Analysis |

Internationalizing Gaza Disadvantages Israel

Hamas is leery about resuming cease-fire negotiations, hoping to ensure permission for a port and an airport. Then eyes will turn to the ICC.

A photo of Dr. Zvi Bar'el.
Zvi Bar'el
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Smoke and dust rise after an Israeli strike on a three-story building belonging to the Abdul Hadi family in Gaza City in the northern Gaza Strip, Aug. 24, 2014.
Smoke and dust rise after an Israeli strike on a three-story building belonging to the Abdul Hadi family in Gaza City in the northern Gaza Strip, Aug. 24, 2014.Credit: AP
A photo of Dr. Zvi Bar'el.
Zvi Bar'el

The calls by Egypt and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas for the shooting to stop are being accompanied by detailed conditions for resuming talks, which are being discussed by all parties.

While Egypt is willing to resume negotiations now, Israel demands a cease-fire first. But this isn’t the only dispute. Hamas, which says it didn’t receive an Israeli reply to amendments it proposed to an Egyptian draft just before the last cease-fire failed, wants to know what renewed negotiations would be about.

Would Israel accept the demand for a port and an airport in Gaza? This has become a core issue in the quest for a long-term cease-fire. Would the agreement lift the embargo on Gaza? When would these issues be discussed and what guarantees would Hamas get that Israel would abide by any agreement?

Hamas – unlike Islamic Jihad, which basically accepts the Egyptian proposal — wants to define the parameters of the talks as a condition for holding them. Discussions between Abbas and Hamas leader Khaled Meshal in Qatar didn’t yield anything significant.

A source close to the Palestinian Authority says Abbas agreed to push several amendments to the Egyptian proposal in his meeting with President Abdel-Fattah al-Sissi on Saturday.

Egyptian sources predict that the talks will resume within days and that Meshal is under pressure from officials in both Hamas and Islamic Jihad. It’s not entirely clear what underlies the Egyptians’ optimism, but apparently Abbas isn’t the only one who wants to speed things up.

Egypt is also under time constraints in light of American and European initiatives to shift discussions on Gaza to the UN Security Council. Such a debate would undercut Sissi’s monopoly over coordinating the talks, giving the United States most of the leverage. The European initiative also worries Sissi, since it stipulates that the opening of border crossings, including the Rafah crossing into Egypt, would happen based on a 2005 agreement that Egypt has not signed.

If the initiative is adopted, Egypt will have to allow international observers on its territory to prevent the importing into Gaza of materials for making weapons. Israel opposes this initiative since it demands negotiations based on the 1967 borders. It also calls for UN members to take part in the rebuilding of Gaza and to contribute to salary payments there, including to Hamas members.

The main point is that both sides will have to submit detailed proposals for implementing any resolution that passes. The European proposal also treats all sides as having equal status and having to submit to similar supervision. The proposal’s vague wording doesn’t discuss specific Palestinian demands; thus Israel could enjoy a wide scope for interpretation.

The Palestinian struggle abroad will now take place at the International Criminal Court. Abbas is under intense pressure to sign the Rome Statute and launch war-crime proceedings against any Israeli officer or soldier who took part in the war.

This is where Hamas believes it can make political gains both in the Palestinian arena and internationally. But it has to rely on Abbas signing the statute as president. His foreign minister, Riyad al-Maliki, has said joining the ICC could be a double-edged sword since possible war crimes by Hamas would also be investigated.

That’s why Abbas demanded that all the organizations sign a memorandum requesting membership in the ICC – to take responsibility if they are investigated and prosecuted. Now that Hamas and Islamic Jihad say they have signed, Abbas may have no choice but to join as well.

The internationalization of the conflict in Gaza appears to be the next phase. Israel enters it at after the severe erosion of its international standing that began long before the current war.

An Egyptian soldier (top) holding on to the national flag keeps watch on the Egyptian side of the Rafah border crossing as a Palestinian flag moves in the wind below him. January 29, 2014.Credit: AFP

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