For Hamas, Egypt's Truce Proposal Is a Bitter Pill

The gestures harbored within the Egyptian offer come with a heavy price, as far as Hamas is concerned: Renewed, reinforced presence of Palestinian Authority forces in Gaza.

Amos Harel
Amos Harel
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Head of the Palestinian delegation Azzam al-Ahmed (L) and others members of the team in Cairo, August 11, 2014.
Head of the Palestinian delegation Azzam al-Ahmed (L) and others members of the team in Cairo, August 11, 2014. Credit: AFP
Amos Harel
Amos Harel

If there were any doubts remaining about where Egypt stands in relation to Israel and Hamas, it seems that they were resolved two days ago when both sides received the Egyptian truce proposal. The detailed document, an ambitious attempt to rearrange Israel’s relations with Gaza, does not mean great things for Hamas. In effect, according to one columnist from the Palestinian Authority-affiliated Al-Ayyam newspaper, the proposal offers the same understanding reached after Operation Pillar of Defense in 2012, with only cosmetic changes. All of the gestures made by Egypt toward the Palestinians, like easing restrictions at border crossings and the gradual elimination of the Israeli buffer zone within the Gaza Strip come with a very heavy price, as far as Hamas is concerned: Renewed, reinforced presence of Palestinian Authority forces in Gaza.

This is a tough pill to swallow for Hamas, as are Egypt’s efforts to bring the Oslo agreements back to the surface through the back door; Hamas reviles Oslo even more than Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu does. Therefore, it’s not surprising that official Hamas spokespeople criticized the Egyptian proposal on Saturday. What is surprising is the rather moderate reaction by the Islamic Jihad, always considered more extreme than Hamas. It seems that the Islamic Jihad has recently been warming up to Cairo, and perhaps is less committed to the comprehensive demands that Hamas had set when the sequence of humanitarian cease-fires began. Israel, at this point, has yet to issue an official response to the Egyptian proposal, as it was leaked to the Arab media.

The current cease-fire will end on Monday at midnight. Until then, the Egyptians will try to ramp up pressure on Hamas to get its representatives to sign the agreement. Last Wednesday night, Hamas agreed at the last minute to extend the cease-fire even though an hour or so beforehand everyone believed that the fighting would resume. In retrospect, it seems that the organization changed its mind a little too late. Expecting the talks to break down, operatives had set rockets on timers, firing them toward the Negev around midnight. Israel responded with targeted aerial strikes, but by the morning, quiet was restored.

The quandary that Hamas faces is clear: without an achievement to tout, the incredible sacrifice of Gaza’s population – roughly 2,000 dead, hundreds of thousands of refugees, thousands of homes as well as infrastructure destroyed – will seem for naught. On the other hand, the long series of cease-fires might make it hard for the organization to keep fighting. The humanitarian disaster in Gaza, along with electricity and potable water shortages, has forced Gaza residents to focus on rebuilding. The more hawkish approach, favored by Khaled Mehsal in Qatar, would mean renewed suffering for the Gazan population.

For Israel, the outlook isn't great either. The general hope within Netanyahu's government is for an outcome similar to that of the Lebanon war: despite the mixed results of the fighting, the immense destruction will serve as a deterrent that will last longer than the pessimistic commentators would lead us to believe. Only time will determine whether this hope will materialize. Meanwhile, the government needs quiet in Gaza, both to allow Israelis to return to their homes in the south, and to put a stop to the public criticism.

In the background, new clouds gather over the government, and only some of them stem directly from the war in Gaza. Careless waste of ammunition and reservists’ time will add to the cost of the fighting, and hamper the budget as pressure from the international community to put IDF officers on trial for war crimes continues to mount. Fighting in Gaza also deepened the rift in the relations between Netanyahu and the Obama administration.

Farther away, the Islamic State’s troubling advances in Iraq and Syria are reshaping the regional strategic picture, and will have an indirect effect on Israel. With such a loaded list of controversial issues, it wouldn’t be surprising if Netanyahu has a hard time drawing global attention to the lowest one on the list – Iran’s nuclear program.

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