Egypt’s Gaza Truce Proposal: What Does it Mean?

This article appeared originally in an edited form at LobeLog.3286231988_476f56d43a_b

According to reports, Egypt has given both Israel and Hamas a take-it-or-leave-it plan for ending the current round of violence. It bears examination, not only for its own intrinsic worth, but also for the implications it has. As of this writing, Hamas has indicated it does not find the proposal “sufficient” in addressing their demands, and Israel has yet to respond directly.

Here is what has been reported:

  • Israel will halt all attacks on Gaza — by land, air or sea.
  • All Palestinian factions in Gaza will stop all attacks against Israel by land, air or sea, and will stop the construction of tunnels from Gaza into Israel.
  • The passage of people and goods will be allowed in order to rebuild Gaza. The transfer of goods between Gaza and the West Bank will be permitted, according to principles which will be determined between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.
  • Israeli authorities will coordinate with the PA all issues of funds related to Gaza and its reconstruction. (This refers to paying government employees in Gaza, a major sticking point between Fatah and Hamas)
  • The elimination of the buffer zones along the security fence in the northern and eastern Gaza Strip and the deployment of PA forces in those areas beginning January 1, 2015. This will be conducted in several steps: At first the buffer zone will be reduced to 300 meters from the border, then 100 meters and finally the removal of the buffer zone altogether with the deployment of PA troops.
  • The fishing zone off the Gaza coast will immediately be extended to 6 miles, and will be gradually extended to 12 miles, in coordination between Israel and the PA.
  • Israel will assist the PA in rebuilding infrastructure destroyed in Gaza, and will assist in providing basic necessities for those Gaza residents who were forced to flee their homes due to the fighting. Israel will provide medical aid to the wounded, and will expedite the transfer of humanitarian aid and food through the crossings.
  • The Palestinian Authority in coordination with Israel and international aid groups will provide the basic products needed to rebuild Gaza, according to a predetermined schedule which will allow those driven from their homes to return as soon as possible.
  • Egypt implores the international community to provide swift humanitarian and monetary assistance for Gaza’s reconstruction, according to a set schedule.
  • Upon the stabilization of the ceasefire and the return to normal life in Gaza, the sides will conclude their indirect negotiations in Cairo within a month after signing the deal. The exchange of prisoners and bodies will also be discussed at that time.
  • The possibility of constructing an airport and sea port in Gaza will be considered in accordance with the Oslo accords and other previous agreements.

The first reaction to seeing these terms has to be to assume that Israel would reject them out of hand. Almost nothing Israel wants is here. Hamas, and the other Palestinian factions in Gaza, would not be disarmed, and that is what Netanyahu’s latest goal is, although it was not on the table when fighting started (remember when Bibi was saying that all he wanted was “quiet for quiet”). And yet, while Israel certainly has shown no enthusiasm about this offer, it has not dismissed it either.

Israel is not, of course, going to accept the Egyptian terms, but their lack of outrage over what they certainly see as a one-sided deal speaks volumes. The fact that first Spain, then the United Kingdom and finally the United States all put temporary brakes on their usually consistent flows of arms to Israel was meant as a message. And that message was heard loud and clear in the office of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Make no mistake: Spain, the UK, and most certainly the US will all resume the normal flow of weapons to Israel soon enough. The reviews and procedural changes that the countries made will not impede that flow and they certainly are not affecting Israel’s military capabilities either now or in the future. That wasn’t the point.

The point was to send Israel a message. That message was that the excesses of the current right-wing government in refusing peace, ignoring the boiling crises in the Occupied Territories, needlessly torturing Gaza and now finally killing far more civilians than could be explained away was more than the West is prepared to tolerate. That message coming from Spain meant little. Coming from London it meant more. Coming from Washington, it has set off alarm bells in Israel.

So, Israel will not reject the offer out of hand, but Netanyahu is counting on the belief that Washington will not press him to accept these terms. He may be right about that; the terms do not offer Israel anything Washington will see as balancing the relief it grants Gaza. But something similar to this arrangement could well be on the horizon.

This is the case because both the Obama Administration and the Egyptian government recognize this proposal for what it is: a death sentence for Hamas as a resistance movement in control of territory. Although the wording above was edited for space in this piece, the absence of not only any mention but any implied role for Hamas in Gaza’s immediate future was just as stark in the reported wording. The deal is intended to bring the people of Gaza relief while handing over rule of the Strip to the Palestinian Authority.

Of course, if Netanyahu was really interested in the “quiet” he routinely insists on, he would accept this deal. To be fair, though, if he did so, his right wing would revolt and so would much of the center and even the center-left that has been backing him throughout this misadventure. That fact, however, only strengthens the crucial point that the Israeli right wing, which is in firm control of the country and will be even if Netanyahu’s current government falls, is much more afraid of a unified Palestinian body politic than they are of Hamas.

The Islamist resistance group is in a difficult position with this Egyptian offer. Obviously Egyptian dictator Abdel Fattah al-Sisi has a passionate hate for Hamas, and they are well aware of that. But here he has been very clever; the deal is virtually everything Hamas has been demanding: opening of border crossings, the easing of offshore restrictions, the elimination of the so-called “buffer zones” inside Gaza and reconstruction in the wake of the recent destruction. Even the more ambitious demands of a seaport and airport are at least acknowledged. But it all happens between Israel and the PA, not in any kind of coordination, much less partnership, with Hamas.

In effect, this means that Hamas will cede control of Gaza to the PA. This was, of course, the ostensible goal of forming a unity government with the PA in the spring. But things have changed since then. The PA’s cooperation with Israel during the Gaza fighting has shattered what little faith Palestinians had and whatever shred of trust Hamas might have had in Mahmoud Abbas’ “government.” Hamas cannot possibly be certain that if they do cede power they will not suffer a fate similar to that of the Muslim Brotherhood in al-Sisi’s Egypt.

Even if that scenario doesn’t materialize, there is no guarantee elections will be held any time soon, and so the technocratic PA, still under control of Mahmoud Abbas, will continue to run both the West Bank and Gaza. What Egypt has done is to include in that possible future the chance for Gazans to finally see the end of the siege, and to start rebuilding their infrastructure and growing their economy.

No doubt, the PA, as well as Egypt and the United States are very interested in that idea. You would think Israel would be as well, as it is the best path to the quiet they say all this about. But the Netanyahu government loathes the idea of a PA with even the slightest shred of power.

If Abbas is able to convince Hamas to agree to something like this (a very big “if”), he should at once tell Israel that he will not pursue war crimes charges in the international legal system if they support the move. That is something that could certainly buy Netanyahu off, despite his bluster that war crimes charges are meaningless to him. Hey aren’t, and he’s quite desperate to avoid them being levelled at anyone in Israel, especially himself.

The fly in the ointment for Abbas, Al-Sisi, and the Obama Administration is that, even if the terms of the proposal don’t spell it out, there is an assumption that a PA government in Gaza would move to disarm Hamas and the other factions, attempting to reduce them to a similar position as they hold in the West Bank. That was tried before, in 2007 and the Fatah forces were routed. There is no reason to believe they would not suffer a far worse defeat now, as many of their security people would be even more reluctant to take up arms against the force that just stood up to Israel. Abbas would have to come to some sort of understanding with Hamas in Gaza, but that won’t sit well in Washington and Cairo.

Still, this sort of deal is exactly the kind that makes sense in terms of relief for the Palestinians. And it gives Israel a commitment to quiet and to Hamas’ refraining from building a new tunnel network. International monitors could certainly be put in place to ensure such things. It could work. But it’s not likely Netanyahu will allow it, Hamas will just give up everything they have, or that Abbas has enough legitimacy in Gaza to take over there.

As so often happens, then, while nothing can be worked out by those with some power, the Palestinian people continue to be the ones suffering. Especially in Gaza.

One thought on “Egypt’s Gaza Truce Proposal: What Does it Mean?

  1. I was shocked at the response of a vocal minority of readers who objected to an advertisement for the Gaza Relief Fund appearing in the UK’s Jewish Chronicle. If this is a reflection of the entrenched hatred that exists in Israel, I find it hard to imagine that they can ever make peace with their neighbors.

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