Regional powers enter the fray as Palestinians make their own demands during negotiations

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Head of the Palestinian delegation Azzam al-Ahmed (L) and others members of the delegation arrive to the hotel after a meeting with Egyptians seniors intelligence in Cairo late on August 11, 2014. (Photo: AFP-Khaled Desouki)

By: Youssef Fares

Published Tuesday, August 12, 2014

The sequence of events in Gaza since the beginning of the war have not indicated that the Resistance was free from the struggle of international and regional powers. Yet the decision to calm the situation – such as with the last and current occasions – was based on the events taking place on the ground. Yet the story of the warring axes is not new. It appeared in the previous war in 2012, when Egypt's assistance (under Mohammed Mursi) had a major role in stopping the war early.

On the tenth day of the current aggression, the Egyptian card was laid on the table in the form of a draft proposal for a ceasefire. The Resistance responded two days later by commenting on the content of the initiative, but it did not discuss it long before deciding to look for other arenas. According to Palestinian sources, this all occurred before the political wing of Hamas came out with alternative terms, proposed by the Palestinian National Authority (PNA), then Turkey and Qatar.

The majority of the amendments presented in Cairo back then focused on four items; ending the aggression completely, lifting the siege, releasing detainees who had been previously detained, and ensuring the era of assassinations would not return. However, 20 days and around 1,000 martyrs later, a three-day truce was announced and Palestinian factions returned to the Egyptian capital to build on the draft. But they went beyond the amendments and proposed 12 detailed items in six main sections.

The sources, who preferred to remain anonymous, told Al-Akhbar that Doha quickly warned Hamas of the need to include a condition to allow the entry of money into the Strip, in order to solve the salaries problem faced by the previous Gaza government. However, this will be in violation of the US sanctions against banks [in Gaza].

In the Paris quintet conference, Ankara proposed a waterway into Gaza - not necessarily a full port - linking it with the Turkish part of Cyprus or even the capital. PNA President Mahmoud Abbas added an item related to the airport – which had been part of the Oslo Accords – to the agenda of the Palestinian delegation. Thus, the demands grew and later included the fourth deal related to prisoners (between the PNA and the occupation) and hinted at putting an end to settlement activities.

On the Egyptian side, intelligence services did not oppose the demands and delivered them to the Israeli side. However, they insisted on keeping the question of the Rafah crossing between Egypt and Gaza outside the framework of this deal. They also expressed concerns over Turkey’s role, based on Ankara's proposal to facilitating the establishment and management of the waterway. Egypt was also deeply concerned about Qatar's participation in the reconstruction process.

Here, the ceasefire negotiations and Gaza's fate fell into the labyrinth of international axes. Although this phenomenon is nothing new, the international axes’ objectives have become clearer and their intervention more crude. Representatives of some of those countries decided to appropriate the Palestinian voice. Turkey and Qatar spoke on behalf of Hamas alone, disregarding the other [Palestinian] factions, while Islamic Jihad insisted on the vital role played by Egypt.

Further corroboration could be found in an article by Qatari Foreign Minister Khalid al-Attiyah, published on CNN's website. "Palestinians in Gaza need a peace agreement that ends the hostilities and lifts an Israeli siege that has been in place since 2007… [and] humanitarian aid and funding for development," he wrote.

Attiyah concluded by indicating the "need [for] a comprehensive agreement that will end the occupation and establish two states for two peoples, allowing Israelis and Palestinians to live side by side in peace and security."

The Qatari letter also translated the demands of US State Secretary John Kerry, who wanted to exploit the indirect discussions to put the negotiations back on track. "Peace must be achieved through negotiations, with all sides in the conflict represented," Attiyah claimed. But he explained that "Qatar makes no claim to being a major player on the global stage. But [...] our government embraced an open door foreign policy focused on relationship-building and conflict mediation."

He concluded by declaring: "In Qatar, we will always keep an open door to peace."

These statements intersected with reports about the meeting between Qatari Prince Tamim bin Hamad with the Saudi King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz. Hamad said that he approached the king at the start of the war to explain the real situation in Gaza, "out of fear of deflecting the direction." He also wanted to clarify that Doha does not meddle in regional politics, "although there was someone in Qatar who was struck by the vanity of the greatness of the country and its size."

The young prince explained to the Saudi king that Qatar is worthless without its Gulf and Arab environment. "It is ready to march behind you and under your command to relieve the suffering of the Palestinians," Hamad was quoted as saying.

"Your Majesty, Iran, Hezbollah, and Syria are present in Gaza. We should not close our eyes to this. Syrian President Bashar al-Assad announced that Syria knew when and where it will reply to the aggression, despite the bloody conflict between him and Hamas." He asked "to leave the judgement of Hamas to a later date and stand by the Palestinian people collectively."

Back to the basics. There is no doubt that the port, the airport, and opening the crossings are basic rights for Palestinians. Although they had been a past outcome of the Oslo Accords, today's demands occur while the Resistance is advancing on the field. While they might delay the end of the war, they became an overnight demand, particularly by Hamas. The position was expressed in a speech by al-Qassam Brigades spokesman Abu Ubaida. Even before the Israelis gave their response, he made it apparent that the [opening of the] port will require a long war of attrition.

Further proof is provided by sources close to the delegation who said the Hamas leadership was not comfortable dealing with the Egyptians, particularly since their president, Abdul-Fattah al-Sisi, kept reopening the wounds with the Muslim Brotherhood, which recalled scenes of the not so distant past. This was in addition to some Egyptian crudeness during the negotiations.

Egypt believes that lifting the stranglehold on Gaza through the Rafah crossing on the Egyptian side and relinking it to the world will make the situation very different for the Brotherhood. Thus, Cairo expressed a veiled rejection, based on concerns of a complete rejection by the Israelis. The Egyptian leadership is ready to ignore the blood in Gaza in order to avoid such a scenario. Sisi smiled throughout his speech during the aggression, since the question is not merely about sustaining popularity. His head could be the price of a moment of human weakness, if he still has it.

However, monitoring the waterway would be easy, since the sea if full of US, Israeli, and Turkish vessels. European supervision will be an added insurance. Additionally, it would not hurt Israel to sign an agreement today and get rid of it tomorrow. Its history is full of such occasions. And like it destroyed Gaza airport, an outcome of the Oslo Accords, it could do the same with any new Palestinian achievement.

There are many sides to the battle, as the above shows. It is no longer limited to the Resistance and the occupation. If it was so, the war would have been over and lives would have been saved a long time ago. The Resistance would have kept its military achievement and no one would be able to force it to raise its demands to this level, which is closer to a comprehensive solution and the independence of Gaza as a state. But it would not have accepted the Egyptian initiative in principle.

The hours of attrition passed between the two ceasefires and led to more victims. Israel was happy to exploit the situation to play its favorite game of negotiations and biding its time. Palestinian choices became very narrow compared to the enemy's, after it got rid of the pressures for a ground invasion and ruled the skies again.

However, some positive outcomes of the situation cannot be denied. The Palestinian delegations threatened to withdraw [from the negotiations] prior to the current ceasefire, in case the Israelis had conditions on renegotiations. It was the first time the voice of Palestinian negotiators were raised, compared to a history of humiliation in talks between Ramallah and Tel Aviv.

This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.

Comments

Hamas should play it smart. To hell with all those countries that did not support the Palestinians in action. Those vultures should not be given an opportunity for political aggrandizement at the expense of the Palestinian children’s bloods. To hell with the demands of Turkey, Saudi, Qatari, Egypt, and the West as none of them were of any help during the war. The ceasefire is simple. It will arrive as a result of negotiations between Hamas and Israel only, not even the mouse called Abbas.

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