As of Tuesday night, despite the efforts of international intermediaries here in the region, there was no sign of an Israel-Hamas ceasefire. Visiting UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon had failed to achieve the long-term humanitarian truce he planned. This despite signs Monday that Hamas might want to halt the fighting.
The Al-Mayadeen satellite station, which has good contacts in the office of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, claimed late Monday that Abbas and Hamas political bureau chief Khaled Mashaal had reached a ceasefire deal, based on Egypt’s proposal for an immediate cessation of hostilities. Abbas’s intelligence chief Majid Faraj set off to persuade the Egyptians to make minor changes to their proposal.
After midnight, however, it became clear that Egypt wasn’t inclined to make the minor changes, and that Hamas’s military wing wanted more than minor changes. It still wants the release of prisoners, the opening of the Rafah border crossing, the opening of a seaport, and more.
On Tuesday night, the PA tried another approach: an immediate halt to the fighting, to be followed by five days of negotiations in Cairo on the issue of the border crossings, attended by Egypt, Hamas and the PA. Hamas is unlikely agree to that either.
The Hamas military wing has stuck by its demands for the whole two weeks of the conflict. But if until recently its demands seemed like the consequence of exaggerated, arrogant expectation, now its stubbornness seems to reflect a fear for its feature and a certain frustration. The Hamas political and military leadership know that a ceasefire now, with 600 dead Gazans, almost 4,000 injured and nothing dramatic to show for it will not go down well with the Gaza public. Hamas’s standing will simply crash.
It’s been telling Gazans that the siege — the Israeli-Egyptian security blockade — will be lifted. And that this is what it’s fighting for. The damage to Gaza is immense. Thousands of homes have been hit. More than 600 destroyed. Some 100,000 people have fled their homes. To agree a ceasefire now, after all that, will look like meek surrender.
Until a couple of days ago, most Gazans were supporting Hamas — that is, supporting the fighting. The battling in Shejaiya changed that to some extent. “Enough of this; we’re exhausted,” Gazans say in phone conversations now. Every few minutes there’s another Israeli attack, and more death. The atmosphere is one of despair. Eid al-Fitr, the celebratory end of Ramadan, is on Sunday. The killings of 27 Israeli soldiers and the possible capture of one more (likely dead) does not amount to sufficient comfort.
Hence the trap. Hamas will find it hard to end the fighting without a significant achievement. But such an achievement — the opening of the borders, for instance — is not at hand. Egypt has no desire to come to its aid. Israel has no intention of freeing prisoners.
And so after quite a few bad days for Israel and for Gaza, worse days still seem to lie ahead.