The rocket attack on Sderot carried out by Islamic Jihad today puts pressure on the already fragile ceasefire between Hamas and Israel. Most obviously it highlights the problems involved with the exclusion of the West Bank from the terms of the agreement; whilst Israel may want to divide the two territories, this is unrealistic and most likely an effort to further divide the Palestinians. More importantly, the reaction of Israel, who calls the rocket attack a “grave violation” of the ceasefire, hints at the fundamental power imbalance at work in any form of accord or agreement reached between the various parties. The extrajudicial killing of two Palestinians in the West Bank, whilst not formally in breach of any agreement, was likely to increase tensions in the region and make Hamas’s task of urging sceptical militant groups to refrain from rocket attacks almost impossible. There is no suggestion, however, that Israel breached the spirit and likely success of the ceasefire. Instead the rocket fire has been treated as unprovoked by Olmert and Barak, and their impending response is presented as a reasonable and necessary cautionary reaction.
The power imbalance between the two sides, formalised through Oslo and accepted as uncontroversial ever since, has again given Israel the power to decide how the Palestinians should behave, whilst posturing to their hearts content with little regard for how events might spiral out of control. A response by Israel may be legitimate on paper, but in the context of searching for peace, it would be obscene. Negotiating with Hamas, whilst somewhat overdue, was the right move by Israel. It remains to be seen whether such negotiation was merely an opportunity to seize the first (and inevitable) breach of this ceasefire as a pretext for the major operation which the IDF has apparently been pushing for into Gaza. Such a situation would be reminiscent of the 1982 invasion of Lebanon. We can only hope that this is not the case.