The Israeli-initiated conflict over Gaza in mid-November, which left 105 Palestinian civilians and four Israeli civilians dead, began with the assassination of a hard-line Hamas military leader who was contemplating a long truce with Israel, according to a leading Israeli peace activist.
‘The assassination of Jaabari was a pre-emptive strike against the possibility of a long-term ceasefire,’ according to Gershon Baskin, who played a critical role in mediating the release of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, released by Hamas in October 2011.
Recently, Baskin had been mediating a possible long-term ceasefire between Hamas and the Israeli government , and had just passed a draft agreement to Hamas military commander Ahmed al-Jaabari when Jaabari was killed by an Israeli airstrike in Gaza City on 14 November.
Baskin told the Huffington Post that the draft agreement laid out a process whereby Israel, when it received information about an impending rocket attack from the Gaza Strip, would pass its intelligence to Hamas through Egyptian intermediaries, giving the Palestinians an opportunity to dissuade or kill the rocket launch group:
'If Israel has information about a cell planning or ready to attack, rather than taking pre-emptive action and killing those people, Israel would give the intelligence to the Egyptians, the Egyptians would give it to Hamas, and Hamas would have 24 or 48 hours to deal with it. And if they don’t take action, then Israel would have enough time to do their pre-emptive strike. But maybe if Hamas acted to prevent the attack against Israel, by whatever means — kill the people, arrest the people, convince them not to carry out the action — we would avoid the next round. And Hamas was telling me all along that they were ready to do it.
‘The proposal was at least worth testing,’ Baskin wrote in the New York Times: ‘Instead, Mr Jabari is dead — and with him died the possibility of a long-term cease-fire.’
'You can say Baskin’s a naïve idiot, and maybe I am, but what I was saying is, I don’t believe Hamas: The only way to validate and verify what they’re saying is to test them. Not their words, their words don’t mean anything. I’ve always said that we don’t have to listen to what they say, we have to watch what they do. They are always going to speak their rhetoric against Israel, to say the things that are written in their covenant. What’s more important is the way they behave — if they’re controlling violence, maintaining a cease-fire, if they’re willing to prevent attacks against Israel. What matters to me is if they are willing to live in some sort of peaceful way alongside us — not if we can negotiate a treaty with them, we probably can’t. But we need to have some kind of modus vivendi where we’re not killing them and they’re not killing us.
Baskin told Democracy Now! that while Jaabari was 'not an angel in any way', but a warrior and 'a strong military man who refused to speak to Israelis directly', the Hamas commander had become open to a long-term ceasefire (not a real peace, but a long ceasefire):
'[He] saw, over the last year or two, a continuation of this policy of having periodic fighting with Israel that left always, in every round, between 10 and 30 Palestinians killed in Gaza, a lot of destruction, and almost no one killed in Israel. The lack of balance of power and force is so—is so obvious here that Jabari came to the conclusion, along with others in Hamas, that this was futile, a futile way to fight Israel, and they wanted a time-out. During the time-out, it was obvious that they were going to continue to build their forces, continue to smuggle in weapons through the tunnels and other ways to build up their rocket potential, longer-range rockets, anti-aircraft missiles. So this was Jabari’s thinking.
Reuven Pedatzur of Haaretz draws the only possible conclusion from this story: 'the decision to kill Jabari shows that our decision makers decided a cease-fire would be undesirable for Israel at this time, and that attacking Hamas would be preferable'. Pedatzur continues:
'It seems a view had developed that Israel needed to strengthen its deterrence against Hamas rather than reach agreement with it on a period of calm. In the view of the defense establishment and the prime and defense ministers' bureaus, a cease-fire agreement might have undermined Israel's deterrence and weakened its image of resolve. Bolstering its deterrence, in this view, would be achieved by killing Jabari, who was liable to respond affirmatively to the offer of a long-term cease-fire. In this way, Israel's leaders killed three birds with one stone: They assassinated the man who had the power to make a deal with Israel; they took revenge on someone who had caused more than a few Israeli casualties; and they signaled to Hamas that communications with it will be conducted only through military force.'