A week ago, the world was stunned when we heard that Israel and Hamas were to enter into a peace agreement. What prompted it, what does it involve and how long do we think it’s going to last?
This agreement is the first in a series of three such talks, and is supposed to last for six months, starting at 0600 GMT, Thursday 19 June. What’s important to note however, is that this agreement is only between the Israeli government and Hamas, the former political organisation turned government party; it is therefore between Israel and Gaza. No such agreement exists between the other Palestinian territory, the West Bank, and Israel.
The other two steps in this series of negotiations and talks include both countries entering a dialogue about releasing an Israeli soldier, Gilad Shalit, from Gaza. Israel will then enter into direct and bilateral talks with Lebanon; it is the hope of the international community that a peace agreement will emerge from such talks.
But we’ve already heard reports of violence from both sides, starting with 8 rockets being fired into Israel from Gaza on Wednesday 18 June, the day before the peace agreement was to start, according to Israeli Radio. So where from here?
There are those that say that this deal is needed because of the escalating nature of the conflict between the two countries – since Hamas’ election to government in 2006 the violence has gone from bad to worse. But now, the situation is getting worse on two fronts: militarily as well as economically.
Israeli blockades in Gaza have allowed only essential foodstuffs and medical equipment in, and no one is allowed to leave Gaza. Israel also controls Palestinian imports and exports, as well as levying heavy taxes on the people for selling goods grown and produced in Palestine. This is rapidly leading to a humanitarian crisis, as deaths from poverty are increasing and the living conditions of the native people of the Holy Land are getting worse by the day.
On the military front, rocket attacks from Gaza into Israel have increased, as have the civilian casualties on both sides. There are accusations that Hamas has been able to secure better and more effective weapons by smuggling them in from Egypt. The prospects of a full-out total war, or even worse, a guerrilla or militia war, are so ominous that both sides have decided the best way around it is to at least appear to have a peace agreement.
Critics of Ehud Olmert claim that he only signed the agreement and entered talks for the press. When it comes to the time that history will have to judge him and his time as Israeli Prime Minister, he can at least be seen to have entered talks, even if his government is unsuccessful in the cessation of hostile activities against Israel. There was a recent UN report on the humanitarian situation in Gaza, and said that the fuel shortages and power cuts there could lead to a situation in which over half the population of Gaza has access to clean water only ever other day, and a quarter could get to clean water every four days.
It should come as no surprise that people are sceptical about where this deal will lead, nor what the true agendas of the parties involved really are – and yes, that does include Egypt, who brokered the deal. It’s not necessarily about how long this supposed peace will last, since everyone speculates about the time scale of such deals anyway. What’s different about this situation between Hamas and Israel is that the increased violence and the deterioration of Gazan life has brought the attention to the international community more than at any other point in Israel’s existence; pressure will mount on all countries associated with either side to intervene and prevent this conflict from spreading into a regional and eventually, international war.