Leaked Gaza ceasefire proposal full of stumbling blocks
By : Brooklyn Middleton
Hours before the 72-hour ceasefire ended, both Israeli and Hamas officials confirmed that an indefinite truce was not secured during several long days of negotiations mediated by Cairo officials. Meanwhile, unconfirmed reports of a five day ceasefire extension were disrupted by rocket fire targeting southern Israeli cities and subsequent Israeli airstrikes on Gaza.
Despite the cross-border attacks – that began before the last temporary truce even expired – one can assume that Hamas’ denial of involvement in the rocket launches was an attempt to downplay the breach of the ceasefire, sending a subtle message to Israel that the group does not yet seek a full-blown re-escalation. Similarly, reports indicating the retaliatory Israeli airstrikes targeted only “open ground” provide further reason to believe both sides ultimately seek to uphold this newest ceasefire as Egypt continues pressuring both sides to come to an indefinite agreement.
Earlier the same day, Palestinians leaked the newest Egypt-brokered truce proposal, according to Ynet News, which seems to indicate Cairo’s preference for an empowered Palestinian Authority and weakened Hamas. In an apparent effort to mitigate the breakdown of talks before they even really get underway, Egypt proposed any discussions regarding the Hamas demand of an airport and seaport will be postponed for a one month period “after the situation between the two sides stabilizes” at which point, ostensibly, the matters will be revisited. Likewise, Israel’s demand for Hamas to return the two bodies of IDF troops Oron Shaul and Hadar Holdin will be postponed according to the leaked document – though the document published by Ynet News did not indicate a time period for this.
Egypt’s strategy here is likely to be met with swift rejection by Hamas leaders as the bodies of the IDF troops are likely perceived – in addition to the brief halting of air traffic due to Hamas militants targeting Ben Gurion International Airport – as two of the only victories the militant group has secured since the conflict began. Israel, too, is likely to reject any nebulous stipulation regarding the fate of its soldiers’ bodies, with Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman noting, “my colleagues and I will not accept any resolution, any framework” without their return.
Equally as likely to be rejected by Hamas – but something that should be seriously considered by Israel – is the demand that Palestinian Authority security forces be deployed to man the buffer zone – which will gradually be reduced as PA control increases by Jan. 1, 2015. How Hamas responds to this demand, in a manner that goes beyond kneejerk praise for the development, will also provide a clear indicator of whether the embryonic unity government remains at all cohesive. Notably, Hamas’ recent rejection of a ceasefire brokered by President Mahmoud Abbas himself underscored the already very obvious lack of cooperation between the two groups.
Despite the cross-border attacks, one can assume that Hamas’ denial of involvement in the rocket launches was an attempt to downplay the breach of the ceasefire
Another potentially highly problematic point – in the form of an omission – is that despite Hamas leaders reiterating that the opening of the Rafah crossing remains a critical demand for a long-term ceasefire agreement with Israel, the leaked document failed to discuss it at all. While it cannot be ruled out that details regarding Rafah will later be disclosed, as Egypt continues with its own offensive targeting militants in the Sinai and dealing with deadly rocket attacks striking civilian areas, Cairo is expected to be disinclined to facilitate an even semi-permanent opening of Rafah without solid confirmation from Palestinian Authority security forces indicating they are willing and capable of guarding the crossing.
Cairo officials’ emphasis on direct PA involvement in Gaza, seen in the leaked document released by Ynet News, and particularly presenting the manning of the buffer zone as a viable option, calls both Hamas and the PA’s bluff, putting them on the spot to work together to secure a solid victory or fail and demonstrate their own impotence as a team.
Brooklyn Middleton is an American Political and Security Risk Analyst reporting from Israel. Her work has appeared in Turkish and Israeli publications including The Times of Israel and Hürriyet Daily News. She has previously written about U.S. President Obama’s policy in Syria as well as the emerging geopolitical threats Israel faces as it pursues its energy interests in the Eastern Mediterranean. She is currently researching Ayatollah Khomeini’s influence on Hamas and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad militant groups to complete her MA in Middle Eastern Studies. You can follow her on Twitter here: @BklynMiddleton.