As negotiators worked on a tenuous cease-fire deal, Israel and Hamas pounded each other for a sixth day and anger rose in the Gaza Strip over the increasing number of casualties.
In Gaza City, Palestinians carry the bodies of members of the Dalu family killed in an Israeli airstrike. (Oliver Weiken, European Pressphoto Agency / November 19, 2012)
Hopes for a truce grew Monday night when Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu convened Cabinet members to discuss the details of what was said to be a multiphase, multiyear cease-fire agreement.
Officials in Egypt, where the talks were underway, expressed cautious optimism. Arab League leaders and United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who was visiting the region, were trying to help negotiate a deal. The White House said President Obama, who is visiting Asia, called Netanyahu and Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi on Monday.
Israel is seeking assurances from Egypt that Hamas will halt rocket fire into Israel and not be allowed to rebuild the weapon caches that Israel has destroyed in recent days. Hamas, which rules the Gaza Strip, wants an end to the land and sea blockade that has crippled its economy, and to targeted killings of its leaders by Israel.
Any sort of agreement must overcome huge obstacles. Israel views Hamas as a terrorist organization and the Islamist militant group refuses to recognize Israel's right to exist.
Even if the two don't alter those stances, any internationally endorsed truce would usher in a new phase in their relationship. Previously Israel and Hamas have refused direct negotiations, occasionally reaching informal agreements brokered through intermediaries, such as last year's deal to release captured Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit.
There are sizable risks for both sides, but also opportunities, said Doron Avital, a lawmaker with Israel's centrist Kadima party and a former commander of an elite military unit.
Hamas would win some of the international legitimacy it craves, but it would also need to moderate its behavior, just as the Palestine Liberation Organization did after signing the Oslo peace accords in 1993.
"It might elevate the status of Hamas, but that will also mean that Hamas will have to play realpolitik," Avital said. "It can't stay a terrorist organization forever. There's an interesting potential here."
Heated comments by Hamas political chief Khaled Meshaal during a Cairo news conference Monday underscored the level of animosity. He called Netanyahu a "child killer" and "murderer."
"It is Netanyahu who asked for a truce," Meshaal said. "Gazans don't even want a truce."
For Israel, besides gaining an end to rocket attacks from Gaza, a deal might start the process of encouraging Hamas to become more moderate. And if Egypt guarantees an agreement, it would be directly invested in keeping Hamas unarmed.
Source: The LA Times | Edmund Sanders