Bear with me.
When I used to watch the Monty Python skits on TV, I remember there were times when the group came across a problem: the skit was funny enough, but they just couldn't find a way to end it. There were a number of solutions:
the use of Chapman's "Colonel" character, who walked into several sketches and ordered them to be stopped because things were becoming "far too silly." Another favourite way of ending sketches was to drop a cartoonish "16-ton weight" prop on one of the characters when the sketch seemed to be losing momentum, or a knight in full armour (played by Terry Gilliam) would wander on-set and hit characters over the head with a raw chicken, before cutting to the next scene.
So, what do you do if you are Israel--you've just about concluded a fairly successful operation against a terrorist group that has been firing rockets arbitrarily at civilian targets. You want to pull out, but do not want to allow Hamas the ability to claim victory or any gains. Sitting down to negotiations can be messy and will inevitably provide Hamas with some kind of gains, real or imagined--not to mention the pressure of world opinion. What to do?
You declare a ceasefire, a unilateral ceasefire:
The Israeli cabinet is set to back an end to offensive military activities in the Gaza Strip, three weeks after attacks began, the BBC understands.
Seeing that the Egyptian attempt to negotiate a ceasefire that Hamas will agree to does not seem to be going anywhere, and Terry Gilliam is not available, a unilateral ceasefire probably seemed like the next best thing. But, unlike the unilateral disengagement that ultimately led to Hamas taking over Gaza by ousting Fatah, this ceasefire has some teeth to it:
If rocket fire continued after "H-Hour", Israel would respond, the sources said.
If there was a single incident, Israel would hit back "surgically"; if there were more attacks Israel would go back on the offensive, they said.
But like anything that is unilateral, what Hamas does leaves things unpredictible. Noah Pollak demonstrates how Hamas can work the ceasefire into victory:
If Hamas’ leaders have any capacity for strategic thinking, they will halt their attacks for a week and ensure an Israeli withdrawal — and then hold victory parades, resume firing rockets, and test whether Israel is prepared to commence Cast Lead II a week after its first iteration was dismantled. In this way, the Israeli rout of Hamas the world witnessed over the past three weeks can be quickly transformed into an exemplar of jihadist bravery and steadfastness. The humiliation of Israel will be complete.
Ed Morrissey gives the flip side on the kinds of options available to Hamas:
In this instance, a cease fire might benefit the Israelis more than Hamas anyway. It allows for intelligence sources to develop on enemy positions, as it’s difficult for people to transmit that while the guns fire into their neighborhoods. It also puts pressure on Hamas to knuckle under to Israeli demands, and an failure to honor the cease-fire gives Israel better standing to continue its offensive.
Hamas, for its part, has not stopped. They fired seven more rockets into Israel, showing that they still have offensive capabilities. However, Hamas has split on the issue of a cease-fire, with its international leadership rejected the notion and the Gazans hoping for some sort of respite. The unilateral Israeli cessation may put enough pressure on this division to cause a significant fracture, both within Hamas and between Hamas and their Iranian sponsors.
Of course, what is at work here may not be Monty Python, but something more ludicrous: Israeli politics. If the strength Israel showed these past 3 weeks benefit Livni and Barak in the upcoming elections, imagine the downside when the IDF and public opinion is in favor of continuing and Gilad Shalit still remains a hostage.
Till now, the political fortunes of Livni and Barak hinged on the success of Operation Cast Lead; not it depends on a unilateral ceasefire with Hamas. Pollak writes:
From here, the war hinges on one thing: whether Israel will make good on its promise to resume Cast Lead if Hamas continues firing rockets. It’s hard to imagine that Israel would consummate three weeks of military mastery with a display of abject capitulation in the face of new attacks. But given the presence of Livni and Barak, anything is possible.
And so begins a new week.
UPDATE: Apparently Hamas is a fan of Monty Python too:
JERUSALEM (JTA) -- Hamas announced its own cease-fire in Gaza and gave Israel a week to pull out its troops.
The announcement was made Sunday afternoon, according to reports, and came after at least 17 rockets launched from Gaza landed in Israel Sunday, wounding at least one Israeli in Ashdod. A building was also damaged by rocket shrapnel in Ashkelon.
Translation: "I fart in your general direction"
Crossposted on Soccer Dad