As I write this piece on July 26, it appears that both Hamas and Israel have agreed to a 12-hour truce, which Secretary of State John Kerry — one of the architects of the agreement along with UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and the Egyptians — hopes will be extended to 24 hours and then to a week-long ceasefire. So far in Gaza, according to the UN, some 870 have been killed and thousands injured while in the demonstrations on what was termed the ‘Day of Rage’ in the West Bank, another five have been killed by Israeli firing on gatherings that exceeded 10,000 in many places. Israel has yet to acknowledge responsibility but the most recent egregious example was the bombing of an elementary school under UN protection where more than 16 died and more than a hundred were wounded. On the Israeli side, 35 soldiers and three civilians have been killed.
By the time this article appears, Kerry will have met with his Turkish and Qatari counterparts along with European ministers in Paris. His purpose — get the Qataris and Turks to persuade Hamas leaders to accept the Egyptian unconditional ceasefire proposal for a week against the promise that in this week, all parties concerned would meet in Cairo to talk about measures that could meet Hamas’s demands. The UN secretary general was clear on what was sought. He said, “First, stop the fighting. We called for a seven-day humanitarian ceasefire, extending over the Eid period, beginning with an extendable 12-hour pause. Second, start talking. There is no military solution to addressing the grievances and all parties must find a way to dialogue. Third, tackle the root causes of the crisis. The ongoing fighting emphasises the need to finally end the 47-year-old occupation, end the chokehold on Gaza, ensure security based on mutual recognition and achieve a viable two-state solution, by which Israelis and Palestinians can live in peace and security side by side.”
Hamas demands that the blockades imposed on the crossings into Egypt and Israel be lifted, the prisoners rearrested after the abduction and killing of the three Israelis be released, and the transfer of funds from the West Bank or from Qatar to enable Hamas to pay its 40,000 municipal employees be facilitated. All Palestinian parties endorse the Hamas demands and are expected to meet in Cairo shortly to formalise their support.
Sameh Shoukry, the Egyptian foreign minister, claimed at the press conference that the “Rafah crossing is open continuously and at all times, but it has to be under regulation related to the Egyptian policy”. The fact is that Egypt is unlikely to lift all the current restrictions over fears of Hamas’s interference in Sinai.
Israel may be prepared under international pressure to ease the current restrictions on the six border crossings into Israel and even permit the transfer of funds. But the main sticking point will be its demand that it should not be asked to withdraw its forces until it has not only located, but also cleared all the tunnels — far more extensive than originally believed — that Hamas uses to infiltrate Israel. Hamas may agree to the seven-day truce since it would want the bombing to stop during the Eidul Fitr holidays, but beyond that it is difficult to imagine Hamas accepting the Israeli troop presence in Gaza for the weeks that Israel says it would take to eliminate all underground tunnels.
Israel’s perspective is best exemplified by Michael Oren, a former Israeli ambassador to the US, who says that all those senior statesmen concerned about casualties can be most helpful by doing nothing and permitting Israel “to crush Hamas in the Gaza Strip”.
Netanyahu said at the start of Operation Protective Edge, “there cannot be a situation, under any agreement, in which we relinquish security control of the territory west of the River Jordan.” This means, in effect, that there can be no independent Palestinian state. So, one is forced to conclude that all international efforts notwithstanding, the prospect for a durable ceasefire, let alone an advance towards a two-state solution, are bleak.
In these circumstances the only bright prospect is that of an increase in extremist sentiment in the Arab world.
Will this trigger the third intifada?
Published in The Express Tribune, July 28th, 2014.
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