Can Gaza ceasefire hold?
The Gaza Strip and the Israeli towns and farms surrounding the Palestinian enclave spent a quiet morning on Thursday after a ceasefire deal came into force after dawn between the Jewish state and the Hamas Islamists who rule Gaza’s 1.5 million people. The absence of mortars and improvised rockets falling on the Israeli side of the border and of Israeli air strikes and ground incursions on the other were welcomed by ordinary people. For Palestinians in Gaza, the biggest hope is an increase in supplies which Israel has kept under tight blockade since Hamas seized control a year ago.
Both sides, as well as Egypt which mediated the deal over several months and the international powers, have plenty of reasons to see the truce work . The UN even told Reuters it could help pave the way for UN peacekeepers in Gaza. But equally there are plenty on all sides who are already saying it is as doomed as previous “calms” between Israel and Hamas, which has been shunned by Western powers for its refusal to give up violent tactics such as suicide bombings and Gaza rocket salvos. Not least among the apparent pessimists has been Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, who has warned the peace may be short-lived. Olmert has plenty of critics who would happily use that adjective of his own career – the prime minister has promised to resign if he is indicted in a corruption investigation that has already seen an American businessman testify to handing Olmert large sums of cash stuffed in envelopes. The premier has survived a series of such scandals in his two and a half years in power and he again denies all wrongdoing. However, his enemies, including within his own coalition government, are circling and could vote next week to dissolve parliament and start the process of triggering an early election .
So how is Olmert fighting back? By making himself seem indispensable to Israelis as a peacemaker on all fronts, some say. As well as U.S.-sponsored talks with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, begun last November, he has lately revealed Turkish-mediated talks with Syria, a desire to open negotiations with Lebanon and progress in talks with Hezbollah on exchanging prisoners. Not to mention today’s truce with Hamas. So can Olmert stave off the public prosecutor and keep the peace?