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Wednesday, June 18, 2008
ANALYSIS: Cease-fire deal means Hamas is in charge

ANALYSIS / Cease-fire deal means Hamas is in charge
By Zvi Bar'el, Haaretz Correspondent Last update - 07:23 18/06/2008
www.haaretz.com/hasen/spages/993705.html

The main points of a cease-fire between Israel and Hamas grant the Islamic
organization a political and diplomatic achievement that will also give it a
lever in its reconciliation talks with Fatah, which are slated to begin at
the end of this week.

According to the Egyptian-mediated proposal, Israel will no longer be able
to monitor the Rafah crossing, on the Gaza-Egypt border, once it reopens,
and a deal to free kidnapped soldier Gilad Shalit will be discussed
separately from the truce, as Hamas wanted.

Israel will receive quiet in the south, along with an Egyptian pledge to
monitor the border closely, but Hamas will be the main party in control of
the Rafah crossing. Palestinian Authority officials and European observers
will be present, but both will have limited authority.

Moreover, the truce gives Hamas, rather than PA President Mahmoud Abbas, the
power to force a cease-fire in the West Bank: If quiet is maintained in the
south, Israel will have to extend the truce to the West Bank in another six
months.

In theory, the reopening of Rafah depends on progress in the Shalit deal.
But Egyptian officials insisted yesterday that Rafah's opening is
independent of the Shalit swap, and neither is conditional upon the other,
since freeing Shalit involves an additional element: Israel's agreement to
release a large number of Palestinian prisoners. Thus here, too, Israel will
not be able to point to any achievement.

Hamas has an interest in the cease-fire, and not just in order to end
Israel's blockade of the Gaza Strip. Later this week, Abbas is expected to
make his first visit to Gaza since Hamas seized control of the Strip last
year, in an effort to negotiate a reconciliation between his Fatah party and
Hamas. He announced this initiative about two weeks ago, and it is being
supported by Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the United Arab
Emirates. But now, Abbas will find himself facing a politically strengthened
Hamas, one that has seemingly forced Israel to cave in.

The road to a Hamas-Fatah reconciliation remains long, especially in light
of Abbas' demand that Hamas restore the situation in Gaza to what it was
before June 14, 2007. But if the process succeeds, it is likely to end in
new presidential and parliamentary elections, and Hamas would like to enter
those races with maximum political capital. This capital would increase if,
at the end of the cease-fire's six-month trial period, Hamas is able to
force Israel to declare a truce in the West Bank as well. It would thereby
have demonstrated effective security control over both parts of Palestine.

To do this, Hamas will need to tighten its control over smaller Palestinian
factions, which are liable to threaten its claim to exclusive control over
the use of force. But so far, these organizations have supported Hamas in
its cease-fire bid. Thus Hamas has also succeeded in using the truce to
create an internal political front - and even more importantly, to gain the
Arab world's recognition of its status.

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