Egypt Proposes New Ceasefire
Palestinians washing blood from the streets of Gaza after continuing Israeli attacks
NEW DELHI: Fighting continued in the Gaza strip as Egypt reportedly proposed a new ceasefire. According to AFP, a senior Palestinian official confirmed the development, saying that the new ceasefire would open the Gaza’s crossings and allow in aid and reconstruction materials. Palestinian officials are willing to accept the proposal if Israel does, the official reportedly told the AFP.
This will be the latest ceasefire proposed by Egypt, after ten days of negotiations broke down on Tuesday, with both sides blaming the other for the failure of talks. According to this new proposal, the disputed points of negotiation will be deferred to a later date, with the focus on the points agreed upon between Israel and Palestine.
The demands reportedly agreed to include Israel increasing the daily number of trucks into Gaza via the Kerem Shalom and Nahal Oz crossings to 600 from 250; allowing money transfers from the Palestinian Authority to Gaza to cover salaries of Hamas civil servants; the designated fishing zone will be extended to 12 nautical miles; and 500 permits will be issued to Gazans monthly to use the Erez crossing.
Ma’an news agency reported that Egypt has agreed to open the Rafah crossing, which will be monitored by Palestinian Authority Guards.
The agency quoted Ismail Radwan, a Hamas leader, saying that key Palestinian demands include a seaport and airport, release of dozens of prisoners who Israel re-arrested after releasing them in 2011 as part of the Shalit exchange, a creation of a safe passage between Israel and the Gaza strip, and the lifting of the eight year blockade on Gaza. As Ma’an points out, the demands are consistent with the Oslo Accords signed by
Israel and Palestine, but which Israel has failed to abide by, by refusing to negotiate with Hamas.
Israel in turn, has demanded that Hamas disarm, a point that the Palestinians have refrained from putting up for discussion.
As per the new proposal, these demands will be discussed at a later date. Ma’an news agency reported that an Egyptian official confirmed that that mediators have contacted the Palestinians and Israel with a new proposal, adding that Israeli and Palestinian representatives have been given 48 hours to to send their negotiating teams back to Cairo.
At the time of writing, Israel had made no official comment on the proposal.
With the previous Egypt-brokered ceasefire collapsing on Tuesday, another 100 people have been killed in the Gaza strip, pushing the total death toll to over 2200 Palestinians as the fighting enters its 50th day.
It is not clear whether either side will resume talks, with both having previously indicated that this attempt was their last. The talks were seeming to be making headway amidst a week long truce (a 72 hour ceasefire was followed by a five day ceasefire, which was extended by an additional 24 hours and set to expire midnight on Tuesday).
The failure of this round of talks echoes the failure of a similar Egypt brokered ceasefire that failed a few weeks ago with the Palestinians saying that Israel was refusing to accept key demands. Qays Abu Layla, member of the Palestinian delegation to Cairo, told Ma’an news agency that Israel’s agenda was to return to the pre-war situation, whereas the lifting of the blockade on Gaza was the key Palestinian demand.
Similarly, a previous US-UN brokered 72-hour ceasefire collapsed within hours. Israel broke the ceasefire by pounding Rafah, killing over 60 people. The reason for the renewed hostilities was the alleged capture of an Israeli soldier by Palestinian fighters, who reportedly emerged from a tunnel near Rafah. Israel eventually declared the soldier dead, saying he had not been captured but was killed in battle. Moussa Abu Marzouk, a senior official in the political wing of Hamas, told Turkish media that an Israeli soldier had been captured, but the incident took place prior to the acceptance of the ceasefire.
There have been several other attempts at a ceasefire, including one by US Secretary of State John Kerry which was rejected by Israel, and a twelve hour humanitarian ceasefire called by the UN which could not be extended by an additional 24 hours. An earlier three-step ceasefire proposal by Egypt was accepted by the Israeli side, but rejected by the Palestinians.
Egypt has previously effectively played the role a mediator, negotiating a 2011 deal that released Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, and a 2012 ceasefire that followed eight days of conflict that left over a 160 people in Gaza dead. However, Hamas relationship with Egypt has soured since the the military ouster of Egypt’s elected Islamist president, Mohamed Morsi, who had close ties with the Muslim Brotherhood, of which Hamas is considered an off-shoot. Former general and current Egyptian leader Abdel Fattah al-Sisi is widely perceived to have taken a strong stand against Hamas, echoing the United State’s view that considers Hamas a terrorist outfit and a strategic threat.
A major bone of contention between Egypt and Hamas has been the shutting down of tunnels between Egypt and Gaza, at the behest of the former. These tunnels served as a crucial economic lifeline for Gaza, and one of Hamas’ key demands has been the opening of the Rafah crossing between the two territories. The first Egyptian proposal however, referred only to crossings “between Israel and Gaza.”
Given the context and the differing stance of Sisi in comparison to Morsi, Egypt’s traditional role as a mediator in the region was compromised, with the ceasefire proposal being widely viewed as a pro-Israeli bailout by the Palestinians. The Egyptian leader however, defended Egypt’s efforts at mediation, saying that the Palestinian demand of an end to the blockade could be achieved once the ceasefire was in place. “What we want is that normal citizens in the Gaza Strip not be subjected to what they are going through now,” Sisi said, with Palestinians continuing to object to the terms that equated what the Palestinians consider a right to resistance with Israeli aggression.
Sisi’s words were perhaps too optimistic, as Palestine’s demand of ending the blockade has still not been addressed, despite the acceptance of a ceasefire and the commencement of talks.
The crisis in the region, which has claimed almost 2000 lives in over a month, follows the death of 16-year-old Mohammed Abu Khdeir that sparked four days of violent crashes in Jerusalem. The Israeli police arrested six people in connection with Khdeir’s brutal death, who Palestinians maintain was killed to avenge the death of three Israeli teenagers whose bodies were found in the occupied West Bank.
Israel pinned the blame for the disappearance and execution of the three teenagers on Hamas, albeit with no certain evidence pointing to Hamas’ involvement. Israel responded to the killings by launching a massive security operation in the West Bank, rounding up Palestinians suspected of being Hamas operatives. The operation involved the tightening of Israel’s system of checkpoints, preventing Palestinians from the West Bank from entering Jerusalem, cancelling permits for prayer, and demolishing the homes of people labeled guilty without evidence or proof of their guilt or any recourse to the judicial process. The searches and mass arrests brought many Palestinians onto the streets in protest, leading to clashes in which at least five Palestinians were killed.
The developments are located in the context of heightened tensions between the two sides following a Palestinian unity deal involving Hamas and Fatah. The Palestine unity deal was the final straw leading to Israel pulling out of the US-led Israel-Palestine peace talks, which had hit various roadblocks on issues such as Israel’s demand that it be recognized as a “Jewish state,” which Palestinian Authority President Abbas did not agree to; the release of Palestinian prisoners after Israel reneged on an agreement to free prisoners in exchange for Palestine halting a push for membership to UN bodies; attacks and increased Israeli construction in besieged Gaza strip and West Bank territory as Palestinians consider Israeli incursion beyond the pre-1967 territorial lines to be illegal and an obstacle to peace, whereas Israel refuses to recognise what has been termed as the 'Green line' as a starting point for negotiations.