Gaza Talks Resume in Cairo as Israel, Hamas Truce Nears EndCalev Ben-David and Saud Abu Ramadan
A temporary cease-fire between Israel and militants in the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip neared expiration with both sides sounding pessimistic about the possibility of a long-term deal.
Egyptian officials are brokering talks in Cairo in an effort to keep guns silent after the five-day truce expires tomorrow at midnight. The Egyptian newspaper al-Shorouk reported over the weekend that Egypt had proposed an 11-point plan including an opening of border crossings with Gaza, coordination with the West Bank-based Palestinian Authority to rebuild the territory and a commitment by militants to stop building cross-border tunnels to attack Israel.
“Only if there is a clear response to our security needs will we agree to reach understandings,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said today at a cabinet meeting in Jerusalem. “If Hamas thinks that it can cover up its military loss with a diplomatic achievement, it is mistaken,” the Israeli leader said, according to an e-mailed statement from his office.
Izzat al-Resheq, a Hamas leader, said the Egyptian proposals were unacceptable. The ideas presented to the Palestinians were “not approved and never will be,” al-Resheq, a Palestinian negotiating team member, wrote on his Facebook page yesterday.
Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri said in an e-mailed statement today that the only way Israel can gain security is “by first making the Palestinians feel secure by lifting the siege imposed on them for eight years.” Palestinians use the word “siege” to refer to the blockade of Gaza Israel initiated after Hamas won Palestinian elections in 2006.
The lull in fighting has offered a respite from a monthlong conflict that killed more than 2,000 Palestinians, including hundreds of civilians, and 67 people on the Israeli side, all but three of them soldiers. It is meant to provide time to work out a more enduring accord resolving disputes that have fueled three major conflicts since 2008.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas told reporters in Ramallah yesterday that the Egyptian initiative is the only viable solution to the Gaza conflict. Abbas’s Fatah movement, which controls parts of the West Bank, formed a unity government with rival faction Hamas in June and is represented on the Palestinian negotiating team.
Hamas has demanded that Israel allow the opening of a seaport and airfield in Gaza. Israeli officials said those issues can only be dealt with in the context of a final peace agreement with the Palestinians.
“The most important, most central issue is that Gaza be demilitarized,” Israeli Intelligence and Strategic Affairs Minister Yuval Steinitz said today on Army Radio. “Until that takes place, to talk about a Gaza port now is to give duty-free status to the import of rockets.”
The benchmark TA-25 stock index, which has remained largely unaffected by the conflict, was little changed today and the shekel didn’t trade. Israel’s five-year credit default swaps rose in August to the highest since January.
Israel withdrew ground troops from Gaza on Aug. 5 following a four-week offensive that it said was designed to end years of rocket fire and destroy tunnels militants built to infiltrate Israel. It accuses Hamas of deliberately putting civilians in harm’s way, in part by operating within built-up areas and in and around schools, hospitals and mosques.
Along with the U.S. and European Union, Israel considers Hamas a terrorist organization.
“While it’s difficult to see Hamas accepting the current Egyptian proposal if the reports of its details are accurate, it’s unlikely they want to return to a direct conflict with Israel right now,” said Mark Heller, research fellow at the Institute for National Security Studies at Tel Aviv University.
“It’s more likely they will look for a face-saving formula to reject the proposal while avoiding a return to firing rockets, such as extending the humanitarian cease-fire indefinitely, or declaring that any agreement on Gaza will have to wait until all issues regarding the Palestinian unity government are resolved,” Heller said.