It’s not yet completely clear how Hamas and Israel will respond to the Egyptian proposal for a ceasefire to to be announced on Tuesday morning. But one thing is certain: This is the darkest hour for the Hamas leadership in Gaza and abroad.
If they accept the Egyptian proposal, they will be perceived as having been heavily defeated in the latest round of conflict with Israel; a defeat that is close to a humiliation.
That’s because the conditions in the Egyptian proposal do not include any of the demands that Hamas has been repeating day and night in the last few days. As reported in the Egyptian media, there is no mention in the proposal of Hamas’s oft-repeated demand for the release of the dozens of its operatives, freed in the 2011 Shalit deal, who were rearrested in recent weeks by Israeli forces in the West Bank in the wake of the murders of the three Israeli teenagers. There is also no concrete commitment regarding the opening of the Rafah border crossing or the payments of the salaries of Hamas’s 40,000 clerks in Gaza. And there is no mention whatsoever of the situation in the West Bank. All these demands were raised by the Hamas military wing two days after Israel began Operation Protective Edge, and repeated interminably ever since.
Yes, there is some language providing for the opening of the border crossings, and an easing of movement of people and goods via those crossings as permitted by the security situation. But that language is almost a direct repetition of the November 2012 ceasefire terms that brought Operation Pillar of Defense to a close. Time and again, Hamas’s leaders have been stressing in recent days that “there will be no return to the 2012 ceasefire terms.”
As late as Monday night, Arabic TV stations were broadcasting a recorded speech by former Hamas Gaza prime minister Ismail Haniyeh, in which he repeatedly praised the heroism of the Hamas military wing, which had “restored Palestinian pride.” He heaped praise on its courage and achievements… and also repeated those familiar demands — the prisoners, the salaries, the border crossings, the blockade.
And then came the Egyptian proposal, ignoring those demands almost completely.
Hamas’s problem is that if it rejects the Egyptian proposal it will find itself unprecedentedly isolated in the international community and the Arab world. Cairo will accuse it of torpedoing the opportunity for calm, and Jerusalem will have the legitimacy to mount a ground offensive into Gaza.
Thus the options open to Haniyeh, the military wing in Gaza, and political bureau chief Khaled Mashaal in Qatar range from bad to worse.
Soon after the Egyptian proposal was published, one Hamas spokesman, Fawzi Barhoum, announced “there will be no truce unless the demands of the military wing, and of the Palestinian people, are met.”
Did that represent Hamas’s rejection of the proposal? That’s not clear — and won’t be until the spokesmen of the military wing, who are leading this conflict with Israel, have stated their position.
But sources in the Strip told this reporter late Monday that the military wing has decided not even to discuss the Egyptian proposal. These sources said that Hamas is fuming over the process by which the Egyptian terms were brought to its attention — via the media.
Indeed, the leaking of the proposal to the Egyptian media, the fact that it ignores Hamas’s demands, and the further fact that it includes a nod to Israel via its similarities to the 2012 terms, must seem suspicious indeed to Hamas. Could it be that Jerusalem and Cairo hatched this move together, in order to corner Hamas?
It seems obvious that there’ll be few tears shed in Cairo if Hamas is perceived as weakened by a ceasefire deal, or, alternately, is hit hard by the Israel militarily. This much is clear from the discussions between Israeli and Egyptian officials, and in recent days, from the tone of the Egyptian media, which is taking great delight in criticizing and denigrating Hamas.
And what of the Netanyahu government? It would seem that most members of the security cabinet recognize that the Egyptian proposal represents a fair achievement for Israel, and a significant failure for Hamas.