Three rival groups are in a tug-o’-war over a ceasefire initiative for the Gaza conflict: The US and UN are pulling one way; Israel, Egypt and Saudi Arabia, the other; and Qatar, Turkey, Hamas and the Palestinian Authority, are trying to manipulate the others.
Monday night, July 21, US Secretary of State John Kerry and UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon arrived in Cairo to press their case with Egyptian President Abdel-Fatteh El-Sisi: Kerry’s directive was outlined by President Barack Obama a few hours earlier, “to focus on bringing about a ceasefire than ends the fighting and can stop the death of innocent civilians.”
Ban came from Doha, Qatar, as part of a whistle stop tour of Kuwait City, Jerusalem, Cairo, Ramallah and Amman. Upon landing in Cairo, he told reporters: “The violence must stop, it must stop now. I urge all parties to stop violence unconditionally and return to dialogue."
Reported to be pushing for a long-term ceasefire, the UN Secretary went on to comment that it was impossible to go back to the situation that caused the conflict. He ruled out the “status quo ante” for the Gaza Strip as untenable.
This was an indirect vote of support for Hamas’s terms for a ceasefire, such as ending the blockade on the Gaza Strip and reopening all the crossings.
The UN Secretary had nary a word to say about the Palestinian Islamists’ long record of terrorism, culminating last month in the kidnap and murder of three Israeli teenagers, the shooting of 1,850 rockets at the Israeli population in less than a month and the network of secret tunnels dug especially to burrow under the Israeli border for attacks and kidnappings.
After hearing the two comments, Hamas’ political leader Meshaal Hamas called off the statement he had planned to issue Monday night from his base in Qatar. He saw he had no need to push any further to win the support of the UN and US officials. They were already on his side and he could count on them both to twist Israel’s arm for an early ceasefire to rescue Hamas from defeat before its terrorist machine was completely ravaged by Israeli troops.
Hamas officials also rejected suggestions floated for a long-term humanitarian ceasefire.
Following reports that Cairo had agreed to give in to Hamas demands, Egypt’s Foreign Minister Sameh Shokri said firmly that Cairo is not willing to amend its former truce initiative.
The Egyptian president Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi had won Saudi endorsement for this proposal in two conversations they held in the last few days. It is based essentially on a ceasefire which, if it holds, would be followed by separate Egyptian talks with Israel and Hamas on future arrangements.
This proposal was accepted by Israel and snubbed by Hamas, which continued to shoot rockets instead. Israel reacted four days ago, by sending ground troops into the Gaza Strip to finally dismantle Hamas’ long-running terror machine.
That Hamas stands by its negative response to the Egyptian ceasefire initiative was underscored by Gaza Prime Minster Ismail Haniya in a pre-recorded statement Monday from his hideout: “Hamas will fight with blood before giving up its terms,” he said. “Their [Israel’s] air strikes did not break us, and neither will their ground attacks.”
Hama leaders have grasped that the truce initiatives promoted by Kerry and Ban will essentially allow them to carry on as before with certain benefits thrown in.
As of writing this report, the Netanyahu government has not reacted to the web of ceasefire diplomacy being woven. His silence can be interpreted in three ways:
1. Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, who has been running Israel's campaign against Hamas in close rapport with Saudi King Abdullah and President El-Sisi, is saving his biggest gun – flat rejection of their truce proposals – for use in direct encounters with Kerry and Ban when they arrive in Jerusalem Tuesday, July 22.
2. The IDF needs more time to complete its missions, which are to destroy Hamas’ network of terror tunnels and disarm, or at least degrade, its rocket and military infrastructure.
3. Netanyahu is keeping his cards close to his chest for a reckoning with Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas, touted as go-between in the ceasefire bid, over his threat Monday to bring charges of war crimes against Israel before the international court in The Hague and UN institutions, as well as accusations of apartheid.
The prime minister may well stipulate that Kerry and Ban rein in the Palestinian leader before Israel gives its attention to any requests for joining a ceasefire.