Leading article: A ceasefire that promises hope, but must deliver

Respite for Gaza can be a first step towards better security for Israel

Related Topics

Twelve days after Israel launched its attack on Gaza and four long days into the ground offensive, the first flickers of hope at last appeared on the horizon. What was the turning point? Was it the many civilian deaths at a school being used as a UN shelter on Tuesday – for which President Shimon Peres apologised yesterday? Or domestic misgivings about the extent of the suffering in the densely-populated war zone? Was it perhaps the mounting international pressure on Israel to call a halt, or a belief among Israel's commanders that the capability of Hamas to resist was nearing exhaustion. Any one of these factors, or the cumulative effect of all, could have swayed Israel's war cabinet when it met yesterday.

Israel's acceptance of a daily three-hour halt in military operations to allow food and fuel to be taken in to Gaza, and then distributed, marked the first break in almost two weeks of unremitting hostilities. In effect, the provision for humanitarian corridors meant that Israel's had belatedly accepted a European Union appeal it had earlier rejected. Israel then said it had agreed the "principles" of a ceasefire proposal drafted by France and Egypt, while denying that it had accepted the ceasefire as such. While such caveats might make Israel's position sound tentative, they are the very stuff of diplomatic negotiation. As of last night, Israel had agreed to send a representative to talks in Cairo today.

It is too early to say that the military phase of this conflict is now over – or to predict with any confidence that a formal ceasefire will be finalised in the coming days. The next steps do not depend only on Israel. They depend also on the military and political leaders of Hamas and on the Fatah government which runs the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank. They also depend, crucially, on the determination of international mediators to devise arrangements that will pass muster with all parties – and mechanisms to enforce them.

If this entails international guarantors, and – perhaps in the longer term – an international presence of some kind to help secure Israel's border with Gaza, then the willingness of those countries expected to contribute must be established in advance. Nothing can be left to chance.

Early signs are that the Cairo talks will be delicate, even if they turn out to be only exploratory. The deputy head of Hamas's political bureau was quoted as saying yesterday that the organisation rejected a permanent truce. Even if there is an element of grandstanding here, Israel will still want assurances – first that Hamas will not be able to re-arm, and second that it will be able to ensure that its fighters are bound by any ceasefire.

Attendance in Cairo, or at any follow-up talks, will also be crucial. For any agreement to stick, it must come with the co-operation of Fatah, and the more support garnered also from Arab states, the better. There will have to be communication, too, if only through a third party, between Israel and Hamas – something that Israel has rejected, so long as Hamas refuses to recognise it as a state.

At this point, however, Israel's practical security should take precedence over the principle of recognition. And security means an end not just to rocket attacks, but to the tunnels used for smuggling. In return, the Palestinian Authority will hold out for a reopening of legitimate crossing points. The outline conditions for an end to the Gaza conflict are evident. Ensuring that they are met, though, will require a determined, and genuinely multilateral, effort.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Head of Service and Support (Financial Services, ITIL, ORC, TT)

£75000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Head of Service and Support (Financial Ser...

Calypso Developer

£700 per day: Harrington Starr: Calypso Developer Java, Calypso, J2EE, JAXB, ...

Service Delivery Manager - ITIL / ServiceNow / Derivatives

£60000 - £75000 per annum: Harrington Starr: A leading Financial Services orga...

Senior Quantitative Developer

£700 per day: Harrington Starr: Quantitative Developer C++, Python, STL, R, PD...

Day In a Page

Read Next

Next they'll say an independent Scotland can't use British clouds...

Mark Steel

Once I would have agreed with Dawkins. Then my daughter was born with Down's Syndrome

Jamie McCullum
Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape
eBay's enduring appeal: Online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce retailer

eBay's enduring appeal

The online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce site
Culture Minister Ed Vaizey: ‘lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird’

'Lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird'

Culture Minister Ed Vaizey calls for immediate action to address the problem
Artist Olafur Eliasson's latest large-scale works are inspired by the paintings of JMW Turner

Magic circles: Artist Olafur Eliasson

Eliasson's works will go alongside a new exhibition of JMW Turner at Tate Britain. He tells Jay Merrick why the paintings of his hero are ripe for reinvention
Josephine Dickinson: 'A cochlear implant helped me to discover a new world of sound'

Josephine Dickinson: 'How I discovered a new world of sound'

After going deaf as a child, musician and poet Josephine Dickinson made do with a hearing aid for five decades. Then she had a cochlear implant - and everything changed
Greggs Google fail: Was the bakery's response to its logo mishap a stroke of marketing genius?

Greggs gives lesson in crisis management

After a mishap with their logo, high street staple Greggs went viral this week. But, as Simon Usborne discovers, their social media response was anything but half baked
Matthew McConaughey has been singing the praises of bumbags (shame he doesn't know how to wear one)

Matthew McConaughey sings the praises of bumbags

Shame he doesn't know how to wear one. Harriet Walker explains the dos and don'ts of fanny packs
7 best quadcopters and drones

Flying fun: 7 best quadcopters and drones

From state of the art devices with stabilised cameras to mini gadgets that can soar around the home, we take some flying objects for a spin
Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

The midfielder returned to the Premier League after two years last weekend. The controversial character had much to discuss after his first game back
Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

British No 1 knows his consistency as well as his fitness needs working on as he prepares for the US Open after a ‘very, very up and down’ year
Ferguson: In the heartlands of America, a descent into madness

A descent into madness in America's heartlands

David Usborne arrived in Ferguson, Missouri to be greeted by a scene more redolent of Gaza and Afghanistan
BBC’s filming of raid at Sir Cliff’s home ‘may be result of corruption’

BBC faces corruption allegation over its Sir Cliff police raid coverage

Reporter’s relationship with police under scrutiny as DG is summoned by MPs to explain extensive live broadcast of swoop on singer’s home