Kerry's Cease-fire Draft Revealed: U.S. Plan Would Let Hamas Keep Its Rockets

Haaretz obtains U.S. proposal for weeklong cease-fire which Israel's cabinet rejected; Kerry did not recognize Israel's demand to continue working against the tunnels and presented Hamas as equal to Israel.

The cease-fire draft U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry presented to Israel on Friday evening contained practically no mention of Israel's security needs or of demilitarizing the Gaza Strip of rockets and heavy weaponry or of the need of destroying the terror tunnels linking Gaza to Israeli territory, according to a draft of the document obtained by Haaretz, revealed here for the first time.

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The one-page document, marked "confidential," was submitted to the Prime Minister's Bureau on Friday at 5 P.M. as the security cabinet was meeting. The draft is titled "Framework for Humanitarian Ceasefire in Gaza."

The draft described the urgent need of "protecting civilian lives, ending all hostilities in and from the Gaza Strip and achieving a sustainable cease-fire and enduring resolution of the crisis." The draft said that as such, the two sides - "the Palestinian factions and the State of Israel" have agreed to make the following commitments, detailed in three subsequent clauses:

a) Establish a humanitarian cease-fire, ending all hostilities in and from the Gaza Strip, beginning in 48 hours [Sunday evening], and lasting for a period of seven days
b) Build on the Cairo cease-fire understandings of November 2012 [reached following Operation Cast Lead]
c) Convene in Cairo, at the invitation of Egypt, within 48 hours to negotiate resolution of all issues necessary to achieve a sustainable cease-fire and enduring solution to the crisis in Gaza.

The third clause goes on to spell out, in one way or another, Hamas' demands: arrangements to secure the opening of crossings, allow the entry of goods and people and ensure the social and economic livelihood of the Palestinian people living in Gaza, transfer of funds to Gaza for the payment of salaries for public employees and address all security issues.

Israel's demands were mentioned in the most general of terms in the phrase "address all security issues." There was no one mention of demilitarizing the Gaza Strip of its rocket supply or advanced weapons, and not the dismantling of the terror tunnels.

The draft Kerry presented to the cabinet ministers on Friday did not relate to the question of whether the IDF would be able to continue its operations against the tunnels over the course of the seven-day humanitarian cease-fire. A senior American official said the matter was deliberately not mentioned, and that in private conversations between Kerry and Netanyahu the U.S. made it clear to Israel that it would not oppose continuing the process of demolishing tunnels during the week-long truce.

The draft Kerry submitted on Friday evening stipulated that over the course of a week in which Israel would preserve a humanitarian cease-fire, Hamas and the rest of the Palestinian factions would refrain from any military or security offenses against the other side. Both sides were to allow the transfer of humanitarian aid, including food and medicine to the residents of Gaza. According to the terms of the draft, the Israel Defense Forces would not be asked to withdraw from the Gaza Strip during the cease-fire, but would be forbidden from continuing to operate against the tunnels it has located.

The final clause of the draft determined that "members of the international community, including the United Nations, the Arab League, the European Union, the United States, Turkey, Qatar and many others, support the effective implementation of the humanitarian cease-fire and agreements reached between the parties, in cooperation and coordination with the parties, and will join in a major humanitarian assistance initiative to address the immediate needs of the people of Gaza."

This clause bore no mention of Egypt – the country which borders the Gaza Strip, which has many vital interests pertaining to any cease-fire agreement to be signed, and which filled a central role in similar agreements in the past. Within Kerry's draft, Egypt's traditional role of supervising implementation of the agreement has been passed to Turkey and Qatar – two states which support Hamas and are hostile to Israel.

Last Friday evening, when the draft reached the Prime Minister's Bureau at the Defense Ministry's headquarters in Tel Aviv, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon, Justice Minister Tzipi Livni and the rest of the security ministers could not believe what had been written down on paper.

The cabinet ministers, most of them familiar with the other and better American drafts shown to Israel over the course of Wednesday and Thursday, were in shock. The ministers voted unanimously to reject the document. Nevertheless, Israel decided not to issue an official announcement on the matter, so as to avoid embarrassing the U.S. secretary of state and burning the bridges at work. Instead, it was decided that Netanyahu would call Kerry personally and demand significant improvements to the draft on the matter essential to Israel.

Senior Israeli officials expressed great anger regarding Kerry's proposal over the weekend. Cabinet ministers described it as a "prize for terror," claiming that the U.S. secretary of state had completely adopted the positions presented by the Turkish and Qatari foreign ministers negotiating on behalf of Hamas.

On Saturday, apparently following his telephone conversation with Netanyahu, Kerry tried to patch up the damages caused by the proposal he submitted to Israel the day before.

Kerry released a statement to the press at the end of his meeting with the Turkish and Qatari foreign ministers in which he said that he understood that Israel could not accept a cease-fire agreement under which it would be forbidden from operating against the terror tunnels in Gaza. He said that the Americans were aware of this and were working on a solution to that problem, but that at the same time, the Palestinians could not accept a cease-fire agreement without assurance that the status quo in the Gaza Strip today would be changed and without being granted more freedom of movement.

Senior Israeli officials said that the draft presented by Kerry had been removed from the table, and was no longer under discussion. "We succeeded in foiling that document and now we are discussing other options," said the officials.

An associate of Kerry responded as such: "There is no paper and no proposal. The draft was based on the Egyptian proposal that Israel whole heartedly supported. So if they are opposed. They are opposed their own plan."

PA displeased with Kerry, too

But Israel is not the only party dissatisfied with the framework Kerry presented for the Gaza cease fire – the Palestinian Authority is also furious at the U.S. secretary of state.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas made this clear in an angry telephone conversation with French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius on Saturday, after the summit meeting Kerry arranged in Paris with foreign ministers from Europe, Qatar and Turkey, reported the London-based newspaper Asharq Al-Awsat.

A senior Palestinian official said the Palestinian leadership was amazed that not only was such a meeting held, but that a Palestinian representative was not even invited to the meeting, while Qatar and Turkey, which represent Hamas positions, were.

Fabius called to update Abbas, who lost his temper upon hearing the news. “Why are you calling me at all?” Abbas angrily told Fabius. “Has Israel agreed to a cease-fire according to the Kerry framework? Has Hamas agreed to a cease-fire according to the Kerry framework? What are you asking from me now?”

Abbas’ displeasure with Kerry stems from the Palestinian leader’s previous understanding that Kerry was adopting the PA’s plan for a cease-fire. But after a few days, Abbas discovered that America’s top diplomat had his own plans, which were based on his talks with Turkey and Qatar – and which were very close to those of Hamas.

“Kerry wants to exploit the war in Gaza to strengthen the position of the Muslim Brotherhood in the region,” said a senior Palestinian official to Asharq Al-Awsat. “The Americans think that the ‘moderate’ political Islam of the Muslim Brotherhood will fight extremist Islam.”

Kerry is undermining the Egyptian cease-fire proposal, which also included the PA’s positions, said the senior Palestinian official. “Kerry presented an alternative initiative that placates Qatar and Turkey,” he said. The U.S. secretary of state came out with his framework proposal just as an agreement was near on the Egyptian proposal, including the ending of the blockade on Gaza, opening the border crossings and expanding the fishing areas, said the PA official.

“[Khaled] Meshal killed the Egyptian initiative last Wednesday at his press conference and then Kerry decided to come out with his own initiative,” said the Palestinian official.

AFP