Israel assures Abbas it isn’t talking truce with Hamas

Israel assures Abbas it isn’t talking truce with Hamas

PA president fears a deal with Gaza rulers could damage his standing among Palestinians; Egypt also opposed

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.

Palestinian students take part in a military march organized by Hamas in the town of Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip, February 27, 2014. (Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90)
Palestinian students take part in a military march organized by Hamas in the town of Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip, February 27, 2014. (Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90)

Israel has sent a message to the Palestinian Authority with a reassurance that it isn’t holding negotiations of any kind with the Islamist Hamas movement for a long-term ceasefire in the Gaza Strip, Palestinian sources told The Times of Israel on Wednesday.

The message came amid suspicions in the PA that representatives of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government have been negotiating with Hamas over the terms of a five-year truce in the wake of last summer’s brutal war in the Strip.

The Prime Minister’s Office refused to comment.

During talks between senior Israeli and Palestinian officials in recent weeks in Israel, Ramallah, and abroad, the PA representatives made clear their concerns regarding the implications such a development would have on the standing of the PA among the Palestinian public. In an effort to calm the fears of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, Israel made clear that there have been no such talks with Hamas, and that there is no intention of reaching an agreement on a truce under the current circumstances.

Hamas has in the past signaled to Israel via various intermediaries that it is willing to agree to a five-year truce. Among those who delivered such messages were UN envoy Robert Serry and Muhammad al-Ahmadi, the Qatari envoy for the rehabilitation of the Gaza Strip, who visited Israel and met with the government coordinator for activities in the West Bank, IDF Major General Yoav Mordechai.

Serry, for his part, says that he was the one who suggested the truce. His offer included opening border crossings between Israel and Gaza, the establishment of a floating dock for Gaza, and later on, the construction of an airport. Israel, however, didn’t respond to the offer and has ignored messages from Hamas.

Even in recent days, similar truce offers are being passed to Israel, while Hamas has been acknowledging in internal debates the need to reach a truce agreement with Israel in order to improve conditions in the Gaza Strip.

Although Israel is aware that an agreement would harm the Palestinian Authority and boost Hamas, its refusal to discuss a truce has mostly to do with Egypt’s opposition. Cairo is wary of bolstering Hamas because the Gaza group is a close ally of the Muslim Brotherhood, the main opponent of the Egyptian regime.

Similar reassurances by Israel were delivered to the PA during a series of covert meetings aimed at reducing tensions between the governments in Jerusalem and Ramallah, and at disabusing Abbas of the notion that Israel has been siding with Hamas against him.

Speaking from his Ramallah office, one of the leaders of Hamas in the West Bank, Hassan Yousef, told The Times of Israel on Tuesday that Hamas is eager to reach a truce.

“In my assessment, Hamas’s response to the various suggestions of a truce is positive,” he said, and noted that Gaza’s rulers are still trying to rehabilitate the coastal enclave in the aftermath of the devastating 2014 war between Israel and Hamas-led militant groups.

“A long-term ceasefire needs to provide a solution to all the problems that were caused by the war and that led to it,” Yousef said. “European officials who wanted to mediate with the aim of extending the existing ceasefire have so far not received a positive response from Israel. Israel needs to accept the ceasefire initiative and to respect it.”

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