Gaza truce collapses with both sides unwilling to concede key demands

Hamas now seen by Palestinians as the only resistance to Israeli occupation

Gazans, who may wait for a month for a permit to cross their borders, want easier passage. Photograph: EPA/Abir Sultan

Gazans, who may wait for a month for a permit to cross their borders, want easier passage. Photograph: EPA/Abir Sultan

Sat, Aug 9, 2014, 01:00

The 72-hour Gaza ceasefire collapsed early yesterday because neither side was prepared to cede or compromise on key demands and Egypt, the go-between in the proximity talks, was unable to persuade them to keep talking.

Commenting on the breakdown, Egyptian analyst Youssef Zaki said the “Palestinians have nothing to give, Egypt has nothing to give, only Israel has something to give”.

Gazans have lived under restrictions since 1991 and an ever-tightening siege and blockade since 2006. Egypt, the first Arab country to sign a peace treaty with Israel, has had a “cold peace” with little normalisation of relations because Israel has failed to reach political and territorial arrangements with the Palestinians.

Egyptians, Palestinians and the international community have pressed Israel to agree to a “two-state solution” involving the emergence of a Palestinian mini-state alongside Israel but Israel has carried on with its settlement of land the Palestinians require for their state. Palestinians argue that Israel must cede remote control of Gaza and hand over east Jerusalem and the West Bank. The 2002 Arab summit in Beirut declared that this is the price of regional acceptance – what Israel has to “give”.

Cycle of violence

Dr Zaki predicted the parties will “reach an agreement” to end the current Gaza conflict and Israel will implement portions of the agreement, including at least partial lifting of the siege and blockade. He said the deal will be eroded and the cycle of violence will begin again because the underlying cause of the Arab-Israeli conflict – the Israeli occupation – has not been resolved.

Both Dr Zaki and Palestinian commentator Mahdi Abdel Hadi are critical of the conduct of the negotiations by the Egyptian mediators and the Palestinian delegation. Dr Zaki does not believe his country’s team has either a wide enough grasp of the issues or an understanding of the background to the conflict to broker a lasting deal over Gaza.

Dr Abdel Hadi, a Jerusalem think-tank founder, said the delegation does not represent the Palestinian people and “Hamas has the upper hand”.

The commanders of the military wings of Hamas and Islamic Jihad based in Gaza, rather than Hamas negotiators in Cairo, appear to have dominance. But this may not last. Gazans long for peace and quiet and the freedom to travel and trade.

Speaking from Gaza, Omar, a Palestinian civilian, said: “We want to live like other people. All the people insist on stopping the blockade.” He argued that Israel and the West have secured what they want on the political plane.

“Hamas is no longer the government here. It is [headed by president Mahmoud] Abbas. We agree to European control of our borders. We want to cross our borders easily. I have to wait one month for a permit to go to Cairo. People elsewhere can travel in a matter of hours.”

While he was speaking, his granddaughter, Ghada, hurried to his side, terrified of renewed explosions.

Technocratic cabinet

In June, when Hamas and Fatah formed a consensus government, Hamas conceded to the new technocratic cabinet governance and control over Gaza’s borders with Israel and Egypt. However, Cairo insists it will negotiate a separate deal with the Palestinians over the opening of the Egypt-Gaza crossing at the divided city of Rafah. Egypt has in effect closed this crossing for many months now, including to all but a few score wounded during the conflict.

While there may be disagreements on some issues between Hamas’s negotiators in Cairo and military commanders in Gaza, they all flatly reject Israel’s call for disarmament and demilitarisation. For Hamas, its supporters and many Palestinians, these arms are the only guarantee for any deal reached in Cairo. Gaza’s fighters have won a great deal of respect during this conflict because they stood their ground and fought more effectively than in earlier campaigns against Israel’s far superior forces.

Furthermore, the forces of Hamas, Islamic Jihad and other groups are seen as the only “resistance” to Israeli occupation without which there will be no end to the occupation.

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