third week with over 1,000 Gazan deaths and 43 Israeli deaths, the effort to end it is at a stalemate. If and when this will be broken, no one knows. But once again, the ball is in Israel’s court, and once again, Israel is freezing it.