Olmert, armed with the new but ever-so-fragile ceasefire agreement, which began Sunday morning at 6:00am, indicated he is embarking on a new diplomatic initiative, signaling a meeting with PA (Palestinian Authority) Chairman Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) will be held immediate following Hamas’ denouncing terror and release of Gilad Shalit.
Mr. Olmert has placed his cards on the ceasefire, realizing he is in need of political breath of fresh air as he struggles to remain afloat following the Second Lebanon War, which has resulted in calls to resign directed at a number senior ministers and IDF officers. His decision in essence undermines the IDF and intelligence communities, which continue to warn the hiatus in IDF counter-terror operations in northern Gaza serve Hamas and other Gaza-based terrorists only, permitting them an opportunity to restock and prepare for the next round of warfare.
Sderot residents are pained and outraged, well-aware that the ceasefire is yet another sign by Israel of her inability/unwillingness to bring the attacks to a halt. The rockets fired in the Sderot area hours into the ceasefire, nine in total, were chalked up as birthing pains as Abu Mazen takes control of the situation. The PA announced 13,000 security forces are deployed in northern Gaza to ensure the ceasefire is not violated.
That held until Monday afternoon, when a rocket was fired into Sderot, ending without injuries.
Once again, Olmert and his aides exhibit total confidence that the prime minister’s new political initiative will bear fruit, seeking to shift the nation into a peace euphoria, trying to move from a state-of-conflict to a peace summit with the PA.
In the meantime, Shalit, who was taken prisoner on June 25th, has not been heard from. The same holds true for soldiers Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev, abducted from the northern border while on patrol on July 12th. Despite talk of prisoner exchange deals, peace summits, and a meeting with Abu Mazen, Olmert has not even managed to elicit a sign of life – still unaware if the three are among the living. It is known that they were wounded when taken hostage by Hamas and Hizbullah, but no one has seen them since.
Latest reports speak of a major prisoner exchange deal towards the release of Shalit, but as has been the case during recent months, these reports are now in the realm of speculation or disinformation.
Army commanders appear less comfortable with the prime minister’s new political turn, well-aware a rearmed Hamas will present a formidable foe if ground forces are ordered into Gaza once again. Army intelligence has documented that terrorists since the August 2005 Israeli retreat from Gaza have stocked up with tons of military grade explosives, as well as millions of rounds of ammunition and advanced weaponry. Such weapons include the anti-tank rockets used against the IDF in the Second Lebanon War this summer, which claimed the lives of many IDF soldiers. There are also reports of anti-aircraft rockets capable of downing IDF combat helicopters.
Right-wing opposition lawmakers are accusing the prime minister of going back on his word, explaining in essence, his “outstretched hand towards peace” is nothing more than conducting negotiations with the PA Hamas-led government, doing so by using Abu Mazen as a conduit. Since assuming control of the PA, Prime Minister Ismail Haniyah has stated and reiterated on numerous occasions that he will never recognize Israel’s legitimate right to exist. This the PA leader stated will hold true even after the formation of a coalition government with Fatah.
Abu Mazen, the moderate, whose doctorial thesis denies the Holocaust, recently repeated his position, one that includes a tenacious clinging to the so-called Palestinian right of return, which would amount to the influx of millions of Arabs into Israel’s borders. There is a general consensus among Israelis, left and right, that the right of return is a non-starter, realizing it would spell the end of a Jewish majority in Israel and the end of the State of Israel.
Nevertheless, Olmert is banking on entering into talks with Abu Mazen, a move he views as crucial to keep his government afloat. At odds with Defense Minister Amir Peretz, void of a major political policy and vision, the prime minister is desperately seeking to extricate himself out of the Second Lebanon War investigations, which have sent shockwaves into the highest levels of government and military command, prompting a number of high-level resignations and investigations. Opponents of the prime minister add that in addition, the new initiative serves Olmert well, as he tries to deflect reports on the mounting fraud investigations against him involving alleged real estate deals and abuse of his authority in a number of governmental posts in the past.