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Israel's proposed "ceasefire" is a lie designed to confuse and destabilise opposition

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Today Israel and Hamas announced separate unilateral "ceasefires", despite the rather confusing headlines of some news agencies. But Israel's new-found love for peace is a PR move and exercise in spin which should be taken with more than a pinch of salt argues John Bowman

Israel has declared its intention for a “ceasefire” in Gaza that would be organised “unilaterally”. That is to say the demands for the ceasefire have been worked out by Israel alone and with no coordinated agreement with the Hamas government.

Of course the reality is that there is no such thing as a “unilateral ceasefire” and Israel has offered no set time or date for the withdrawal of its forces from the Gaza strip. The demands placed upon Hamas for this supposed “ceasefire” are simply that Hamas ceases all attacks on Israeli forces and ceases rocket attacks on Israeli settlements.

The Israeli “ceasefire” demands could be far more accurately be described as “surrender conditions” – the deal being that if Hamas stops resisting Israeli occupation and allows Israeli troops to continue occupying Gaza without retaliation then Israel may withdraw its forces, according to the Israeli Defence Force, “at a time which befits us”.

Agreeing full-scale to this would be a disaster for Hamas. The base of support for Hamas is thousands of people in Gaza who became fed up with the corruption, collaboration and sell-outs of Fatah, who negotiated to allow continued expansion of Israeli settlements in the West Bank.

So why has Israel placed these surrender conditions on Hamas? One reason could be that Hamas has had its military strength and popular base of support destroyed since the attacks started. But there is no evidence to support this suggestion. In fact Hamas has shown no signs of caving in so far and has proved it still has military capability by continuing rocket attacks. If the majority view of the population of Gaza was that Hamas should agree to any terms for peace, then the organisation would be in a position to agree to Israeli demands without a major loss in popular support. But they have not done so.

The more likely explanation is that Israel has finally recognised, after uncountable war crimes and atrocities and over 1000 Palestinian deaths, as well as millions of people marching in support of the Palestinians worldwide, that their reputation is in tatters. The country has even received harsh condemnation from organisations as conservative as the US-dominated United Nations and the Vatican! With mass protests destabilising silently pro-Israel Arab regimes and giving rise to increasing radicalism in Western countries such as the UK, and the weakening of American dominance of the world stage, Israel may be wondering how long these governments will remain silent against its crimes.

This is of greater concern to the Israeli state than one might imagine. The underlying philosophy of Israel as a nation is Zionism: the idea that Jewish people should have their own state and that it has a ‘right’ to exist even at the expense of another nation, Palestine. The strength of the Zionist lobby in the UK and US, combined with the imperialist interests of these countries in the Middle East which heavily depend on Israel, means that all things considered, Israel has enjoyed remarkably little criticism for its aggression in Palestine and Lebanon and racism against Israeli Arabs at home. To its advantage, popular opinion in the West sees Israel as a state surrounded and heavily victimised by anti-Semitic Muslims who are all “terrorists” that want to “drive the Jews into the sea”. They have enjoyed the majority opinion that, in this context Israel has a right to defend itself, even when this “defence” is pre-emptive and extremely violent.

Because of this, Israel clearly did not expect their latest action to spark international outcry on the scale that that it did, and the mass movements that arose because of it. In these actions of horrific violence and genocide, Israel has lost its halo – and even some hard line Zionists have realised this was a terrible mistake for Israel’s image. Two senior Zionists in the UK wrote a letter to the Spectator magazine outlining Israel’s “right to defend itself” but that the conduct of the war threatened to “undermine international support for Israel”.

So the Israeli government has attempted to rectify the situation in the only way it knows - using lies and spin. They placed demands upon Hamas that they knew Hamas could not possibly support, because they offered nothing in return. The idea was that when Hamas turned down these conditions, Israel would be able to say to the world “Hey look! We offered Hamas peace and they turned us down!” Israel would then be able to take the moral high-ground in their continued occupation of Gaza.

Hamas have so far not fallen for this trap and have declared their own “unilateral ceasefire”, offering to stop attacks for a week, on the condition that Israel uses this time to remove its troops. It seems unlikely that Israel will concede fully to this demand, partiularly given the vagueness of a date and time, and indeed whether all the troops will be withdrawn. The withdrawal from Lebanon in 2006 was widely seen as a defeat for the IDF and Israel would want to make absolutely clear this time round that any withdrawal from Gaza is seen as an undisputed victory. The other factor is whether, after the US Presidential inauguration, Obama will demand an Israeli withdrawal – but his refusal to so far condemn Israel makes this unlikely.

The key task for the pro-Palestinian movement is therefore to continue to demand immediate Israeli withdrawal, an end to all hostile Israeli actions and the full opening of Gaza’s borders for food, medicine, energy and indeed weapons. The mass movement in solidarity with Gaza is already worrying the Zionists. We need to step up our demonstrations, occupations, direct action and enact a full economic, political, academic and cultural boycott of Israel to do our part in ensuring a Palestinian victory.

Most importantly we must not allow Israeli spin on the question of a “ceasefire” to demobilise the movement. Right now it seems that unlikely that the millions brought into struggle all over the world could fall for the lies of an increasingly discredited racist state. But the hypocritical media is more likely now to portray Israel as the peacemaker. In the face of this we must expose the continuing horrors of occupation, and defend the Palestinian right to resist these war crimes.