On 8th May, Israeli state commemorated the 60th anniversary of its establishment according to Jewish calendar. The Israelis celebrated the 60 years of the existence of their state by air shows, concerts and picnics. The Palestinians, who dub the origin of Israel “nakba” – disaster, installed Palestinian flags, black standards and mourning bands on their houses and called for an one-hour strike. On 15th May, they released 22,000 black balloons symbolizing the grief and torment of refugees – one balloon for each day of Israeli existence. (1)
When on 14th May, 1948, the first Israeli Prime Minister David Ben Guiron made a statement concerning the origin of Israel, this state was only inhabited by about six hundred thousand Jewish people. Nowadays, according to the last census Israel has 7.2 million inhabitants out of which 5.5 million are Jews and approximately 1.4 million Arabs.
However, the surrounding Arab countries had rejected the presence of a Jewish state in among them since its establishment and responded to its independence declaration by declaring a war. The entire 60 years of Israel’s existence have been marked by Arab-Israeli wars and Palestinian uprisings. Although Israel is one of the world’s most powerful economies today thanks to its 5 per cent GDP growth, it is still far from peace and own security. Nevertheless, influenced by many events and the shaping up of world’s political scene Israel is unusually open to three subjects that it refused regularly to be in touch with until recently, namely Palestinian Hamas, Lebanese Hezbollah and Syria.
The background of concessions
From the beginning of his second term of office, US President George W. Bush, Jr. has been trying to improve his image irredeemably tainted by US war on terrorism. Like Bill Clinton prior to him, he has the ambition to go down in history text books as a peacemaker who will solve the long-lasting Middle East Conflict by the end of 2008 – preferably yet prior to November presidential elections. As it turned out at the Annapolis conference summoned exclusively for this purpose at the end of 2007, the fixed time limit is, to put it mildly, exaggeratedly optimistic. Nonetheless, Bush along with his Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice still believes that it’s feasible. “We still believe that it is an achievable goal. It may come off by the end of the year and by the end of President George W. Bush’s term of office,” said Rice at the May meeting with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas (2). Therefore both, Rice and Bush, exert strong pressure on Israel as well as Palestinian self-government.
Following the European Union also French President Nicolas Sarkózy, who presides over the union this half year and who redirected his great pre-election ambitions from unsuccessful domestic reforms to foreign policy, labelled the origin of Palestinian state as France’s priority during his visit to the Middle East in June 2008 and reminded Israel of its commitment to peace with the Palestinians (3, 4). Apart from the US and the EU, also the UN and several human rights non-governmental organisations have been appealing to Israel. The question remains, what’s the impulse behind Jerusalem politicians changing their minds?
After Hilary Clinton’s elimination from the candidate list for US presidential elections, Jerusalem is worried about further development of Israeli-American relations. Hilary Clinton used to push through hard stance on Iran, the biggest Israeli enemy which even threatened Israel to destroy it. The favoured moderate candidate of the Democrats Barack Obama doesn’t conceal his intention to withdraw gradually US troops from Iraq and he is likely not to by an ardent and unqualified supporter of Israel as regards neighbour wars. This may lead to the enfeeblement of Israeli position in the region. It’s ironical that according to a research conducted by the organisation The Israel Project US Jewish voters prefer Obama to republican candidate John McCain. According to this organisation as many as 61 per cent Jews traditionally favouring the Democrats are going to vote Obama and only 32 per cent McCain. (5)
The Israelis are afraid that the “privileged partnership” with the US won’t be thus much privileged like it used to be. Israel’s Representative to the UN Dan Gillerman even proclaimed that Obama poses a threat for Israel. (6) Obama strives to dispel similar concerns and has presented himself as a friend and defender of Israel in some of his recent speeches. However, the fact remains that domestic economic and social issues of the US will most probably take priority over the conflict between Israel and Iran, which boasts about its nuclear program, or other state or subject.
Anyway, decisions made by the Israeli government were to a large extent affected by domestic problems. The demographic development in the country seems relatively important. High Palestinian birth rate – 6.2 children fall on one Palestinian mother in comparison with 2.5 children falling on one Jewish mother – should cause that the ratio of the Jews to the Palestinians will be 10:12 million in the second half of the 21st century, although the Jews still amount to the majority at present.
Second important fact in the decision-making process of the coalition Kadima – Labour Party – Sas – Gil were probably record-breaking preferences and PM Ehud Olmert’s accusations in connection with a corruption affair. Olmert is suspected of accepting a financial support for his election campaigns from a US entrepreneur Morris Talansky, although Israeli laws permit the politicians to finance their campaigns from foreign sources (7). The police have been investigating the current Israeli Prime Minister, who substituted Ariel Sharon, for the fifth time since he assumed the office in 2006. In January 2008, he was facing a crisis after a critical report of the governmental committee on the so-called Lebanese Summer war in 2006 had been released. According to this report Israeli political leadership and army failed not only in terms of the warfare, but particularly in terms of the protection of civilians against missile attacks (8). The Chairman of the coalition Labour Party and the Defence Minister Ehud Barak hesitated to resign as the Minister and abandon the government that time. As regards the corruption affair he appealed to Olmert to hand in his resignation, otherwise he would call early elections (9). It was the fear of the results of early elections, which would have been won by the opposition party Likud led by the former PM Benjamin Netanyahu according to opinion polls, that prevented Barak to resign in the end. For unpopular Olmert, early elections would mean the end of political career. Up to two thirds of Israelis wish that the PM resigns. The PM admitted resignation provided that he would be charged. In such a case, if the court proves him guilty, he may be sentenced to seven years in prison. This, however, won’t happen for the foreseeable future because scandal investigation is likely to last yet several months.
Olmert’s problems with law divert his attention from ruling the country and “a state like Israel, which faces the threat of demise, needs a Prime Minister working full-time,” said the representative of the radical party National Union Ariel Eldah. “Now we need a much better leader and also new elections should be held in Israel following which there will be a better government,” added Eldah (10). His criticism met response not only within the opposition but also in Kadima itself. On 25th June, Olmert managed to prevent coalition crisis stirred up by Likud’s proposal to dissolve the government by postponing the voting indefinitely. Olmert persuaded the Labour Party, which had supported the proposal, to boycott the voting. In exchange for this, however, he committed himself to call the election of a new chairman of the party Kadima which were due to be held on 25th September. The final date of Kadima chairman election should be fixed on 10th July. The Foreign Affairs Minister Cipi Livnio and the Transport Minister Shaul Mofaz are possible Olmert’s successors (11). Regular elections to Israeli Parliament – the Knesset – are scheduled for the end of 2010.
Nowadays, the solution to Palestinian minority problem and the settlement of the relations with Lebanon and Syria represent a big challenge for politicians from Kadima, bigger than for the US. In regard with Arab countries Israel has attained peace talks and the forging of diplomatic links just with Egypt, Jordan and Mauretania. Other countries set the establishment of an independent Palestinian state as a condition for negotiations with Jerusalem. Some of them are even more demanding. At present, peace talks amount to an equally big challenge also for the Palestinians. Not only for the self-government represented by President Mahmoud Abbas but also for the radical Palestinian movement Hamas, which has rejected to recognise Israeli state for a long time in return for Israel refusing to recognise its election victory as well as the government in the Gaza Strip.
The origin of the movement, which the United States and the European Union consider a terrorist organisation because it refuses to give up violence, recognises Israel’s right to existence and doesn’t respect peace treaties concluded in the past, dates back to the period of the so-called First Intifade between 1987 and 1993. In Arab the word Hamas means apart from other things also “enthusiasm” – in this case it expresses primarily the passion for faith and determination to fight for the freedom and independence of Palestine. The acronym Hamas hides also the abbreviated form of the official name Islamic Resistance Movement.
Paradoxically, Hamas’ origin was supported by Israeli military and political circles which tried to weaken the dominant position of Arafat’s PLO by establishing a rival organisation. Thus Israel created its own new enemy.
The primary objectives of Hamas as a political and religious extremist organisation are the liberation of Palestine and the establishment of an Islamic state, the appointment of a single representative of Palestinian people as well as the prevention of the secularisation and westernisation of the Arab society. In 2006, Hamas won surprisingly the Palestinian self-government elections obtaining 74 mandates, whereas Fatah gained just 45 ones. This was particularly thanks to its social program and a harsh posture on Israel.
In March 2008, the author of the magazine Vanity Fair David Rose wrote an article claiming that the US attempted to topple Hamas shortly after parliamentary elections. The essence of Bush administration’s plan was the armament of the rival movement Fatah which was supposed to rid Hamas of power via a military operation. Since Hamas got wind of this, it unleashed the battle as first and in June 2007 it seized Gaza. According to David Wurmser, the Principal adviser to former Vice President, Hamas wouldn’t have probably undertaken the coup if US policy didn’t force it to do so. After Hamas assumed power in Gaza, Abbas constituted an interim government without Hamas. However, its authority was restricted solely to the western bank of the Jordan. Practically, two Palestines originated in this way. It means that at present Hamas bears responsibility for nearly million Palestinians who have been cut off from the world owing to Israeli blockade ever since. They have been in severe economic and humanitarian crisis. Economic problems, chaos and Gaza Strip isolation are the very reasons why the public support of Hamas has been sinking since 2007 (13). Today, 31 per cent people would cast their vote for it. Fatah would receive 12 per cent more votes. According to the estimates as many as 75 per cent of Palestinians in Gaza are dependent on social benefits and the unemployment rate accounts for 50 per cent. 80 per cent people have been living below the poverty line. The Gaza Strip blockade prevents the Palestinians from exporting their products, working outside the strip and visiting their relatives. Israel launched the blockade in the middle of January due to missile attacks carried out by the extremists from Gaza. According to statistics released on the server democracynow.org the missiles launched from Gaza has killed thirteen Israelis during the last seven years. Israel wanted to force Hamas to stop the attacks by blocking border crossings and restricting food and fuel supplies. However, it failed. The situation culminated following an Israeli attack on militants in March. More than a hundred people were killed including civilians. For this sake the Palestinians called off the peace talks offer.
As early as September 2007 Hamas appealed to Israel to declare armistice between them, however, it refused to recognise Israel as a state. Therefore no peace talks were held. In November 2007 prior to the Annapolis conference, Hamas leader Ismael Haniyeh labelled any negotiations with Israel useless (14). Nevertheless, he called for armistice again in December – vainly. Israel countenanced negotiations with President Abbas only (15). As early as March Egypt’s statements about Cairo preparing a complex agreement between Israel and Hamas with a tacit assistance of the US appeared in the press. The Egyptians tried to persuade Israel to cease the attacks on Israel and agree a truce in return for which Cairo pledged to free fifty Hamas militants from its prisons and bring Israel to lift, or at least mitigate, the Gaza Strip blockade. Simultaneously, they sought to bring about a reconciliation between Hamas and Fatah, which controlled the western bank of the river Jordan. Fatah headed by President Abbas carries on with the effort to restore peace talks with Israel. However, it won’t achieve any relevant agreement as long as it has to face Hamas’ resistance.
In March, Israel pledged to remove fifty barricades. In April, Hamas offered Israel a ten year armistice in exchange for the withdrawal of Israeli troops from occupied territories which had belonged to Palestine before 1967. According to Khalid Mishal, the political leader of Hamas, it was a sufficient evidence to recognise Israel as a state. He added that the movement would never recognise Israel formally and unequivocally (16). In the past, the representatives of Hamas declared repeatedly that they would support peace talks led by Abbas if Israel withdrew beyond the borders where it had been prior to 1967 and if the Palestinians endorsed the origin of such a state in a plebiscite (17). However, Hamas didn’t express itself clearly about what the final borders of the Palestinian state should have been like, it also rejected a unilateral declaration of armistice and didn’t give up its official appeals to destroy Israel. Israel approved of the idea of a Palestinian state in Gaza and on the West Bank, but it declined Palestinian demands to return beyond the borders prior to 1967.
Hamas offered Israel a six month truce based on the Egyptian proposal on the condition that it would be bilateral and that the Gaza blockade would be removed and the prisoners exchanged. Firstly, Israel rejected officially the offer since Hamas only strived to gain time for repeated supplying and armament in this way according to the Israelis. Then it responded that it was ready to negotiate if the missile attacks were stopped. As these continued in May, Israel threatened with a military operation in the Gaza Strip. “Israeli army has never been so prepared for an extensive operation in Gaza,” said the Infrastructure Minister and the member of Security Cabinet Benjamin Ben-Eliezer. “Perhaps we have no choice but to destroy all terror dens. Apparently we have no other alternative.” he said for public radio. “We have to terminate the Hamas power in Gaza,” stated Israeli Vice PM Haim Ramon. “We are hoping that we won’t be forced to intervene against Hamas using the entire military power which Israel possesses,” warned Olmert (18).
In June, Mahmoud Abbas appealed to restore Fatah-Hamas dialogue and hinted at the possibility of yielding up the condition that Hamas had to give up absolute control over the Gaza Strip which the movement refused. Abbas emphasised at the same time that if the negotiations between the representatives of both Palestinian forces were successful, he would initiate the calling of new parliamentary and presidential elections (19).
On 17th June after indirect negotiations lasting for several months, Hamas agreed with Israel on armistice in the Gaza Strip which took effect on 19th June. The armistice was supposed to have two stages. The first one presupposed the cessation of violence on both sides lasting at least for three days. Yet on the day of agreement results announcement, however, Israel carried out an air raid on the southern part of the strip in the course of which five Palestinians, members of the organisation Islamic Jihad, were killed. Members of this organisation launched eight Kasam missiles on southern Israel the next day. General Amos Gilad from Israeli Defence Ministry, who took part in the negotiations led by Egypt, declared that it was not a peace treaty but “the result of ongoing military activities and the will to stop them”. According to him Israel will keep on preparing for an extensive military action which it will conduct in the case of breaking the truce and the aim of which will be the definite toppling of Hamas (20, 21). Ehud Olmert warned that the armistice would be “fragile” and that it could have been just “short-term” (22). Anyway, it took effect definitely on 19th June at dawn.
After three days of “cessation of hostilities” in terms of the second stage the Gaza Strip borders were supposed to be open and the import of foods and fuels enabled. Negotiations about the release of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit captured by Palestinian militants when penetrating Israeli territory in June 2006 were to be a part of the second stage of the armistice. In exchange for the release of Shalit, Hamas demanded the release of 450 Palestinian prisoners detained in Israel. According to Israel the list encompasses terrorists who participated in murder attacks on the Israelis and rejects persistently their release. Parents of the captured soldier didn’t approve of the fact that the blockade removal wasn’t directly linked with the release of their son and submitted a protest to Israeli Supreme Court. However, the court dismissed their application. Except for Shalit’s parents 56 per cent of Israelis wished the armistice although as many as 79 per cent remained sceptical about its duration according to a poll conducted by the agency Dahaf released on 20th June in the daily Jediot Achronot. Hamas committed itself to observe the armistice unless Israel breaks it. In addition it achieved that armistice extension to the western bank of the Jordan was also contained in the agreement after a half year. Nonetheless, it was this part of the agreement which Israel used in order to provoke the Palestinians when it carried out an attack on the West Bank on 24th June, i.e. five days after armistice declaration, killing one Hamas member and one member of the movement Islamic Jihad, which promised that it would keep the armistice in Gaza, however, it reserved the right to retaliation in the case of Israel attacking its members on the West Bank. In reprisal for the Israeli attack, the movement launched three Kasam missiles on southern Israel from the Gaza Strip which injured two Israelis (23). One day after this incident, all three border crossings between Gaza and Israel were closed. Hamas’ spokesperson accused Israel of trying to disrupt peace atmosphere which had been present in the region for five days. Israeli PM Ehud Olmert only stressed that the armistice didn’t relate to West Bank territory and that he will make Hamas responsible for all Gaza attacks. Besides this he accused Hamas of smuggling weapons into the Strip. Hamas reacted claiming that this was something beyond its influence and abilities. Moreover, “we didn’t commit ourselves to anything as for this matter,” said Ismail Haniyeh. Fourth missile was launched from the Strip on the Israeli town of Sderot on 26th June. The next day, Israel opened the transfer terminal Nahal Oz for fuel transport and a border crossing for persons in Erez. The violence was stopped. On 29th June Hamas arrested the spokesperson of Al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades Muhammad Abu Irman who claimed responsibility for the second missile attack on Israel. On that occasion Hamas stated that it would arrest anyone who breaks the armistice with Israel.
It seems that Hamas takes the armistice seriously. Anyway, after the border crossings in Sufa and Karni were reopened on 2nd July, a possibility to restore the supplies of fuels, foods, weapons and other materials has arisen after a long period. Concurrently, accepting the conditions of armistice Hamas has won its political spurs before possible early elections. Nevertheless, in terms of the second stage Hamas insists on the release of 450 Palestinians imprisoned in Israel, which has been endorsed by solely 70 persons from the list so far. That’s why Hamas interrupted the negotiations about Shalit’s release on 4th July giving Israel’s disregard for agreed conditions as a reason to the Egyptian mediators (24). Now it seems that Palestinian radicals are more interested in the armistice than “moderate” Israel, which was thus much inspired by the results of Egyptian negotiations that it offered peace talks also to Lebanon and Syria.
ciernych-balonov-pripomenuli-udel-utecencov.html(2) Urýchlete dohodu s Palestínci, tlačí USA na Izrael. Hospodářské noviny, 5.5.2008. http://zahranicni.ihned.cz/c3-24516760-003000_d-urychlete-dohodu-
(3) Sarkozy označil vznik palestínského státu za prioritu Francie. České noviny, 24.6.2008. http://www.ceskenoviny.cz/svet/index_view.php?id=319792.
(4) Sarkozy připomněl Izraeli jeho povinnosti pro mír s Palestínci. České noviny, 23.6.2008. http://www.ceskenoviny.cz/svet/index_view.php?id=319571
(5) Zah, R.: Židovští voliči dávají přednost Obamovi před McCainem. ČTK, 18.5.2008. http://aktualne.centrum.cz/zahranici/amerika/clanek.phtml?id=605527
(6) Zah, R.: Židovští voliči dávají přednost Obamovi před McCainem. ČTK, 18.5.2008. http://aktualne.centrum.cz/zahranici/amerika/clanek.phtml?id=605527
(7) Oponenti vyzývajú Olmerta na rezignáciu. Hospodárske noviny, 9.5.2008. http://svet.hnonline.sk/cl-24638070-oponenti-vyzyvaju-olmerta-na-
(8) Gazdík, R.: Olmert zůstává ve funkci. Přes kritiku vládní komise. Centrum.cz, 31.1.2008. http://aktualne.centrum.cz/zahranici/clanok/clanek.phtml?id=
(9) Ministr vyzval Olmerta k odchodu, jinak prý vyvolá předčasné volby. ČTK, 28.5.2008. http://zpravy.idnes.cz/ministr-vyzval-olmerta-k-odchodu-jinak-pry-
(10) Oponenti vyzývajú Olmerta na rezignáciu. Hospodárske noviny, 9.5.2008. http://svet.hnonline.sk/cl-24638070-oponenti-vyzyvaju-olmerta-na-
(11) Izraelská vládní krize zatím zažehnána. ČTK, 25.6.2008. http://www.ceskenoviny.cz/svet/index_view.php?id=319879
(12) Rose, D.: The Gaza Bombshell. Vanity Fair, marec 2008. http://www.vanityfair.com/politics/features/2008/04/gaza200804
(13) Podpora Hamásu v Pásme Gazy podľa prieskumu klesá. Sme, 15. 7. 2007. http://www.sme.sk/c/3395852/Podpora-Hamasu-v-Pasme-Gazy-
(14) Hamas: Rokovania medzi Izraelom a Palestínčanmi sú zbytočné. TASR, 26. 11. 2008. http://www.sme.sk/c/3606519/Hamas-Rokovania-medzi-Izraelom-a-
(14) Gazdík, R.: Hamas žádá Izrael o příměří. Marně. ČTK, 20.12.2008. http://aktualne.centrum.cz/zahranici/clanok/clanek.phtml?id=
(16) Hamás ponúka 10-ročné prímerie, ako dôkaz uznania Izraela. Sme, 21. 4. 2008. http://www.sme.sk/c/3839958/Hamas-ponuka-10-rocne-primerie-
(17) DPA, 23.4.2008
(18) Izraelská armáda je pripravená na operáciu v Gaze. Hospodárske noviny, 15.5.2008. http://svet.hnonline.sk/c1-24757140-izraelska-armada-je-pripravena-
(19) Hamas a Fatah si vraj opäť dôverujú. AP. 8.5.2008. http://dnes.atlas.sk/svet/202751/
(20) Izrael přistoupil na dohodu o příměří s Hamasem. ČTK, 18.6.2008. http://www.ceskenoviny.cz/svet/index_view.php?id=318830
(21) Izrael potvrdil příměří s Hamasem, chce jednat i s Libanonem. ČTK, 18.6.2008. http://zpravy.idnes.cz/izrael-potvrdil-primeri-s-hamasem-vojenske-
(22) A Gaza, les conditions de la treve la rendent tres fragile. LeMonde, 19.6.2008. http://www.lemonde.fr/web/imprimer_element/0,40-0@2-3218,50-
(23) Des tirs de roquettes sur le sud d’Israël mettent en péril la trêve avec le Hamas. LeMonde, 24.6.2008. http://www.lemonde.fr/web/imprimer_element/0,40-0@2-3218,50-
(24) Hamas freezes talks over ‘non-respect’ of Gaza truce. AFP, 5.7.2008. http://www.dailystar.com.lb/article.asp?edition_id=10&categ_id=2&