Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Egypt proposes a cease-fire in Gaza, Israel agrees, Hamas balks

Last night the Egyptian government, in an effort to broker an end to the week-long war between Hamas and Israel, has offered a cease-fire proposal. The full text is below. It appears to be very similar to the cease-fire agreement that ended the last Hamas-Israel war in 2012. Basically, armed conflict is supposed to stop immediately and "unconditionally," with various details to be negotiated afterward.

This morning the Israeli government accepted Egypt's cease-fire proposal and temporarily suspended military action while it waited for Hamas's response. So far, Hamas has neither accepted nor rejected the cease-fire proposal, and it may be internally conflicted about what to do. The so-called military wing of Hamas issued a public statement indicating that it "opposes the Egyptian proposal, which constitutes a surrender and isn't worth a thing." However, some other Hamas figures have sent more ambiguous signals. Meanwhile, rocket fire from Gaza into Israel continued, drawing a renewed military response from Israel.

(Mahmoud Abbas, by the way, endorsed the Egyptian cease-fire proposal and called on all Palestinian factions to accept it "in order to stop the bloodshed and protect the national interests of the Palestinian people." But Abbas and the Palestinian Authority don't really have much say in the matter.)

=> What will happen next? That remains to be seen. It does seem unlikely that a cease-fire will actually happen very soon, though it's also possible that something might get worked out within a few days. Who knows? In particular, it's hard to predict how, when, and by what processes Hamas will respond. And one also has to bear in mind that what is going on is not just a confrontation between Israel and Hamas, but also a very tense three-way dynamic involving Israel, Hamas, and Egypt (along with an assortment of secondary players).

One way to get a sense of how complex, uncertain, and difficult to read the situation is right now is to compare two pieces by the Israeli analyst Avi Issacharoff published on two successive days, yesterday and today. In some ways, the tone and implications of his two analyses seem to run counter to each other—though matters are complicated enough that it's also possible to see how those two apparently discordant assessments might actually be compatible

=> Issacharoff's piece on Monday was headlined "Don’t believe the hype: Hamas isn’t desperate for a truce". Its overall message seemed to be that Hamas was riding high, confident, and generally pleased with the way the current Hamas-Israel war was going—though there were also some caveats. Issacharoff's analysis brought together several themes that have been floating around in discussions this past week:

(a) Hamas thinks it has gotten, and will continue to get, substantial political benefits from this war (and any material damage that Hamas may have suffered is not enough to outweigh those benefits).
(b) It is also worried, though, that accepting a cease-fire could look like a defeat unless it first achieves some visible military success (e.g., a successful hit on Israeli targets that conspicuously kills some Israelis, something that has so far not happened) or it obtains significant concessions as part of an agreement.
(c) The concessions that Hamas wants most are concessions from Egypt—which, among other things, has been tightly blockading the border between Egypt and Gaza—not from Israel. (But on the other hand, the Egyptian government is determined to extract concessions of his own ... which might also benefit the Palestinian Authority, which has so far been a big political loser from this whole crisis.)

=> A day later, this morning's piece by Issacharoff is headlined: "Egyptian ceasefire proposal leaves Hamas cornered". These passages convey the general flavor of the analysis:
It’s not yet completely clear how Hamas and Israel will respond to the Egyptian proposal for a ceasefire to to be announced on Tuesday morning. But one thing is certain: This is the darkest hour for the Hamas leadership in Gaza and abroad.

If they accept the Egyptian proposal, they will be perceived as having been heavily defeated in the latest round of conflict with Israel; a defeat that is close to a humiliation.

That’s because the conditions in the Egyptian proposal do not include any of the demands that Hamas has been repeating day and night in the last few days. [....]

Hamas’s problem is that if it rejects the Egyptian proposal it will find itself unprecedentedly isolated in the international community and the Arab world. Cairo will accuse it of torpedoing the opportunity for calm, and Jerusalem will have the legitimacy to mount a ground offensive into Gaza.

Thus the options open to Haniyeh, the military wing in Gaza, and political bureau chief Khaled Mashaal in Qatar range from bad to worse. [....]

It seems obvious that there’ll be few tears shed in Cairo if Hamas is perceived as weakened by a ceasefire deal, or, alternately, is hit hard by the Israel militarily. This much is clear from the discussions between Israeli and Egyptian officials, and in recent days, from the tone of the Egyptian media, which is taking great delight in criticizing and denigrating Hamas.

And what of the Netanyahu government? It would seem that most members of the security cabinet recognize that the Egyptian proposal represents a fair achievement for Israel, and a significant failure for Hamas.
Is that assessment on-target? And how will Hamas respond to this dilemma? Stay tuned ...

—Jeff Weintraub

July 15, 2014
The full text of the Egyptian cease-fire proposal

1. Owing to Egypt’s historical responsibility, and out of belief in the importance of achieving peace in the region, protecting the lives of innocents, and ending the bloodshed;

Egypt calls upon Israel and all of the Palestinian factions to enact an immediate ceasefire, due to the fact that escalation and mutual violence, and the victims that will result, will not be in the interest of either party as such, during the period of the ceasefire, both sides shall abide by the following:

a. Israel shall cease all hostilities against the Gaza Strip via land, sea, and air, and shall commit to refrain from conducting any ground raids against Gaza and targeting civilians.

b. All Palestinian factions in Gaza shall cease all hostilities from the Gaza Strip against Israel via land, sea, air, and underground, and shall commit to refrain from firing all types of rockets, and from attacks on the borders or targeting civilians.

c. Crossings shall be opened and the passage of persons and goods through border crossings shall be facilitated once the security situation becomes stable on the ground.

d. Other issues, including security issues shall be discussed with the two sides.

2. Method of implementation of the initiative:

a. It has been decided to initiate implementation of the de-escalation agreements at -- : -- hours (GMT) on -- / 7 / 2014, pending the implementation of a full ceasefire within twelve hours of the announcement of the Egyptian initiative and its unconditional acceptance by both sides.

b. High-level delegations from both the Israeli government and the Palestinian factions shall be hosted in Cairo within 48 hours of the initiation of the initiative’s implementation in order to conclude talks for the consolidation of the ceasefire and resume confidence-building measures between the two sides. Talks shall be held with each of the two sides separately (in accordance with the agreements for the consolidation of de-escalation in Cairo in 2012).

c. Both sides shall commit to refrain from taking any actions aimed at undermining the implementation of the agreements; Egypt shall receive guarantees from both sides of their commitment to implementing what has been agreed and shall follow up on its implementation and engage with either side in the case of any action that impinges on its stability.