The ceasefire proposal being advanced by US Secretary of State John Kerry, which was being discussed by Israel and Hamas on Friday afternoon, provides for an immediate halt to hostilities to be followed 48 hours later by the start of contacts between Israel, Palestinian and Egyptian delegations in Cairo, Arab sources told The Times of Israel. The talks in Egypt would include discussion of Hamas’s call for the lifting of the so-called siege of the Gaza Strip, and other demands.
The ceasefire would take effect as soon as the sides tell Kerry that they accept the terms, and all military activity by the sides would halt immediately, the sources said.
On the Palestinian side, this provision is interpreted as also meaning that Israel’s activities to find and destroy Hamas’s cross-border tunnels would also immediately be halted. Israel has reportedly pushed for terms that would enable it to continue tackling the Hamas tunnels after a halt to hostilities. There is no likelihood of the Israeli cabinet voting for a ceasefire deal that does not ensure that the tunnels are destroyed, Israel’s Channel 2 reported on Friday evening.
In the subsequent talks in Cairo, the Palestinian delegation, which would comprise representatives of various Palestinian factions including Fatah, Hamas and Islamic Jihad, would speak on behalf of Hamas.
These talks would continue for some five to seven days.
The contacts between the delegations would not be direct. Rather, Egypt would serve as a mediator, with its representatives acting as intermediaries between the Israeli and Palestinian delegations, the sources said.
The discussions would cover Hamas demands relating to: opening border crossings between Gaza and Israel; opening the Rafah crossing between Gaza and Egypt; the release of recently rearrested prisoners from the Shalit deal; the release of some 30 convicted terrorists, including Israeli Arabs, who were set to go free under the collapsed Israeli-Palestinian peace talks in late March; widening Palestinian fishing rights off the Gaza coast, and the establishment of a Gaza seaport.
At the same time, Arab states, the Palestinian Authority and other international players are pushing for an international investigative committee to be allowed into Gaza. According to the current plan, two separate committees would be established: one based in Egypt, with representatives from the PA, the Arab League and Egypt, without the participation of Qatar, Turkey or Hamas; and a second, based in Europe under EU auspices, including Qatar and Turkey, but without Egypt or the PA.
A senior Palestinian source told The Times of Israel on Friday that these same terms were acceptable to the sides, including Hamas, as of Tuesday, but that an agreement then was torpedoed by Qatar and by Khaled Mashaal, the head of the Hamas political bureau, who is based in Qatar.
This source claimed that the Hamas overseas leadership, under Mashaal, is presenting harder-line stances than Hamas political and military leaders in Gaza. He said Qatar could hold the key to the fate of the Kerry proposal again now, and that the US is clearly attempting to resolve Qatar’s objections.
There was no formal confirmation that these are the ceasefire terms under discussion from the US or Israel.
The Israeli security cabinet convened at 3p.m. in Tel Aviv, to discuss the ceasefire proposal and other aspects of Operation Protective Edge, now in its 18th day.
The cabinet firmly opposes any deal that would halt the fighting without ensuring that Israeli troops could continue to deal with the Hamas tunnels, Channel 2 reported. Ministers also unanimously oppose any deal that would grant Hamas enhanced status in subsequent negotiations over its demands.
Channel 2 described the Kerry proposal as being for a “humanitarian ceasefire” for seven days, during which the sides’ conflicting demands would be negotiated. The TV report noted that there was little chance that the radically different positions of Israel and Hamas could be reconciled in many weeks, never mind one week.
It also said that ministers Avigdor Liberman (foreign) and Yuval Steinitz (strategic affairs) want the Gaza operation expanded to bring down Hamas.
Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said the operation will continue and expand as necessary until sustained calm has been achieved for the people of Israel and Hamas’s terrorist infrastructure has been significantly weakened. Israeli officials have spoken of the need to have Gaza demilitarized; the EU earlier this week demanding the disarming of Hamas and other Gaza terror groups. Hamas has fired over 2,000 rockets at Israel over the past 18 days. The IDF launched a ground offensive last Thursday that has focused on finding and demolishing a network of dozens of tunnels dug by Hamas under the Israel border.