An Agreement Without an Agreement

The principles of the agreement being formulated in Cairo have not yet been officially publicized. But from what is being leaked from behind closed doors in the hotel where the sides are sitting, it is clear that Israel is the one being pressured by most of the parties to the talks, and is willing to pay a “civilian price” in exchange for “military calm.”

Yesterday, there were ministers in the cabinet who defined the formula as “quiet in exchange for money,” or, in harsher terms, “diplomatic protection.” According to those ministers, Israel is ready to reach an agreement even if it will not include the basic demands that for weeks and months have been classified in Yerushalayim as a basis for any future agreement.

“Israel is agreeing to dangerous wording, which will enable the release of money and salaries to a terrorist group and, in exchange, will not even get back the bodies of its missing soldiers.”

Are these descriptions accurate? Do they reflect reality? That we will only know after all the details are publicized, if they are agreed upon. In any case, it is doubtful that the sides will sign any official papers. The framework being discussed is built on “understandings” and pledges that each side is giving orally to the Egyptian mediator. In actuality, it will be an agreement without an agreement.

But one thing is already clear: the Israeli delegation made suggestions that will enable Hamas to present the agreement as a major achievement. They will be able to present that image of triumph that they could not obtain throughout the fighting. They will claim that, for the first time, they obtained a breach in the Israeli blockade on Gaza. They will be able to tell the oppressed citizens of the Gaza Strip that “it was all worth it.” In exchange for the sacrifices, the suffering and the damage, not only will Egypt open the Rafiach crossing almost freely, Israel will also open the crossings from Gaza into Israel for thousands more Gazan workers who are desperately seeking jobs. It will also allow 500 to 600 trucks of merchandise to go in to Gaza every day with products, and leave loaded with Gazan products for sale in Israel and beyond.

They will also be able to present Israel’s agreement to expanding the fishing zone in the Mediterranean Sea as a big achievement. Likewise, the transfer of salaries through a third party will in essence allow the Hamas government to pay its workers, who haven’t been paid in months for lack of funds. They will also show that Israel is opening the traffic arteries from Yehudah and Shomron to the Gaza Strip and back, after years of cutting off the two Palestinian territories from each other.

On the other hand, Israel will have little to show for its effort. Israel demanded the disarmament of Hamas and its terror groups, and didn’t get it. It didn’t even get a pledge for a gradual disarming, a process which would come over time. The Hamas military brass will now be allowed to leave Gaza without Israel being able to harm them, and the network of rockets and missiles that have survived will remain intact. They can serve as a very good basis for the weapons stockpiles for the next conflict, which will inevitably take place at some point in the future.

The dialogue in Cairo was between numerous parties and each one has its own interests and needs. Between Israel, Egypt, Hamas, the representatives of the Palestinian Authority, the Americans, the United Nations’ diplomats, the Europeans and the Qataris; have you ever heard of a good stew emerging from the hands of so many cooks all standing over one pot, each tossing his own ingredients inside, while stirring in multiple directions?

Ultimately, it is negotiations of give-and-take, with a lot more give-give-give on the part of the Israelis.

From the agreement being formulated — with the caveat that this is based on leaks and not authorized information — it is clear that Hamas is achieving things around the negotiating table. Again and again it has been proven that Israel knows how to fight in the battlefield but its diplomatic echelons fail repeatedly in their wars at the negotiating table.