The Israeli Interregnum

Counterintuitively, the interregnum period following Israel’s elections offer something of a window of opportunity in terms of negotiations both to secure a durable ceasefire in Gaza and to obtain the release of Galid Shalit, the Israeli soldier kidnapped near Gaza and held for three years now. Because the political component of who on the Israeli side might benefit from concessions is momentarily suspended, the room for dealmaking seems to have been expanded. At any rate, there have been reports from Cairo all week that point to an imminent announcement of an 18-month truce.

The rest of the formula — the prisoner exchange, opening of border crossings with international supervision under the authority of the Fatah-ruled PA, and intra-Palestinian reconciliation talks — is pretty much exactly as articulated before, during and immediately following the war. In other words, the bloodletting was simply the means by which the political will to sign on the dotted line was achieved. That refers to Israelis and Palestinians, but also to the international community, which Israel has been trying to include in securing the border crossings for a while.

As horrific as that sounds, the gloom and pessimism that has settled in on the region in the aftermath of the war and the subsequent Israeli elections might be premature. If the ceasefire is announced and proves durable, that would allow for 18 months of relative peace and calm, with a best-case scenario including even some amount of confidence-building. If that’s accompanied by power-sharing agreements among the various Palestinian factions, as well as improvements in the Palestinian Authority’s security apparatus in the West Bank (which depends on American and EU cooperation), there could even be the possibility of real progress on the ground in anticipation of the eventual renewal of negotiations.

Politics follows a different timeframe in the Middle East, and 18 months is a long time anywhere. But what the Israeli elections said about the Israeli electorate’s unwillingness to negotiate has been interpreted as a definitive rejection of a negotiated settlement. It could just represent a necessary and ultimately productive cooling-off period. Which supports the political logic of Kadima joining a Likud-led national unity government, since it gives them a greater ability to force new elections when the national mood returns to a more conciliatory posture.