Egypt pushes ceasefire, but the sides aren’t close
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Egypt pushes ceasefire, but the sides aren’t close

Israel wants Hamas to demilitarize the Strip, shutter tunnels; terror group demands Shalit prisoners be freed, employee salaries be paid

Avi Issacharoff

Avi Issacharoff, The Times of Israel's Middle East analyst, fills the same role for Walla, the leading portal in Israel. He is also a guest commentator on many different radio shows and current affairs programs on television. Until 2012, he was a reporter and commentator on Arab affairs for the Haaretz newspaper. He also lectures on modern Palestinian history at Tel Aviv University, and is currently writing a script for an action-drama series for the Israeli satellite Television "YES." Born in Jerusalem, he graduated cum laude from Ben Gurion University with a B.A. in Middle Eastern studies and then earned his M.A. from Tel Aviv University on the same subject, also cum laude. A fluent Arabic speaker, Avi was the Middle East Affairs correspondent for Israeli Public Radio covering the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the war in Iraq and the Arab countries between the years 2003-2006. Avi directed and edited short documentary films on Israeli television programs dealing with the Middle East. In 2002 he won the "best reporter" award for the "Israel Radio” for his coverage of the second intifada. In 2004, together with Amos Harel, he wrote "The Seventh War - How we won and why we lost the war with the Palestinians." A year later the book won an award from the Institute for Strategic Studies for containing the best research on security affairs in Israel. In 2008, Issacharoff and Harel published their second book, entitled "34 Days - The Story of the Second Lebanon War," which won the same prize.

Egyptian security forces stand guard as an ambulance, carrying a Palestinian who was wounded in an Israeli air strike, crosses the Rafah crossing between Egypt and the southern Gaza Strip on July 12, 2014. (photo credit: AFP/SAID KHATIB)
Egyptian security forces stand guard as an ambulance, carrying a Palestinian who was wounded in an Israeli air strike, crosses the Rafah crossing between Egypt and the southern Gaza Strip on July 12, 2014. (photo credit: AFP/SAID KHATIB)

In the past few days, Egypt has increased its efforts to secure a ceasefire between Hamas and Israel, but large gaps remain between the two sides in light of Gaza and Jerusalem’s irreconcilable demands, sources involved in the proceedings told The Times of Israel.

The demands Israel is presenting as part of truce negotiations, at least since Friday, are that Hamas accept the terms of the 2012 agreement that came after Operation Pillar of Defense, empty the Gaza Strip of rockets, and close down the tunnels that run between the coastal enclave and Israel.

Hamas is demanding that 56 prisoners who were released as part of the 2011 prisoner swap for IDF soldier Gilad Shalit, and were rearrested in the West Bank following the June 12 abduction and killing of the three Israeli teenagers, be freed. The terror organization is also asking that the Rafah crossing to Egypt be opened, and that the salaries of 40,000 former Hamas employees be transferred to the Gaza Strip.

At this point, it seems both sides’ demands are not realistic. Hamas will not agree to part with its rocket arsenal and will most likely not dismantle its tunnels. Egypt said it will not allow the Rafah crossing to open without the presence, surveillance, and security coordination of the Palestinian Authority, as well as PA forces’ deployment on the Philadelphi Route, on the border of Gaza and Egypt.

A smuggling tunnel between Gaza and Egypt (photo credit: Hatem Moussa/AP)
A smuggling tunnel between Gaza and Egypt (photo credit: Hatem Moussa/AP)

Israel also rejects the condition of paying the Hamas salaries. The PA cannot do it through its banks due to the laws governing the sponsoring of terror, and Egypt does not allow cash transfers for salaries.

A Hamas legislator told AFP that his organization would not bend on its demands. “Talk of a ceasefire requires real and serious efforts, which we haven’t seen so far,” Hamas legislative member Mushir al-Masri said in Gaza City. “Any ceasefire must be based on the conditions we have outlined; nothing less than that will be accepted.”

Meanwhile, AFP reported, according to a Hamas official in Cairo, the group is demanding a better deal than the one it negotiated after Operation Pillar of Defense in 2012. “We need to build on the 2012 truce and move forward. We don’t want to go back,” he said.

One of the Palestinian assumptions is that the prisoner issue is actually one that can lead toward a ceasefire. These are prisoners who for the most part do not pose a security danger, and Hamas has already emphasized that it is most concerned with prisoners who were arrested without cause rather than those who committed terror attacks.

On the security level, there are some Israeli officials who have not rejected the idea outright. Politicians, however, claim it is unlikely to happen.

For now, the widespread assumption is that Egypt remains the only country that could secure a breakthrough. Israel does not want Turkish or Qatari mediation.

The Egyptians told the Israelis that every ceasefire agreement must include additional steps that will strengthen the standing of PA President Mahmoud Abbas.

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