A delegation of Fatah and Palestinian Authority officials is set to fly to Cairo in upcoming days for talks there with senior Hamas officials, in the presence of Egyptian representatives. They will discuss the ceasefire initiative that Cairo presented earlier in the conflict, senior Palestinian officials told The Times of Israel.
Azam al-Ahmed, a confidant of PA President Mahmoud Abbas, will lead the delegation along with PA security chief Majed Faraj. Hamas will be represented by its deputy political chief, Moussa Abu Marzouk. It was unclear whether other senior officials will join him. Egyptian intelligence officials were set to moderate.
The Egyptian proposal is the only one that will be discussed in Cairo, the Palestinian officials said. The talks will be held despite US Secretary of State John Kerry’s participation in a conference in Paris alongside Qatar and Turkey, which was interpreted by all sides as a sign that Washington was moving away from the Egyptian plan.
Earlier Monday, tacitly criticizing Hamas and the US for undermining the Egyptian plan, Abbas said that Cairo’s ceasefire initiative contained “all Palestinian demands,” including the opening of Gaza crossings and the release of Palestinian prisoners.
Speaking to the Saudi daily Okaz during a diplomatic visit to Riyadh, Abbas emphasized the diplomatic fault lines between the Palestinian Authority and the US administration, which was represented in the region over the weekend by Secretary of State John Kerry. He said the PA refused to attend a summit in Paris Saturday to discuss the ceasefire terms because Egypt had not been invited.
“The Egyptian initiative is in fact the best and most solid choice to exit this crisis,” Abbas said. “But unfortunately, certain elements did not accept it, so the situation escalated and fighting intensified.”
While stipulating the opening of crossings with Gaza only after “a continued state of security on the ground,” the Egyptian initiative, first presented on July 14, made no mention of a prisoner release. But the Palestinian Authority added a number of remarks to the proposal, alluded to by Abbas.
In the interview, Abbas stressed the need for an immediate ceasefire based on the 2012 ceasefire following Operation Pillar of Defense. He said that in talks with Egypt, the PA had requested the release of Palestinians recently arrested by Israel, in addition to “prisoners who weren’t released,” a reference to a fourth batch of pre-Oslo prisoners set for release as part of the peace negotiations with Israel which broke down in April.
Clinging to Egypt, Abbas said he had refused an American invitation to discuss the ceasefire in Cairo with UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and Arab League Secretary General Nabil Elaraby.
“We did not go because the invitation should have come from Egypt and not from any other side… later they [the Americans] decided to go to Paris and we also didn’t go. Neither us, nor Hamas, nor Israel.”
Abbas’s anger at the US over its decision to partner with Turkey and Qatar was reported Sunday by Saudi-owned daily Al-Sharq Al-Awsat, which quoted a senior Palestinian official as saying that Abbas believed that Kerry had been undermining the Egyptian initiative and “subjecting Palestinian blood to regional power struggles.”
Kerry had tried and failed to bring divergent positions closer together, Abbas said on Monday. “We are sticking to the Egyptian initiative… and will never accept initiatives from other parties, especially since they strive to fragment Palestinian action,” he said, implicitly critiquing the US.
Meanwhile Marzouk, the Hamas deputy political bureau who was set to attend talks in Cairo on Monday, said Sunday night that the Egyptian initiative will change “within hours.” Marzouk had detailed his movement’s objection to the Egyptian paper.
“It is difficult to begin with the ceasefire initiative proposed by Egypt before the resistance’s [Hamas’s] conditions are defined and guaranteed,” he told Hamas daily Al-Resalah.
ِAbu Marzouk’s superior, Khaled Mashaal, repeated Hamas’s demands of lifting the Gaza blockade and constructing sea and air ports as a prerequisite to any ceasefire deal in an interview with CBS News.
“We are not fanatics, we are not fundamentalists; we do not fight the Jews because they are Jews,” Mashaal told CBS’s Charlie Rose. “We fight the occupiers… I am ready to coexist with Jews, Christians, Arabs and non-Arabs… but I will not coexist with occupiers or settlers.”
Asked by Rose directly whether he was willing to coexist with the State of Israel, or a Jewish state, Mashaal’s response was negative.