Hamas’ moment of truth 

Source: Hamas’ moment of truth – Israel Hayom

Yoav Limor

Optimistic media reports about far-reaching ‎agreements with Hamas in the Gaza Strip, meant to ‎ensure peace and quiet on the border, are premature. ‎As of now, the only understanding in place is that ‎Friday will pose a significant test for Gaza’s ‎rulers, who have yet to shelve their border riot ‎campaign, and only it the day proves to be incident-‎free will it be possible to go ahead with the ‎negotiations. ‎

It is not that nothing is happening behind the ‎scenes. Several mediators, headed by Egyptian ‎intelligence officials and U.N. Middle East envoy ‎Nickolay Mladenov, are holding intense talks between ‎Palestinian and Israeli officials in an effort to ‎broker a long-term cease-fire, and the U.S., Russia ‎and several Persian Gulf states are also involved, ‎at one level or another.‎

Israel’s primary stipulation has always been ‎complete calm on the border. Hamas agreed to that ‎last week, following the latest flare-up, and seeing ‎that the deal was holding, Israel lived up to its ‎word, resumed operations at the Kerem Shalom cargo ‎crossing and expanded the fishing zone ‎off Gaza’s coast from 6 to 9 nautical miles. ‎

This was phase one of mutual gestures, and it gave ‎the south the calmest week it has seen since March ‎‎30. ‎

Much of phase two depends on this Friday’s border ‎protest. Over the past four months, border protests ‎have attracted thousands of Palestinian and have ‎consistently turned into mass riots that include ‎attempts to breach the security fence alongside ‎burning tires, hurling stones and firebombs at ‎Israeli troops and sending incendiary kites and ‎balloon over the border, where they have wreaked ‎havoc on Israeli communities. ‎

Hamas has pledged to ensure this Friday’s protest ‎would indeed be quiet, but if anything, this will be ‎a test of its leadership and its ability to hold ‎both the masses and the rogue terrorist group in ‎Gaza at bay. ‎

The Palestinian interest in maintaining calm ‎stems from another reason: Next week they mark the ‎Eid al-Adha holiday and they would undoubtedly prefer ‎celebrating it airstrike-free. Israel and Egypt may even ‎offer additional gestures for the holiday as ‎confidence-building moves between the parties.‎

If the calm does prevail in the coming days, truce ‎talks will continue and they will probably be delved ‎into more serious issues, such as Gaza’s energy, ‎water, sewage and wages problems.‎

This phase will require making some serious ‎decision, such as whether the Palestinian Authority ‎will be part of a potential Israel-Hamas deal – in ‎other words, are Israel and the world going to ‎officially recognize Hamas as the sovereign in Gaza; ‎whether the deal would include a mere truce or be a ‎broader “rehabilitation for disarmament” agreement ‎and, of course, whether it will include a prisoner ‎exchange deal. ‎

One must remember, however, that none of the ‎understandings reach so far between Israel and Hamas ‎have even been put on paper. Media reports ‎suggesting otherwise are premature and it would take ‎days, if not weeks, of calm on the border before the ‎negotiations can address practical measures on the ‎ground. Even then, there would still be numerous hurdles to ‎cross. ‎

While we have to wait and see how things develop, ‎for not, at least, we can say that the mediators ‎have been able to broker a clam and avoid war.

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