implement an agreement with Hamas?
History suggests NO
As I write this, it is
reported that indirect negotiations between Israel
and Hamas have begun in Egypt
about a long term agreement concerning Gaza.
It is appropriate to
recall that Israel’s last
military offensive against Gaza in November 2012
also ended with an agreement concerning Gaza brokered
. Under it, both sides were required to cease
hostilities and Israel undertook
to take steps towards ending its blockade of Gaza. The
agreement seemed to have the backing
of the US,
since Secretary of State Hillary Clinton stood beside the
Egyptian Foreign Minister, Mohamad Amr, when he announced it on 21 November 2012.
happened to the November 2012 agreement?
what happened to this agreement?
Basically, Israel failed to fulfil its obligations under it, whereas
Hamas fulfilled its obligations to the letter for more than eighteen months –
and the international community turned a blind eye to Israel’s failure.
Specifically, in the agreement, Israel promised “to
stop all hostilities on the Gaza Strip land, sea and air including incursions
and targeting of individuals” and the “opening the crossings and facilitating
the movement of people and transfer of goods, and refraining from restricting
residents free movement”. Israel didn’t fulfil either of these obligations
– it continued to make regular incursions into Gaza
(killing 20 Palestinians in Gaza
in the following 15 months) and took no steps to lift its economic blockade.
The agreement required Hamas and other Palestinian
groups to “stop all hostilities from the Gaza Strip against Israel,
including rocket attacks, and attacks along the border”. Hamas did so for more than eighteen months
from 21 November 2012. Speaking to a
Knesset committee on 30 June 2014, Prime Minister
Benjamin Netanyahu acknowledged this, accusing Hamas “of involvement,
for the first time since a Gaza war in 2012, in
rocket attacks on Israel”,
according to a Reuters report .
Other Palestinian groups
did fire rockets into Israel,
being restrained by Hamas. But, according
to Nathan Thrall of the International Crisis Group Middle East and North Africa
Programme, in an article dated 1 August 2014 in the London Review of Books :
“During the three months
that followed the ceasefire [on 21 November 2012], Shin Bet recorded only a
single attack: two mortar shells fired from Gaza in December 2012. …
“[Hamas] set up a new
police force tasked with arresting Palestinians who tried to launch rockets. In
2013, fewer were fired from Gaza
than in any year since 2003, soon after the first primitive projectiles were
shot across the border.”
Israel’s response to quiet along the border
How did Israel respond
to this comparative quiet along the border?
In his London Review of Books
article, Nathan Thrall writes:
“In the three months
following the ceasefire, its forces made regular incursions into Gaza, strafed Palestinian farmers and those collecting
scrap and rubble across the border, and fired at boats, preventing fishermen
from accessing the majority of Gaza’s
“The end of the closure
never came. Crossings were repeatedly shut. So-called buffer zones –
agricultural lands that Gazan farmers couldn’t enter without being fired on –
were reinstated. Imports declined, exports were blocked, and fewer Gazans were
given exit permits to Israel
and the West Bank.
committed [in the November 2012 agreement] to holding indirect negotiations
with Hamas over the implementation of the ceasefire but repeatedly delayed them.
The talks never took place. The lesson for Hamas was clear. Even if an
agreement was brokered by the US
and Egypt, Israel could
still fail to honour it.”
had fulfilled its obligations
Had Israel ceased military incursions into Gaza and taken steps to
lift its economic blockade, as it was supposed to do under the agreement, it is
virtually certain that Hamas would not have resumed rocket fire. Hamas did resume on 7 July 2014, after Israel made an armed incursion into Gaza and killed seven
Hamas members. And if progress was being
made towards lifting the blockade, Hamas would have been in a much stronger
position to stop other Palestinian groups from firing rockets and mortars into Israel.
So, had Israel fulfilled
its obligations under the agreement, it is very likely that rocket and mortar
firing into Israel could have been halted altogether without Israeli military
action against Gaza.
June 2008 agreement
This is not the first
time that Israel
has failed to fulfil its obligations under an agreement with Hamas. In June 2008, Egypt
brokered an agreement which, like the November 2012 agreement, provided for a cessation
of hostilities on both sides and steps by Israel towards ending its blockade .
Hamas fulfilled its
obligations under this agreement to the letter and, as a result, southern Israel was almost entirely free from firing out
of Gaza for
four and a half months. But Israel did not ease its economic blockade, let
alone lift it, and on the evening of 4 November 2008 (when the world was
watching the election of Barack Obama) it made a military incursion into Gaza for the first time
since the ceasefire began in June and killed seven members of Hamas. That was
the end of that agreement.
A few weeks later Israel embarked on its first major offensive
against Gaza, Operation Cast Lead, with the declared objective of suppressing rocket and mortar
The lesson of history
The lesson from the
above is that the international community will have to ensure that Israel fulfils
its obligations in any future agreement with Hamas. Come to think of it, does another agreement
need to be negotiated? In reality, all that
is necessary is that Israel
be persuaded to implement the November 2012 agreement.