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December 23, 2008: A Very Brief Lull

December 23, 2008

Seems I may have underestimated Mubarak a bit yesterday when I said that Hamas was disenchanted with the Egyptians as negotiators and would likely not be moved by his attempts to cool matters.

Mubarak knew what to say: He told the Hamas leaders that Israel was planning on assassinating them. Worked like a charm. For a few hours, anyway. What he had asked for was 24 hours of quiet, what he got was 24 hours with just three rocket launchings — a considerable reduction from the day before. And today Hamas people are saying they provided a few hours of complete quiet before those three were launched. As serious as the ramifications of this situation are, this is truly laughable.

But there seems to have also been another reason why Hamas cooled it for a few hours: they wanted the Kerem Shalom crossing opened so some supplies would get through.


Today six Kassams have been launched. But Arutz Sheva, with an admirable sense of the ridiculous, explains the difference between today’s launchings and yesterday’s: Yesterday’s were “truce attacks,” while today’s are “non-ceasefire” attacks.

One Hamas spokesman acknowledged that the shooting was begun again after the aid came through the crossing; they had gotten what they were after.

This, in spite of a statement by Hamas leader Mahmoud Zahar to the Egyptian paper Al-Aharam that an assessment would be made after yesterday’s quiet and that the “truce” would probably continue.

What is perhaps significant — revelatory of Hamas thinking — is that the level of rocket fire has not, at least not yet, escalated to what it had been a few days ago. It’s as if they perceive (hopefully this time they’re wrong!) that a “few” rockets will be tolerated by the Israeli public, while what they had been doing before stimulated sufficient protest so that an operation might have been imminent.

One Israeli official explained that, “Hamas does not want us to invade Gaza. They are hoping that because of the elections we will not invade and that they will be able to put pressure on us with the rocket attacks and… get better conditions in a new cease-fire.”


According to “senior defense officials” quoted by the Post, a reduction in attacks will not stop the operation. It is not anticipated that all rocket launchings will cease.

Hamas has been making threats about suicide attack renewals and other forms of violence if we don’t get with their program. But this is my favorite Hamas quote, from spokesman Fawzi Barhoum:

“Israel wants to extort us so that we would agree to a cease-fire without gaining anything in return. Israel is offering us calm in return for calm, and this is unacceptable. They don’t want to lift the siege and include the West Bank in the cease-fire agreement.”

“Calm for calm” is unacceptable. Because they’re not gaining anything in return? Isn’t not having their leaders targeted for assassination “something”?


Now factor this in, as well: In a reversal of what was understood to be his position just days ago, Mahmoud Abbas, PA president, sitting in a meeting with Mubarak today, declared that the PA “will not agree to Israel invading the Gaza Strip, or its planes bombarding it.”

I wasn’t aware we need him to “agree,” although it does make matters a bit more complicated internationally if he is opposed.

Just days ago, Abbas was reportedly of a mind to see Hamas defeated because it would not negotiate with Fatah to establish unity. Now Abbas says that there is “no escape from renewing dialogue despite the fact that Hamas boycotts it. Our attempts have failed once, but still they should be continued until successful, because this is in the Palestinians’ interest.”

What pressures were brought to bear here? I would assume it was at least in part Mubarak’s pressure, as Egypt still imagines it can broker a unity government. Did Abbas decide it looked really bad for him to even implicitly support an Israeli operation?

We must remember that he’s going to be at odds with Hamas in a most significant way if he, as he says he will, remains in the presidency past January 9th.


Livni will be in Cairo for meetings on Thursday.


The Elder of Ziyon blog has run an amusing and very telling quiz, challenging people to match statements by our ostensible leaders with the date on which they made the statements. The point, quite simply, is that for two years they’ve been saying pretty much the same thing regarding Israeli refusal to tolerate rockets shot into Israel and the immediacy of a major response. Two years.

I thank Chana Givon for calling this to my attention. You can see the quiz at:



After holding meetings yesterday with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Turkish President Abdullah Gul, Olmert is waxing enthusiastic about the possibility of holding direct talks with Syria.

But Assad has said he doesn’t want to negotiate now — he’s waiting for new administrations both in Israel and the US; then, ultimately, he would be in favor of talks. Obviously he sees Obama as more receptive than Bush has been. With regard to Israel, he prefers dealing with a stable new government, rather than one that is in its last days.

What I seriously wonder is if Olmert has provided Assad with an answer to his question as to whether Israel would permit Syria to go all the way down to the Kinneret if there were a deal and the Golan were returned to Syria.

One must conclude that this might be the case, because Assad said he wouldn’t pursue negotiations unless Israel agreed on this point first.


Netanyahu went to the Golan yesterday with some key figures from Likud, including Moshe Yaalon, Yossi Peled and Gideon Saar, in order to make a statement while Olmert was in Turkey. Said he:

“We are here to say clearly to the people of Israel and the entire world that the government of Israel under the Likud’s leadership will remain in the Golan and safeguard it as a strategic asset for the country’s future. It doesn’t matter what Olmert says in Ankara. We say the government under my leadership will not withdraw from the Golan.”

It’s good for the world in general and Assad in particular to hear this. The same issue applies here as in what I’ve been discussing with the PA negotiations. The world tries to squeeze us into picking up in dealings where a previous government left off. But a verbal statement made by the former government is not legally binding on the next government.

What we will need, first of all, is to see the new government under Likud leadership. It’s early in the campaign, but Likud is slipping in the polls and Kadima is gaining.

Then we need to pray that Netanyahu will stand strong on this. There are critics pointing out that he’s on the record previously as being willing to relinquish the Golan. Benny Begin says Netanyahu has changed… (Please, friends, in this instance, no messages telling me how I definitely can or cannot trust Bibi. I know full well there are people espousing both views. I know the arguments. And I know I trust Bibi more than I trust Tzipi.)


Tomorrow is the final day for registration of parties for the election campaign. It would be difficult for me to fully describe how complicated the scenario is, with people switching parties, parties with new names establishing, and old parties coalescing and then coming apart.

I will do my best to provide updates on significant parts of the campaign.




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