An exchange of signals, including indirect contacts, between Israel and Hamas this past week offer an opportunity to examine both the balance of forces and each side’s current aspirations.
On September 16th, 2007, Hamas spokesman Taher al Nunu suggested that Hamas will implement the truce with Israel as part of the (no longer existing) unity government’s decisions. The rationale given for the (belated) truce was the desire to improve conditions during the month of Ramadan. Maybe the successful rocket attack on an Israeli military base outside Gaza in which about 60 soldiers, were wounded - most lightly, provided a ‘high note’ before a new course. The next day, Matan Vilnai, Israel’s Deputy Minister of Defense, (who was head of Southern Command when the IDF pulled out of the Strip in 1994) suggested that if Hamas stopped rocket fire against Israel for one to two weeks, than Israel should study the possibility of a truce with Hamas. Hamas called on Islamic Jihad to stop firing rockets, though it seems only in the area of the border crossings between Gaza and Israel.
Then, yesterday Hamas leaked to Reuters that Ghazi Hamad, the Hamas’s spokesman, contacted Vilnai through an intermediary. Hamas offered a truce in return for Israel’s agreement to open the crossings between Gaza and Egypt and Gaza and Israel. The Israeli government not only rejected the proposal, but on September 19th declared Gaza an “enemy entity,” a legal designation that it could use to further limit supplies to Gaza.
Though Hamas is adamant on not recognizing Israel’s right to exist, it expressed in the past a willingness to negotiate with it over practical issues such as trade and traffic. The new initiative, however, is different: it would involve negotiations over the resistance to Israel, that is over security issues. Such willingness seems to signal a sense of weariness and point to chinks in Hamas’ armor in the wake of the June putsch and Gaza’s subsequent isolation.
The Israeli rejection of the truce indicates that the crude home made Qassam rockets from Gaza are viewed at this stage mostly as an irritant. The Israel government is utilizing the Hamas takeover to keep the crossing into Egypt closed, since it is worried about weapons smuggling from Egypt which would arm Hamas with the kinds of long range rocket launchers that Hizballah used so successfully in the 2006 Lebanon War. Further, the Israel government feels emboldened in its attempts to choke Gaza by the tacit support of Egypt and Abbas himself.