Israel has now admitted publicly that it is negotiating with Hamas. The Hebrew phrase for negotiations is masa umatan, probably best translated as “give and take”, in which each side expects to get something in return for giving up something else.
Israel wants to get kidnapped soldier Gilad Schalit and wants an end to rocket attacks. Hamas wants a respite from Israeli retaliation every time one of its rockets kills somebody, and freedom to arm and train its troops — they are developing an army, not just a terrorist gang — and to build fortifications, dig tunnels, etc. It also wants an undetermined number of prisoners, including those who have killed Israelis, released. And it would like to forestall an IDF incursion into Gaza.
Israeli officials insist that any truce must also prohibit arms smuggling and training of military personnel in Iran, etc.
There have been other, more informal cease-fire agreements. What generally happens is that the rockets get a return address of Islamic Jihad or some other faction instead of Hamas for a while, and ultimately Hamas finds an Israeli action to use as a pretext to restart official hostilities.
There have been other prisoner exchanges, in which a few Israelis are exchanged for a large number of Arabs. This time the Israeli government has expressly changed the criteria for who can be released to include murderers.
A truce now would be disadvantageous for Israel. Although Gilad Schalit might be returned, Hamas’ demands for a prisoner release — at least as they have been expressed before, including as many as 1,500 prisoners — would be an unacceptable precedent, a statement that murder is permissible, and an invitation to kidnap more Israelis.
The provisions prohibiting arms smuggling and other activities would be unenforceable unless Israel were prepared to assume control of the border between Gaza and Egypt, which could only occur after an incursion to secure this area. Nobody else — not the EU, not NATO, not Egypt, not the PA — is going to risk their own people in order to protect Israel.
Israel is today negotiating from a position of weakness. The proposed truce would be an immediate loss for Israel, and there is no way to enforce longer-term provisions.
A more rational approach would be to first invade Gaza, destroy as much of the Hamas infrastructure — both physical and human — as possible, and retake the area around the Gaza-Egypt border. Then an agreement would have some chance of lasting more than a couple of weeks.
In discussing this, we should not lose sight of the nature of Hamas: a terrorist organization which is frankly genocidal in its aspirations. Those Gazans who do not directly support Hamas and its goals are being held hostage to them. Insofar as there are humanitarian or human rights considerations, the party that should be held to account is Hamas, not Israel.
If the world had an interest in the welfare of the Gaza population, it would act to stop aggression from Hamas and to remove this regime — which violates every principle of civilized behavior — from power. In the absence of such action, Israel has a responsibility to protect her own population.