It has become clear that the Palestinians in Gaza want to get out of the way of the border war Israel has in its north. All groups in Gaza have now agreed to stop fighting and return Gilad Shalit in exchange for a simple cessation of hostilities and the promise of future releases of prisoners:
All groups in Gaza, including Hamas, would now accept a cease-fire deal with Israel which would include releasing Gilad Shalit, according to the Palestinian Agriculture Minister, who also heads the coordinating committee of Palestinian organizations there.
Ibrahim Al-Naja said the factions were ready to stop the Qassam rocket fire if Israel’s ceased all military moves against the Palestinian factions in Gaza. They are also ready to release Shalit in exchange for guaranteeing the future release of Palestinian prisoners.
Hamas leaders did not confirm this report on Monday, but if it is true, then this is the first time that Hamas has indicated its acceptance of the Egyptian proposal to solve the crisis.
If true, and if the Palestinians plan to keep their word and put an end to all Qassam rocket attacks, then this represents a major victory for the Israelis. Like Hassan Nasrallah in Lebanon, the Gazans believed that the Israelis would negotiate on the basis of extortion. Previous Israeli governments had given up hundreds of prisoners for a handful of hostages in the past, and the terrorists had no real reason to believe that anything had changed. In fact, they interpreted the withdrawal from Gaza as a sign that the Israelis would not fight back.
Events have proven them wrong. Not only have the Israelis tired of the hostage game, but they have made clear that any further provocations will be considered acts of war and trigger the appropriate response. Nasrallah made his astonishment clear in his interview with Al-Jazeera that a nation would go to war over just two kidnapped soldiers — and that his Arab brethren would not sympathize with his strategy.
It remains to be seen whether the Palestinians will honor such an agreement. It could, after all, just provide a cover for their “triangle offense”, where a couple of groups announce a cease fire while another continues to attack until Israel responds — and then the other groups blame Israel for violating the cease fire. Islamic Jihad ran most of these rocket sites; will they agree to stop attacking Israel? We’ll see, but at least Israel has made plain the response they can expect if they do not.
Assuming the Palestinians adhere to the cease-fire, the Israelis get a cessation on rocket attacks and their soldier returned to them, as well as the elimination of one front in their war. In return, all they concede is the promise to release minors and women at some later date, moves which they wanted to make before the kidnapping took place anyway. The agreement also abandons Hezbollah to their own political devices, and points to a split between Iran and the Palestinians that might hold some cause for optimism.