Qatar-brokered talks seek better ceasefire plan than Cairo’s proposal

Qatari effort would deprive Egypt’s newly inaugurated president of a diplomatic coup

French foreign minister Laurent Fabius meeting Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas in Cairo on Friday to seek end to violence in Gaza. Photograph: EPA/Ghanaim/Palestinian Authority

French foreign minister Laurent Fabius meeting Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas in Cairo on Friday to seek end to violence in Gaza. Photograph: EPA/Ghanaim/Palestinian Authority

 

Regional rivalries sharpened yesterday when Qatar’s emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani hosted discussions between Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas and Hamas politburo chief Khaled Mishaal in a desperate bid to draft a ceasefire proposal acceptable to the movement’s leaders in Israeli-besieged and bombed Gaza.

UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon joined the Qatar talks and is set to tour the region to promote a truce. US secretary of state John Kerry, meanwhile, is due to travel to Cairo to press for a halt to the violence.

Hamas’s parent organisation, Doha and Ankara, bitter critics of Cairo for its harsh crackdown on the outlawed Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood, have proposed a plan to rival Egypt’s proposal to halt the carnage and destruction in Gaza. The Qatari plan includes demands put forward by Hamas which includes an end to the Israeli siege and blockade of Gaza, the opening of the Egyptian border crossing at Rafah, the release of Palestinian prisoners and the construction of an airport and a port in Gaza.

Egypt’s diplomatic motivation

The Egyptian ceasefire initiative tabled last Tuesday was negotiated with and accepted by Israel but turned down by Hamas, prompting Israel to escalate its bombing campaign and launch a deadly and destructive ground offensive.

However, as the Palestinian civilian death toll has mounted and entire neighbourhoods of densely populated Gaza have been laid waste, pressure has increased on Cairo to revise its plan to include at least Hamas’s main demand for lifting Israel’s siege and blockade of the strip.

Egyptian foreign minister Sameh Shoukri has so far refused modifications, arguing that Cairo’s proposal, endorsed by the Arab League, US, EU, and Saudi Arabia, remains the only viable way to halt the “intolerable humanitarian situation in Gaza.”

The proposal calls for an immediate ceasefire followed by discussions on easing Israel’s siege and opening the Rafah crossing. Egypt insists the latter can happen only if officers of Mr Abbas’s presidential guard based operations at the Rafah terminal where no Hamas police would be present.

The return of his security men would signal the partial resumption of control on the ground over Gaza by the West Bank Palestinian Authority dominated by Hamas’s rival Fatah, headed by Mr Abbas.

The unity government appointed by Hamas and Fatah last month is in theory – but not in practice – in charge of Gaza as well as Palestinian enclaves in the West Bank.

Composed largely of technocrats, it has no Hamas members and is committed to Mr Abbas’s policy of renouncing violence and seeking a solution through negotiations. Isolated and cash-strapped Hamas agreed to join the government at a time of extreme weakness.

However, by challenging Israel and inflicting military casualties, Hamas has regained popular Palestinian support while Mr Abbas, who has been unable to end Israel’s offensive, has lost credibility and legitimacy.