The Foreign Ministry submitted a classified document to the security cabinet two weeks ago with a proposal for stationing an international force in the Gaza Strip to monitor rehabilitation and prevent the rearming of Hamas and other terror groups. The Foreign Ministry believes that such a force could serve Israel’s interest if it carries out effective security work in Gaza.
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The two-page document, entitled “Principles and Parameters for Deployment of an International Force in Gaza,” was given to the ministers of the security cabinet on August 21, by Foreign Minister director-general Nissim Ben-Sheetrit. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s senior advisers read the document and discussed it with Foreign Ministry officials. The ministers also read the document, but have not met to discuss it.
A senior Foreign Ministry official said the document was formulated in the context of ideas received by Germany, Britain, France and other European countries during the war in Gaza, to establish an international monitoring force in Gaza that would be based on an upgrading of the European monitoring force stationed at the Rafah crossing between 2005 and 2007.
A few weeks ago, the Foreign Ministry established a 10-person team to formulate the principles for possible deployment of such a force. The team was headed by the Foreign Ministry’s deputy director general for diplomacy, Alon Ushpiz. A senior Foreign Ministry official said the document, which was formulated after a series of discussions, stated that an international force in Gaza could serve the Israeli interest if it effectively implemented security activities in the realm of demilitarization and preventing Hamas from gaining strength.
According to the document, Israel should aspire for the international force to act according to the following principles:
1. Makeup of the force: The document presents four alternatives – a European Union force; a Western force with membership of European countries as well as the United States, Canada, Australia and New Zealand; a United Nations force; and a NATO force. The Foreign Ministry recommended the EU option to the cabinet, because that was the most available force and because the Europeans have already shown willingness in principle for such a force.
2. Powers: The Foreign Ministry believes the force’s powers should derive from the tasks of rehabilitation and disarmament. According to the document, the force should be armed and given enforcement powers that will “allow it to deal with threats from Hamas and other terror organizations.” The Foreign Ministry believes the force should carry out enforcement, monitoring and reporting at border crossings. It should have the power to prevent arms from entering the Gaza Strip, and to confiscate arms and other prohibited materials. It should also have powers in the realm of humanitarian aid and rehabilitation, and should be able to inspect UN facilities and schools in the Gaza Strip to ensure they are not concealing weapons.
3. Deployment: The Foreign Ministry recommended that the force be deployed on the Palestinian side of the Rafah crossing and along the border between the Gaza Strip and Sinai – known as the Philadelphi strip – as well as certain areas inside the Gaza Strip, such as UN installations, in keeping with the force’s mandate.
4. The force’s mandate and legal framework: The Foreign Office recommended to the cabinet that the force operate in the Gaza Strip by virtue of a UN Security Council resolution, or by virtue of an agreement between Israel, the Palestinian Authority, Egypt, the United States and the EU that would be backed by a UN Security Council resolution. The Foreign Ministry recommended that the force operate for at least a year, with an option to extend for another year. The Foreign Ministry also recommended that the force operate according to Chapter 6 of the UN Charter, as does UNIFIL in southern Lebanon. This means that all parties involved – Israel, the Palestinians and Egypt – would have to agree to its deployment. The Foreign Ministry does not recommend that the force operate according to Chapter 7 of the Charter – that is, a force that is imposed on the parties.
A senior Foreign Ministry official said that deployment of an international force could become a very relevant possibility when talks on a long-term cease-fire are renewed in Cairo between Israel and Hamas and the other Palestinian factions. One of the issues that will be raised, mainly between Egypt and the Palestinians, is the permanent opening of the Rafah crossing.
The Egyptians are demanding that the Rafah crossing be opened only with the presence of the Palestinian Presidential Guard, without Hamas forces. According to the agreement between Israel and the Palestinian Authority from 2005, the Rafah crossing can be opened only with the involvement of EU monitors.
The senior Foreign Ministry official said that Egypt will have to be a key partner to all discussion of an international force in Gaza, and that coordination with Egypt is critical in this matter. According to the official, some European countries had broached the issue with Egypt even during the war in Gaza, but so far the Egyptians have not been enthusiastic.
The senior official said that, in talks with some European countries, Israel presented a number of questions regarding the willingness of the EU to send a significant force that would carry out effective security work and could protect itself, in case it was attacked. “We brought up a number of questions, but so far the Europeans have not gotten back to us with a solid proposal regarding what they think such an international force should do in Gaza,” the senior Foreign Ministry official said.