Palestinian delegation in Cairo
Head of the Palestinian delegation Azzam al-Ahmed (L) and others members of the team in Cairo, August 11, 2014. Photo by AFP
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With the current cease-fire due to end tonight at midnight, Israeli officials seemed doubtful that the talks in Cairo could achieve any kind of agreement before the deadline, but stressed that if Hamas withheld its fire, negotiations could continue.

“It’s still not clear if we can reach an agreement,” a senior Israeli official said. “If the [rocket] fire resumes, Israel will respond forcefully, and if the fire does not resume but no agreement is reached, we will examine whether we can come to some other arrangement and provide humanitarian assistance to the people of Gaza.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said before Sunday’s cabinet meeting that Israel would only accept a proposal for a long-term cease-fire if Israel’s security needs were met. “If Hamas thinks it will cover up its military defeat with a diplomatic achievement, it’s mistaken. If it thinks that by taking potshots at us we will concede, it’s mistaken,” he said.

Egypt is seeking to come up with a formula by midday that will give both Israel and Hamas and the other Palestinian factions enough to declare an extension of the temporary cease-fire so that talks can continue, Palestinian sources told Haaretz last night.

Palestinian sources said PLO executive committee member Saeb Erekat had met Saturday night with the head of Hamas’ political bureau, Khaled Meshal, and urged him on behalf of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to accept the Egyptian draft proposal and use it as a basis for continuing the talks.

A senior Palestinian official told Haaretz that Ramallah officials, particularly Abbas, are pushing for acceptance of the current Egyptian proposal even if it doesn’t immediately address all the Palestinian demands, so as to avoid having a solution imposed by the United Nations. “Only an agreement brokered by Egypt and with international support will bring positive results in the short term,” the official said.

The Al-Hayat newspaper, published in London, reported yesterday that the United States had conveyed to Cairo that it would support any agreement reached between Israel and the Palestinians.

The paper also quoted a Palestinian source saying the talks are being pursued along two tracks – a political-diplomatic track, including the exchange of dead bodies and release of prisoners, which will be finalized at a later stage, and a humanitarian track, based on the finding of a formula to lift the blockade on Gaza immediately.

Palestinian sources involved in the Cairo talks say that while Fatah and Islamic Jihad are willing to accept the Egyptian draft proposals, Hamas is still reluctant to do so. But these sources say that even within Hamas, there are those – like the Gaza representatives and deputy political bureau chief Moussa Abu Marzouk – who are willing to be more flexible, while a tougher line is being taken by Meshal, who is represented in Cairo by his associate Izat Reshiq.

“There’s no doubt that within that room there are different trends,” one Palestinian source said. “The Palestinian side understands that Israel is in no position to grant Hamas any points, like a seaport or an airport. But it must be said that Israel isn’t particularly eager to come to an agreement with the factions, particularly with Hamas. So the difficulty focuses on the fact that Egypt and Abu Mazen [Abbas] are enthusiastic about reaching an agreement while Israel and Hamas – particularly Hamas abroad – aren’t rushing to advance the process.”

Hamas is well aware that any future agreement will not be with it directly, but with the PA, and that signing any agreement means restoring PA influence in Gaza, particularly at the Gaza border crossings.

Reshiq, who spoke to reporters in Cairo, said Hamas has no objection to the PA’s return to the Gaza Strip, particularly after the establishment of the unity government. He said the group’s objections stem from two things – that the Egyptian draft states that the opening of the crossings would be in coordination between Israel and the PA, which could lead to negotiations that could take years, and the issue of who would supervise the rebuilding of the Strip, since the PA alone can’t take on that kind of responsibility.

Assessments in Gaza and Cairo say Hamas is prepared to allow the rehabilitation framework to be in the PA’s hands, including the contacts and coordination with the donor countries, but it wants to take a major role in the Strip’s management, including involvement in the Gaza security apparatuses.