- The Washington Times - Monday, June 23, 2008

TEL AVIV | As the Israel-Hamas cease-fire held for a fourth day Sunday, many in the Jewish state feared that the Islamic militant group had begun to achieve international credibility despite its vow to destroy Israel.

Israel on Sunday boosted supplies of food and medicine going into the Gaza Strip by about 50 percent and said it’s considering further relaxations of the months-long siege on the war-weary enclave, a military official said on the condition of anonymity because of rules forbidding comment for attribution.

Despite predictions by Israelis and Arabs of the cease-fire’s imminent demise, the accord marks a break with a several-years-old policy of Israel and the U.S. to boycott Hamas.

“The big winner from this agreement is Hamas. The victory of Hamas in this round is a victory for radical Islam, comparable with the victory of Hezbollah in Lebanon,” wrote a former general, Yiftah Ron Tal, in the daily newspaper Yisrael Hayom, referring to the inconclusive 2006 war between Israel and the militant group based in southern Lebanon.

“This will lead to the collapse of the international boycott of Hamas. In other words, the state of Israel is promoting - even if this was not its intention - the establishment of Hamastan in Gaza, a state ruled by terrorists.”

The agreement gives Hamas an opportunity to demonstrate that it can enforce a truce on Gaza’s disparate militias - a sign of sovereignty that Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas was never able to fulfill.

If the quiet holds, Hamas is slated to be included in negotiations over the opening of the Rafah terminal - Gaza’s only international crossing for civilians.

In Jerusalem on Sunday, the father of Gilad Shalit, the Israeli soldier kidnapped two years ago in the Gaza Strip, appealed to Israel’s Supreme Court to issue an injunction against the cease-fire deal, saying it endangers his son.

The shift in policy comes one year after Hamas’ takeover of the Gaza Strip triggered an internationally sanctioned siege promoted by Israel.

“Israel is basically going against what it has been preaching to the U.S. and international community,” said Meir Javedanfar, a Tel Aviv-based analyst. “This is a positive step for Hamas. They are portraying themselves as responsible, and they’re ready to play their part. Whether they are ready to do it depends on the organizations cost versus reward analysis.”

To be sure, the cease-fire is subject to conflicting interpretations. On Friday, Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh said that the Islamic militants would continue to smuggle weapons over the border with Egypt - activity that Israel says must stop in order for it to honor the truce.

For all the criticism, a weekend poll published in the Yediot Ahronot newspaper found that a 56 percent majority of Israelis support the cease-fire - often referred to in Israel as a “tahdia,” Arabic for “calm.”

“Hamas was an organization of fundamentalist murderers, which aspires to destroy Israel, and will remain so until proven otherwise,” wrote Yael Paz Melamed in the daily Ma’ariv newspaper.

“But that is the organization with which the tahdia agreement has been made - a signed agreement, not just vague promises. It is not just talk. It is an agreement, which took shape after innumerable proposals and counterproposals. In short - negotiations. More than anything else, this is the real significance of the tahdia agreement.”

Still, the cease-fire was not a one-sided affair in favor of Hamas, some analysts said.

Mohammed Dejani, a political science professor at Al Quds University, said the cease-fire represented Hamas’ de facto recognition of Israel as well as an endorsement of the peace process - even if it is referred to in Arabic as a calm.

Mr. Dejani said he’s convinced the cease-fire will lead to full-blown peace talks.

“I am sure that there are also negotiations regarding the bigger picture. This a rational assumption,” he said. “It could build trust, and there could be steps to follow. The assumption is that it will not stop here.”

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