A week of war and the damage is starting to pile up, both on the ground and in the minds of Israeli civilians, including those working in the press. The papers report the deaths of two more Israelis — an ultra-Orthodox soldier and a Bedouin contract laborer — and front pages bear the shocking image of an apartment building in the country’s populated core struck by a Fajr missile. As ceasefire negotiations frayed and fizzled Tuesday evening, signs that patience with the week-long war is wearing thin are starting to show, too.
Yedioth Ahronoth columnist Sima Kadmon says a number of Israeli preconceptions have been hit aalong with the building in Rishon Lezion, most important among them the notion that the Israeli government would not negotiate with terrorists.
“Perhaps they were not direct, perhaps [the negotiators] were in separate rooms, perhaps through intermediaries, but there is no other way to describe what occurred in the past day between us and Hamas,” she writes. Her biggest problem, however, is that the government wasted so much time in which it could have negotiated peace because it said Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas wasn’t even a satisfactory partner.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is faced with a conundrum, she writes. On the one hand he seeks a ceasefire, but if it proves unsatisfactory in securing the aims of Operation Pillar of Defense (stopping rocket fire and Hamas rearmament) “he will likely pay a heavy price at the polls” in January. On the other hand, he risks getting bogged down with a potentially fatal ground operation — fatal for both Israeli soldiers and his political future.
Meanwhile, the paper reports, Likud party members and residents and leaders of the south have already started criticizing Netanyahu for apparently folding before the poker game in Gaza was over.
“Netanyahu himself promised the evening before the last elections that he would topple the Hamas regime,” a Likud MK is quoted saying. “We were sure Netanyahu would finally do a real military action and not worry about criticism,” the MK says.
Haaretz follows the journalistic maxim that “if it bleeds, it leads.” Although its front page photo incongruously shows Netanyahu and US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton shaking hands in Jerusalem last night, its headline reads, “Ceasefire stalled; 2 dead in the South.”
According to Haaretz, senior Egyptian and Hamas officials said that the announcement of a ceasefire was pushed off at the last minute by the Israelis and that negotiations would restart on Wednesday. An Israeli source tells the paper that the final draft forwarded to them was not beneficial for Israeli interests. The source says that negotiations moderated by a Muslim Brotherhood leader in Egypt tend to favor Hamas.
Zvi Bar’el takes aim in Haaretz at President Shimon Peres’s remarks on Tuesday that Hamas is not heeding Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi, even though their two movements are cut from the same bolt of cloth. Bar’el calls Peres’s misconception that Hamas would obligingly follow the Muslim Brotherhood’s orders, and that the two must be in league to drag Israel into conflict, symptomatic of “Israel’s official and distorted view of the world.”
“Hamas, too, has always come to its own decisions without taking direction from the Muslim Brotherhood. Its close ties with Shi’ite Iran, which have been severed in the meantime, and the haven that Hamas found in secular Syria, which slaughtered members of the brotherhood, didn’t particularly please the Muslim brothers in Egypt,” he writes.
Bar’el comes to the Egyptian president’s defense saying, “Morsi is now a colleague, our close friend. All of a sudden, he reminds us of the Egypt that we had gotten used to in the era of Hosni Mubarak.”
Maariv aims for the positive, inasmuch as its front page reports on the Israeli Air Force bombing strategic Hamas targets in the Gaza Strip. Its writer Amit Cohen writes with confidence that even if a ceasefire was not confirmed last night, there will be one by the end of the week. He writes, however, that the objective of either side at this point is to prove to its supporters who really won this clash. According to Hamas, Israel is the one fearful of conflict.
Both sides have been preparing for this battle for four years, he says, since the 2008 Operation Cast Lead. Despite attempts by Hamas to provoke Israel into “changing the rules of the game” and launching a ground invasion by launching rockets at Israeli cities, the IDF has not sent troops into the Gaza Strip.
“Is the meaning of this that Hamas has won? Assuming that the current conflict ends as it stands, the answer is yes,” he writes. Hamas continues to fire rockets at Israel, despite IDF claims that its capabilities are weakened, and Israel has not achieved its objectives. “If Hamas receives any political gains by the end of this operation, it can market complete victory to its public.”
Israel Hayom‘s coverage hits all the major points of the other papers, but includes an interesting view into the mindset of an ordinary Israeli who heard the rocket hitting the building in Rishon Lezion on Tuesday. Oded Shalev writes in Israel Hayom that he took his son to eat at a local pizzeria just before the ceasefire was supposed to take effect, when the siren went off and they heard the boom. Shalev’s exasperation and concern is present in the minds of Israelis throughout the country after a week of rocket attacks on major cities from south to center.
“Suddenly you understand exactly what it’s like to live in the area adjacent to Gaza, Ashkelon, Ofakim, Ashdod, and Netivot,” he writes. “What’s sad in this story is that it’s clear to everyone: what was once exceptional in this campaign ([rockets] at Rishon Lezion, Jerusalem, and Tel Aviv) will turn into the standard of the next war.”