Egypt's Sinai: red triangle in center
Egypt's Sinai: red triangle in center

French President Nicolas Sarkozy has announced that Israel has agreed to a ceasefire with Hamas. Israel has not confirmed.

According to the plan, Egypt agrees, for the first time, with Israel's demand to deploy international observers on the Egypt-Gaza border to help stop the wholesale arms-smuggling into Gaza.  It insists, however, that Israel must cease its fire immediately and then discuss the details of a full-scale truce.

The plan is backed by Sarkozy and Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas.

Army Radio reports that Israeli officials rejected the idea out of hand.  "We didn't start this offensive in order to buy a cat in a sack [an unknown quantity]," is the Israeli position.

Officially, Israel welcomes the Egyptian and French "efforts."  A statement released Wednesday afternoon states, "Israel thanks the presidents of Egypt and France for their efforts to advance a solution for the cessation of terrorism from Gaza and an end to arms/weapons smuggling from Egypt into Gaza.  Israel views positively dialogue between Egyptian and Israeli elements for the purpose of advancing the matter of a ceasefire."

Rice in Favor

For the first time during this war, however, a high-ranking U.S. official appears to have come out against the Israeli position.  U.S. Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice said on Tuesday night that she supports the Egyptian proposal, adding that it was crucial that the ceasefire "endure and bring real security.  Our goal must be the stabilization and normalization of life in Gaza."

Ex-Israeli Ambassador to the U.S. Danny Ayalon (now a Knesset candidate for the Yisrael Beiteinu party of Avigdor Lieberman) said he does not think the Americans "are really pushing us for a ceasefire. They just don't want a repeat of the Second Lebanon War, when even after 33 days we were not able to categorically defeat Hizbullah. They just want us to provide some good answers about our plans."

"I really don't see Bush in his last 13 days in office pushing us to accept a ceasefire," Ayalon said. "They want us to correct the impression left from the previous war in which we didn't deal a crushing blow to the Iranian terror axis."

Shteinitz does not agree that Rice expects Israeli soldiers to die battling Hamas merely so Abbas can reclaim what he lost to Hamas in 2007.

Rice: Give Gaza to Abbas

Significantly, Secretary Rice noted, in her support for the Egyptian ceasefire proposal,  that it was crucial for Abbas' Palestinian Authority to re-establish its control over Gaza - control that it lost to Hamas in a military take-over in the summer of 2007.  There must be "a solution that does not allow the rearmament of Hamas," she said.

Israeli Soldiers Die for Abbas?

Asked if this means she expects Israeli soldiers to die battling Hamas merely so that Abbas can reclaim what he lost to Hamas in 2007, Likud MK Yuval Shteinitz said, "No. Israel is fighting Hamas because we have to defeat them, period.  We can look at the positive aspects of what she is saying, namely, that we are getting a green light to destroy Hamas."

The fact that Israel may soon find Abbas's Fatah back in charge of Gaza did not seem to perturb Shteinitz, in keeping with his support for a withdrawal from Gaza.  He objected to the unilateral aspect of the 2005 Disengagement, as well as to giving up Israeli control of the Philadelphi Route between Gaza and Egypt, but voted in favor of it in most, if not all, Knesset votes.

Shteinitz: Egypt Should Control Smuggling Itself

Shteinitz, a former Chairman of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, says he does not agree that Egypt "needs help" in patrolling its borders with Gaza. 

"Egypt is responsible for the arms that have been smuggled into Gaza," he told IsraelNationalNews, "and they can stop it relatively easily in one of two ways: by placing checkpoints on the two roads leading to Gaza through Sinai, or by declaring a three-kilometer area near the border a closed military zone.  The border is only 14 kilometers long. They can put a fence around it and allow only residents to come through.  An Egyptian general once told Israel that if his government would allow, that's what he would do in order to stop the arms-flow into Gaza."

"They don't need any help from the UN to fence off an area about the size of an airport," Shteinitz reiterated.  "Notice that in Jordan, where the border is ten times longer - 140 kilometers - there is no arms-smuggling from Jordan into Judea and Samaria."