Wednesday, June 18, 2008

ANALYSIS / Cease-fire deal means Hamas is calling the shots

By Zvi Bar'el, Haaretz Correspondent

"The main points of a cease-fire between Israel and Hamas grant the Islamic organization a political and diplomatic achievement that will also give it a lever in its reconciliation talks with Fatah, which are slated to begin at the end of this week.

According to the Egyptian-mediated proposal, Israel will no longer be able to monitor the Rafah crossing, on the Gaza-Egypt border, once it reopens, and a deal to free kidnapped soldier Gilad Shalit will be discussed separately from the truce, as Hamas wanted.

Israel will receive quiet in the south, along with an Egyptian pledge to monitor the border closely, but Hamas will be the main party in control of the Rafah crossing. Palestinian Authority officials and European observers will be present, but both will have limited authority......

In theory, the reopening of Rafah depends on progress in the Shalit deal. But Egyptian officials insisted yesterday that Rafah's opening is independent of the Shalit swap, and neither is conditional upon the other, since freeing Shalit involves an additional element: Israel's agreement to release a large number of Palestinian prisoners. Thus here, too, Israel will not be able to point to any achievement.

Hamas has an interest in the cease-fire, and not just in order to end Israel's blockade of the Gaza Strip. Later this week, Abbas is expected to make his first visit to Gaza since Hamas seized control of the Strip last year, in an effort to negotiate a reconciliation between his Fatah party and Hamas. He announced this initiative about two weeks ago, and it is being supported by Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates. But now, Abbas will find himself facing a politically strengthened Hamas, one that has seemingly forced Israel to cave in......."

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