A week of ceasefire calls, efforts and proposals has not stopped Israel from launching a ground invasion of Gaza in tandem with its aerial and naval bombardments. Developments suggest that Israel, whilst accepting an Egyptian proposal, utilised it as a pretext to intensify and widen its offensive. Cairo, which given that the ouster of President Mohamed Morsi final summer is as hostile to Hamas as Israel is, might have enabled such a program, deliberately or otherwise.
Hamas, which has roots in Egypt’s outlawed Muslim Brotherhood, said it was by no means consulted about Cairo’s ceasefire proposal, possessing learned of it from media reports. It is extraordinary that a supposed mediator in between two warring parties would exclude a single of them from the procedure.
This would virtually ensure that party’s rejection, regardless of the proposal’s content, since it would be humiliating to accept a thing presented as a fait accompli. As such, Hamas’ rejection was hardly surprising, describing the initiative as one of “bowing and submission”.
A ceasefire trap?
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s statement that “the Egyptian proposal gives the chance to address the disarmament” of Gaza was probably intended to ensure rejection by Palestinian militants there. Immediately after all, this was not stipulated in the program, as described in media reports. Netanyahu mentioned Hamas’ rejection “leaves us no option but to expand and intensify the campaign against it” and to do so with “international legitimacy”.
Egypt contributed to this deluded sense of legitimacy by blaming Hamas – as effectively as Qatar and Turkey – for the failure of its proposal. The next day, Israel launched its ground invasion. This week’s developments could not have been much better scripted in favour of such an outcome, with Israel portraying itself as possessing no choice against a belligerent foe, and the standard mediator over Gaza assisting to foster that impression.
Given the common speak to between Israel and Egypt, it is not outlandish to suspect that this was a trap created to ensnare Hamas. The latter rejected Cairo’s proposal “in its present form” – not outright – and notified it of preferred adjustments. Even so, there has been no attempt by Egypt to modify its program. Indeed, Cairo had been criticised from the outset for the sluggish nature of its mediation, top to speculation that it was content to see Israel deal a decisive blow to Hamas.
If the Palestinian faction was uninterested in a ceasefire, it would not have subsequently floated its personal proposal for a 10-year truce. This was announced on Al Jazeera and reported by Israeli media. If Netanyahu genuinely sought an end to hostilities, he would have taken Hamas’ program into consideration.
He did not even respond – nor did Egypt – regardless of the terms being eminently affordable. They include lifting the siege of Gaza, financial improvement of the territory, UN supervision of borders, crossings, the airport and seaport, easing conditions for permits to pray at Jerusalem’s Al Aqsa mosque, respect for the national reconciliation deal, and the freeing of Palestinians detained given that the abduction and killing of 3 Israeli teenagers final month.
The difficulty for Hamas is that in terms of accepting the Egyptian proposal, it would have been damned if it did and damned if it did not. A single of its key objections was negotiating longer-term challenges following a ceasefire was agreed, preferring rather to do each simultaneously.
This pondering was borne out of the knowledge of the final ceasefire agreement in 2012. The terms stipulated that after 24 hours, talks would start on opening crossings into Gaza and permitting free movement of men and women and goods. That did not take place, and the two sides disagreed on what that meant. Hamas mentioned the deal covered the opening of all Gaza’s border crossings with Israel and Egypt, but Israel stated it would not lift its blockade.
A repeat of this would imply Hamas not having anything tangible to show the Palestinians of Gaza for all the death and destruction Israel is inflicting on them. This could undermine its popularity and its image as an effective resister of Israeli aggression.
Nevertheless, agreeing brief- and longer-term challenges simultaneously would deliver no assure of Israel’s abidance. Certainly, it has left behind a trail of violated offers. Within just a week of the 2012 ceasefire taking effect, Israel had killed a Gaza Palestinian civilian, injured at least 15, arrested nine fishermen at sea, and sunk many fishing boats, not to mention many provocations in the West Bank. No Palestinian factions responded to these clear violations.
A basic difficulty facing Hamas is that Israel feels no need for comprehensive negotiations. The latter has maintained its siege of Gaza without the need of international repercussions, and is becoming aided and abetted by Egypt. International calls for a ceasefire have largely ignored the underlying concern of the blockade.
In addition, Hamas’ existing domestic and regional positions are weak. At household, in Gaza, it has failed to boost the lot of Palestinians or bring them any closer to statehood. It is also openly at odds with the Palestinian Authority in spite of the reconciliation deal, which now exists in name only. Regionally, it has lost an ally in Morsi, as effectively as backing from Damascus and Tehran due to its assistance for the Syrian revolution. It is also viewed unfavourably by specific Gulf states.
INTERACTIVE: Gaza Beneath Attack
As such, it is unlikely to be in a position to push for improved terms from Israel. Neither can Hamas indefinitely sustain an onslaught from a substantially extra powerful enemy. For all the rockets it has fired, and their increased range, the vast majority have been intercepted, and they have only managed to kill 1 Israeli.
Contrast this with much more than 300 Palestinian deaths and practically two,000 injuries (the vast majority civilians), tens of thousands displaced, much more than 15,000 homes partially or entirely destroyed, and the water, health, sewage, electricity and education systems in ruins. Such death and destruction will skyrocket now that a ground invasion is beneath way.
Quite a few Palestinians in Gaza say they refuse to go back to the status quo ante. Such sentiments are understandable offered their miserable existence in what is the world’s biggest open-air prison. As UNRWA’s Gaza director Robert Turner stated: “A return to ‘calm’ is a return to … confinement,” with “no external access to markets, employment, or education – in short, no access to the outdoors world”.
Nevertheless, it would be extremely risky for Hamas to base its defiance on that of the civilian population – provided that the latter are bearing the brunt of Israel’s onslaught – for the reason that it would not want to be noticed as callous with Palestinian life. Meanwhile, the a lot more iron-fisted Netanyahu’s policies, the additional domestic reputation he seems to obtain.
Hamas may be counting on increased international condemnation putting a cease to Israel, even so, by the time that takes place, Gaza Palestinians’ losses – and these of Hamas – may perhaps dwarf what they have currently endured.
The Palestinian faction is in an unenviable, perhaps impossible, situation, and Israel is taking benefit of this. As if Netanyahu’s actions are not shameful adequate, regional positions and circumstances are helping him wage a war whose principal target, regardless of the rhetoric, is Gaza’s captive civilian population. Sadly, it is he who will make a decision how extended this conflict lasts and at what cost to the Palestinian individuals.
Sharif Nashashibi is an award-winning journalist and analyst on Arab affairs. He is a common contributor to Al Jazeera English, Al Arabiya News, The National, The Middle East magazine and the Middle East Eye.