After a month of war Israel suspended its offensive in Gaza withdrawing its ground forces from Palestinian territories. A much-awaited truce has evoked cautious optimism and paved the way for the fresh peace negotiations in Cairo welcomed by the US. However, long-term ceasefire between Israel and its arch-foe Hamas is still in doubt.
Omar Shaban, the Director of PalThink for Strategic Studies, Palestinian leading think-tank, Riad Othman, Representative in Palestine and Israel of Medico International, Andrei Fyodorov, the former Deputy Foreign Minister of Russia, the Director of the Center for Political Research Foundation, and Mikhail Margelov, Russia’s President Special Envoy to Africa and Chairman of the Committee for Foreign Affairs of the Council of Federation shared their opinions with Radio VR.
How effective those talks in Cairo are? Can we expect any kind of breakthrough?
Omar Shaban: There is some progress, they did not reach an agreement yet, but I'm very confident that both sides will reach an agreement. After 30 days of continuous shelling and exchange of fire, I think the military solution is not the solution. Three wars in 7 years did not bring the solution. So, why we don’t try the other option which is the negotiation?
The main problem is the occupation and the siege that was imposed in Gaza. Hamas got stronger under the siege, while the majority of the Palestinians in Gaza were punished, as a sort of collective punishment, by the siege. People in Gaza need to live, need to work, need to have access to the outside. So, the military solution is not a solution, whatever power each side has. We should look for the political solution.
Riad Othman: I think the demand that the Hamas put forth were not overambitious. They were just asking for the improvement of the situation in Gaza. If you leave out the demand for the release of prisoners and think about ending the siege or lifting the blockade of Gaza, I think that was a demand that is not mainly in the interest of the Hamas, but of the 1.7-1.8 million people in Gaza that cannot move out.
From my point of view, Netanyahu and his Government embarked on a mission impossible when they started the campaign of the mass arrests on the West Bank after the three Israeli teenagers have been abducted. It was a declared goal of the Israeli Government in their sweeping operations on the West Bank, before the war in Gaza started, to destroy Hamas in Judea and Samaria, as they said. I see the war in Gaza as an extension of that operation to undermine the potential unity Government between Hamas and Fatah, and to weaken Hamas, of course.
And the other objective, as Israel also said, is to increase the security by destroying the rockets stockpiles and the tunnels of Hamas. But this is not something that can be militarily achieved in the long run. I mean, I completely agree we will have calm for maybe one and a half, two, maximum three years and rockets will be built again, and they will be fired at Israel again, and Israel will again react disproportionately. The main losses are inflicted on the Palestinians, they are not in Israel, because Israel does have a very well functioning Iron Dome rocket defense system.
What can we expect now? Can the ceasefire be a more lasting than 72 hours?
Andrei Fyodorov: Frankly speaking, I don’t think so. There are two elements we should take into consideration. First of all, there is still a deep split inside the Hamas and some radical groups of Hamas will continuethe attacks on Israel anyway.
The second thing is that peace talks and a certain result is now much more vital for Israel than for the Hamas. Hamas can again play a card of Gaza asking for additional assistance from the EU and all these things, as usual, etc. For Israel, the situation is much more difficult, because of the psychological mood inside the country, because of some other things.
And there is one more element which is pushing the things in a new direction. This is the problem of Iraq, where the Islamic extremists are now trying to capture the power. And for the future this radical Iraq could be much more dangerous for Israel than the Hamas.
And from this point of view, logically, for the future for Israel it is very important to exclude any possibility to have a war on two fronts, which will be disastrous for Israel.
And let’s not forget that there is one very serious change since the last year. The Hamas now has new Qassam missiles, which can easily hit Tel Aviv and Ben Gurion airport etc. And no one in Hamas will stop producing this new Qassams. So, even if a certain agreement on ceasefire will be reached, I don’t think it will last long.
What are the chances of the breakthrough being reached?
Mikhail Margelov: To my mind, it is pretty clear that any war ends with peace talks and any military conflict ends sooner or later with the negotiations. I've been to Israel a couple of weeks ago meeting with my counterparts in the Knesset, meeting with the newly elected President Reuven Rivlin and with almost all the officials, members of the Cabinet. I've been on the border between Gaza and Israel in the city of Sderot and I physically saw all those Qassam rockets flying over to Tel Aviv and being intercepted by the Israeli missiles.
So, I could feel the temperature in Israel and I should say that Israel, to my mind, and the public opinion in Israel supports the Government, supports the counterterrorist operation. But for all the people in Israel it is absolutely clear that the war cannot last forever. And that’s why the Israeli officials have a mandate from the people of Israel to start the negotiations. And to my mind, that’s what they should do.
On the Palestinian side, to my mind, on the one hand, we see the unity between Fatah and Hamas who managed to form some kind of a united Government. But, on the other hand, we see that still there is a lot of misunderstanding between Abu Mazen and Khaled Mashal, between the two leaders of the two wings of the Palestinian liberation movement. And still, there is no unity on the basic question – how to treat the state of Israel, either to accept the fact of its existence, or still fight against the existence of the state of Israel. That’s why, to my mind, the talks in Cairo will start, but the result of these talks is still unclear.