Well, we are 3 weeks or so into this truce and the answer to the first of our questions from August is self evident.
Hamas appears to be committed to keeping the 1 month truce.
I say appears, because once again Israel has been manoeuvred into a difficult decision. Having stated that she will respond with full strength to any violation of the truce by Hamas, Hamas claims that the violation this week – the first rocket from Gaza during the current truce – was not fired by it and moreover Hamas claims to have arrested the perpetrators.
So does Israel respond and be blamed for breaking the truce with Hamas – fairly or otherwise, or not respond and be shown to be weak in front of Hamas and possibly encourage further rockets?
Whichever way, it does seem as if Hamas is not looking to have another round with Israel at this current point in time.
The reasons for this can be many including:
- Did Israel deliver a bigger blow than Hamas is willing to admit, as say happened in the 2006 Lebanon War with Hezbollah which initially looked more like a loss to Israel’s deterrent capabilities but proved to be the opposite?
- Are Hamas’ future activities more in the hands of Egypt, Saudi America and the USA now than Qatar and Turkey?
- Or does Hamas merely prefer to rebuild for the next attack?
Hamas’ “restraint” seems more likely to have been due to pressure on it rather than by its own choice.
But it shows that pressure can work.
And it is a salutary lesson for President Obama et al.
Which leads to another question – can Obama stay the current course?
Hamas was able to show Gazans a victory.
Of course a victory by Hamas standards looks a little different from what we think a victory looks like, but they are not operating according to our values and perceptions.
A Hamas victory begins with mere survival. The fact that this was helped by Israel’s declaration that it too wanted Hamas to survive does not diminish the “win” in the eyes of the Gazans.
And as we all know that what Israel says cannot be relied upon – or at least so goes the education amongst the Palestinians, Hamas can say that really this is only Israel’s excuse in explaining away Hamas’ survival.
A Hamas victory is also the international pressure it could bring to bear on Israel with pictures of over 2,000 of its own people dead for reasons we well know – Hamas fighters and human shields, putting its own people in harms way, firing rockets from schools, mosques and hospitals etc.
As long as the main aim was achieved – creating distance between Israel and her allies (primarily the USA) – the more martyrs the better from Hamas’ point of view.
Which goes to the point I made last time.
The more coverage by western media of deaths in Gaza, the more pictures of dead bodies, the more western media and western governments prolonged the war by giving Hamas the raison d’etre to continue to break ceasefires.
Another salutary lesson for the West.
The longer short term test of all of this is what will occur once the talks do not produce the gains Hamas says it wants and which it has promised the people of Gaza their great “victory” can deliver.
Internally in Israel, interestingly Prime Minister Netanyahu has gone from historic highs in popularity in opinion polls, to some polls that show even lower lows than he had previously.
And his biggest critics are within his own government coalition.
2 major issues bedevil him.
1 – The evaluation of the conduct and results of the 50 days.
On the one hand those who say that he has not completed the job and should have gone on harder and longer. And on the other those who say that Israel went in hard but with little achievement to show for it.
Specifically the residents of southern Israel are concerned that the government has left the job unfinished.
2 – And how to pay for it.
Does the government do it by raising taxes or cutting spending or letting the deficit blow out?
There are many competing interests within Bibi’s coalition.
Moshe (Boogie) Ya’alon, ex Chief of Staff and current Defence Minister is generally well respected as a strong military man and he is as identifiable as Netanyahu with all aspects of the conduct of the war.
So in regards to Point 1, Naftali Bennett, also a Minister and head of the Jewish Home party with 12 Knesset seats in the government and also well regarded for his personal military service, is highly critical of the conduct of major aspects of the war and is indeed critical of both Netanyahu and Ya’alon.
The head of the opposition Isaac Herzog is likewise critical of what he says were the lack of lasting results from the effort and cost of the war, which he was quite proper in supporting during the 50 days.
Re Point 2 – Yair Lapid also a Minister in the government and head of the Yesh Atid party with 19 Knesset seats was effectively elected on a platform of improving housing prices and general cost of living for the middle class.
He has a 0% VAT plan proposal for young couples buying their home – his flagship programme. Which Netanyahu now opposes.
Although probably not as important in monetary terms to the budget bottom line as it may sound, it has become emblematic of the budgetary dispute between them.
Not only is this not raising taxes or lowering spending, but this is cutting taxes.
Lapid needs something to show his constituency for the next election and now Bibi has an excuse as to why the measure is currently unaffordable.
The coalition has 68 (out of 120) seats.
Either of Bennett and Lapid are able to bring down the coalition – should they so choose – and force Bibi to try and bring in a replacement opposition party to avoid elections.
Whilst that looks very unlikely today – to mangle Mel Brooks – It’s hard to be the Israeli Prime Minister – even without the external considerations.
Dr. Ron Weiser AM. Immediate Past President of the Zionist Federation of Australia, Honorary Life President of the Zionist Council of New South Wales and Committee Member of the Board of Governors of the Jewish Agency (The Sochnut)