With the clock ticking on the Cairo ceasefire negotiations as the 72-hour lull is set to conclude at midnight, the Hebrew press on Wednesday continues to scrutinize the disparities between the Israeli concessions and Hamas demands.
The newspapers also critically eye William Schabas, the appointed head of a UN inquiry on the Gaza operation, who insists his past scathing remarks on Israel were taken out of context.
Quoting Palestinian sources, Haaretz reports that some of the issues holding up the talks include the opening of the border crossings and the level of supervision on materials being brought into the coastal enclave. An unnamed Palestinian official tells the newspaper that Hamas is demanding that the blockade be lifted entirely, not merely eased, which he charged would merely create a “more comfortable occupation.” However, he emphasizes that the disagreement with Israel on the issue is more a matter of phrasing and terminology than a fundamental clash of opinion.
The official assesses that the talks will take at least another day, and perhaps longer.
The paper also focuses on the one-on-one meetings between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and ministers Tuesday night. “The impression the ministers who met with the prime minister got was that a ceasefire agreement is not imminent and that many issues remain open,” it reports.
Meanwhile, Israel Hayom casts further doubt on the idea that the negotiations will produce results by the present deadline.
“Two days after the current ceasefire went into effect, it seems the only thing that’s certain is the uncertainty of what will happen tonight at midnight. The negotiations in Cairo are stuck, and politicians have prepared themselves that the shooting might resume,” it reports.
The paper points to disagreement between the local Hamas and Islamic Jihad leaders, and those abroad: the former are willing to extend the truce to continue talks while the latter are adamant the fighting will resume, it reports.
Israel Hayom writes that the only issues Israel is opposing are the release of prisoners and the establishment of a port and airport. Israel is also calling for the return of the remains of IDF soldiers Oron Shaul and Hadar Goldin, but Hamas maintains that those terms cannot be discussed in the framework of a ceasefire agreement.
“Israel has gotten used to receiving its demands without giving anything in return,” a Hamas official says. “We will not agree to discuss the issue of returning the bodies as part of the truce talks, and for this issue we will set up separate negotiations.”
Yedioth Ahronoth, meanwhile, leads with an interview with William Schabas. In it, the head of the UN Operation Protective Edge probe reiterates that comments he made about wanting to prosecute Netanyahu in the International Criminal Court were taken out of context, insists that he will be fair, and calls on Israel to cooperate. But the paper highlights that the professor is dismissive when it comes to whether Hamas will be prosecuted, and whether he considers the group a terror organization.
He says whether Hamas will be judged is a matter of the committee’s jurisdiction which remains in question. Schabas says he is not anti-Israeli, and has visited Israel “many times.”
Schabas also concedes the UN has something of a double standard when it comes to investigating alleged war crimes. “That there is no investigation of Russia and the US can be explained by the fact that they not only control the Security Council, but also that they exert great political influence. Unfortunately, this is something we must live with as a given.”
In a blistering op-ed, the paper’s Ben-Dror Yemini writes: “Let’s set this straight: without his clear anti-Israel positions, William Schabas would never have been appointed to the head of a committee that is supposed to investigate Israel’s crimes. The UN Human Rights Council, which decided to found the committee, has something in common with Schabas: a rigid anti-Israel stance.”
He compares the international law proceedings to the Sudanese and Iranian legal systems, and argues: “How can you appoint a judge who determined the verdict before the trial? Under the legal systems of fair countries, it’s impossible. In international law, under UNHRC, it becomes possible… Israel’s cooperation would legitimize the UNHRC and the committee itself. “
Schabas is not the only controversial figure interviewed in Wednesday’s Yedioth: the paper spotlights Col. Ofer Winter of the Givati brigade, who responds to the criticism of his orders during the operation and of a letter distributed to his troops which includes religious content, and denies the cancellation of a performance by Israeli singer Sarit Hadad was on religious grounds. In a preview of a longer interview set to be published in its weekend edition, Winter says with regard to the letter, that “he would write it again.”
“I wrote the letter thinking I would imbue the fighting spirit in people facing a life-threatening [situation],” he says. “I believed it would strengthen my troops. So I added in a few biblical passages, what of it? I would write the same letter again.”
In a Haaretz column, Avi Shilon comes to Winter’s defense, and says the controversy around his letter “reveals secular intolerance.”
“Winter is not the only one invoking religious terminology to encourage the soldiers. Even leaders far from the world of observance understood that in certain cases, faith is the most effective form of inspiration. So long as Winter is not suspected of changing the goals of the operation in the name of his faith, and so long as he accepts the authority of the state – it’s unclear why Shema Yisrael is so threatening.”