A ceasefire agreement was eventually reached between Israeli and Palestinians on 26 August. Fifty days after the beginning of Israel’s “Protective Edge” military operation, the Cairo-brokered peace deal was welcomed by Gaza’s inhabitants who demonstrated in Gaza’s streets last night. However, it should not bring much improvement in comparison to the previous ceasefire negotiated in 2012.
End of hostilities
The open-end ceasefire was announced in the evening of 26 August by representatives of Gaza’s Hamas and Islamic Jihad, the Palestinian Authority and Israel. The latter described it as “unconditional and unlimited in time”. It started at 7 PM local time, and put an end to all rocket fire and air strikes from both sides, which killed more than 2,100 Palestinians and 70 Israelis, among which 64 soldiers, in seven weeks. Eight temporary ceasefires had previously failed to reduce hostilities, leading to more than 17,000 homes being destroyed or damaged and displacing 600,000 people. Analysts declared that reconstruction should take approximately 10 years. “Since the truce came into force, there has been no IDF [Israeli Defense Forces] activity in Gaza, and no rocket fire on Israel,” said a Israeli military spokesman.
The ceasefire plan includes an unlimited end of hostilities, the opening of Gaza’s gateways with Israel and Egypt, a partial lifting of the blockade that exists since 2006, and an enlargement of the fishing zone from three to eight miles offshore. These terms are similar to what had been agreed on at the end of the previous war in 2012 but include greater power for the Palestinian Authority. The West Bank-based organisation will take over responsibility for administering Gaza's borders from Hamas and coordinate the reconstruction of destroyed areas. The settlement of more sensitive issues – notably the liberation of prisoners, building of a sea port as well as Gaza’s demilitarization – has been postponed to further negotiations.
Hamas claims victory, Netanyahu criticised
After the ceasefire was announced, thousands of Palestinians gathered into the streets of the Gaza Strip as Hamas declared the diplomatic settlement a “victory”. “Hamas is grateful to the people of Gaza who sacrificed their homes, children and money. We announce the victory today after achieving our goals,” Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri said. The organisation further congratulated the Palestinian resistance to Israeli forces. "[Israeli prime minister Binyamin] Netanyahu has failed to force Gaza to surrender. Yes, we defeated them by our standing and our resistance. We will stand by our people and we won't leave them," he added.
On the Israeli side, the ceasefire was accepted despite large opposition from the cabinet. Officials denounced Hamas’ reluctance to accept the previous proposals. “There is nothing more to the proposal than there was a month and a half ago,” a senior Israeli official said, underlining that Hamas had won nothing of the recent clashes that left Gaza in ruins. Nevertheless, many Israeli analysts also underlined Benjamin Netanyahu’s “failure” on this issue : Israeli leaders had indeed declared they would not negotiate if Hamas continued bombing the Israeli territory, but eventually accepted the compromise while rockets were still being fired. Haaretz journalist Gideon Levy notably denounced a “a useless war” and the lack of long-term vision of Israeli leaders. “Over the past 50 days, Gaza has told [Prime Minister Netanyahu] that Israel can no longer live eternally by the sword,” he wrote, while his counterpart Amir Oren explained “Israel needs to define its core objectives and set the desired boundaries – what Israelis are ready to fight for, what they are killing for, what they are being killed for.”
International reactions were numerous after the announcement. Although they were globally positive, they also reaffirmed the need to broker a long-term peace plan for the future. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon notably warned that "after 50 days of profound human suffering and devastating physical destruction, any violations of the ceasefire would be utterly irresponsible." British Minister for the Middle East Tobias Ellwood further declared “The ceasefire provides a critical and welcome window of opportunity for reaching a comprehensive agreement that tackles the underlying causes of the conflict” while Tony Blair underlined the need for a long-term peace plan for Gaza’s reconstruction. US Secretary of State John Kerry said the ceasefire constituted an “opportunity, not a certainty.”
Eventually, despite the optimism brought by this agreement, the US State Department spokeswoman rightly underlined that “there is a long road ahead”. As Ban Ki-moon stated : “Any peace effort that does not tackle the root causes of the crisis will do little more than set the stage for the next cycle of violence.”
Author : Laura Gounon