Peace deal boosts Hamas politically and opens way for reconstruction of Gaza
Analysis: much depends on UN involvement in monitoring arms smuggling into Strip
Palestinians celebrate in the West Bank city of Ramallah last night following the announcement of the ceasefire agreement between Israel and the Palestinians. Photograph: Reuters/Mohamad Torokman
Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas yesterday announced a long-term truce between Gaza and Israel, ending the 50-day conflict that has taken 1,235 Palestinian lives, killed 69 in Israel and devastated the narrow coastal strip. He called for urgent, massive humanitarian aid. “Quick support is needed to try and heal the wound which was inflicted on Gaza.”
He asked, “What next?” remarking that Gaza had already suffered three wars and could not continue with “cloudy negotiations” which did not meet the demands and needs of the people of Gaza.
He said the consensus government, formed by his Fatah movement and Hamas in June, would assume its role in Gaza and complete the process of reconciliation between the former rivals. Hamas’s de facto prime minister Ismail Haniyeh formally stood down but will remain as caretaker until the consensus cabinet takes over once peace reigns in Gaza.
Abbas thanked Egypt for its untiring efforts to end the conflict as well as Qatar and US secretary of state John Kerry.
Although he proclaimed the truce, Abbas played only a marginal role in its achievement. Those responsible on the Palestinian side were Hamas and Islamic Jihad, which not only assumed the defence of Gaza but also dominated the ceasefire negotiations in Cairo with input from Hamas chief Khaled Mishaal in Qatar and the leadership in Gaza.
Hamas deputy chief Moussa Abu Marzouk announced that the acceptance by Israel of the ceasefire was a “victory for the resistance” while Islamic Jihad official Ziad Nakhlah said the “open ended” truce agreement included an Israeli commitment to ease its siege and blockade of Gaza permitting the entry of relief supplies and reconstruction materials.
Opening of Rafah
Mediated by Egyptian intelligence officers in indirect negotiations between the Palestinian delegation and Israel, the deal also provides for the opening of the Rafah crossing on the Egypt-Gaza border, expansion of Gaza’s fishing grounds from 3km to 12km from shore and the reduction of Israel’s “buffer zone” inside Gaza along Israel’s border from 1,500-700m to 300m. Israel said it had made no commitment to end assassinations of leaders of militant groups, a provision in the 2012 ceasefire.
In a month, talks are due to begin on the reconstruction of Gaza’s airport and the construction of a sea port, the release of Palestinian prisoners held by Israel and the repatriation of the remains of two Israeli soldiers believed to be in Palestinian custody.
While Hamas and its armed allies have been hailed by Palestinians in both Gaza and the West Bank for defending Gaza for seven weeks, the militants have made political gains as well. Shunned by Israel and the West as a “terrorist” body, Hamas has won recognition by Israel, which has had to negotiate with Hamas by proxy through Egypt.
Israel will also have to continue talking indirectly to Hamas in coming negotiations and deal with it as a partner with Fatah in the consensus government.
Cairo has also had to talk with Hamas, an offshoot of the outlawed Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood accused of interfering in Egypt’s internal affairs. Cairo’s early attempt to secure a ceasefire by negotiating only with Israel collapsed because Hamas was not consulted.
Neither side got everything it wanted. The Palestinians did not receive an Israeli commitment to lift completely its tight eight-year blockade of Gaza, while Israel did not secure its demand for the disarmament of Hamas and its allies and the demilitarisation of Gaza.
However, both sides could achieve their goals if European and UN monitors manage to convince Israel to end the isolation of Gaza by stemming the flow of weapons and ammunition into Gaza.
The UN Security Council could be expected to bolster Egypt’s long-term arrangements with a resolution laying down mechanisms for implementing the terms of the deal.
Such mechanisms will be needed to monitor the ceasefire, report on violations and prevent arms smuggling into Gaza. The monitors will have to ensure an unrestricted flow of essential goods and construction materials into Gaza and the free passage of Gazans into and out of the strip.
Ultimately, Gaza will have to redevelop its shattered economy, import raw materials and machinery, and export products. Gazan flowers and strawberries could again grace European dining tables.
At the outset of this conflict, human rights activist Raji Sourani said Gazans simply wanted to live “normal lives.” They want to have food, decent shelter, electricity, water, healthcare and education for their children. Once they have attained normality, there will be no need for rockets and mortars to protest the Israeli siege and blockade.