‘Kerry told Hamas many of its demands would be met under ceasefire deal’

Secretary offered US guarantees, via Qatar, that key restrictions related to the ‘siege’ of Gaza would be eased, Palestinian sources say

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.

US Secretary of State John Kerry (photo credit: AP/Charles Dharapak/File)
US Secretary of State John Kerry (photo credit: AP/Charles Dharapak/File)

US Secretary of State John Kerry informed Hamas via Qatar last week that under his proposal for a ceasefire with Israel, based on the original Egyptian initiative, the US would guarantee the fulfillment of many of Hamas’s demands for an end to the war, Palestinian sources told The Times of Israel on Saturday.

Kerry’s handling of the ceasefire effort was castigated by Israeli sources on Friday and Saturday, and the Israeli security cabinet unanimously rejected his ceasefire proposal on Friday night.

The guarantees promised to Hamas by Kerry under a ceasefire, as relayed to The Times of Israel by the Palestinian sources, pertain to the following issues: an easing of restrictions on the passage of goods from Israel to Gaza; an easing of restrictions on the passage of traders and businessmen from Gaza to Israel; expansion of the permitted Gaza fishing zone to 12 miles off the coast; the opening of the Rafah crossing with Egypt, to be manned by Palestinian Authority officials; and a promise to ensure the transfer of salaries to Gaza’s government employees.

Kerry made no promises on the issue of the Hamas demand for the release of prisoners, other than a pledge to discuss the matter. There was also no mention of the establishment of a seaport in Gaza, as demanded by Hamas.

IDF Spokesman Brig. Gen. Yoav “Polly” Mordechai (photo credit: IDF)
Yoav Mordechai (photo credit: IDF)

Many of these demands relating to easing “the siege”of Gaza — the security blockade imposed by Israel and Egypt to prevent the smuggling in of weapons and other terrorist infrastructure — were being weighed in Israel over the past weeks and months, before the current conflict began. The Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories, Maj. Gen. Yoav Mordechai, recently met with a group of businessmen from Gaza to discuss the option of issuing more entry permits to Israel in order to allow for an expansion of trade. Additionally, in the past two years Israel had been holding talks with the Palestinian Authority and the European Union over the possibility of significantly expanding activity at the Kerem Shalom goods crossing to Gaza, and the EU had already agreed to finance the upgrade. Palestinian sources said one of the reasons for the holdup in building the expanded crossing had been Hamas’s refusal to construct the expanded crossing on Gaza territory, west of the current crossing.

On Friday the Times of Israel reported what Arab sources said were the details of Kerry’s ceasefire offer, which provides for an immediate halt to hostilities to be followed 48 hours later by the start of five-to-seven days of contacts between Israel, Palestinian and Egyptian delegations 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.

Israeli sources slammed Kerry over the weekend for “capitulating” to Hamas’s ceasefire demands, and also for continuing his ceasefire consultations in Paris on Saturday with representatives of Qatar and Turkey, but not Israel, the PA or Egypt.

Kerry said in a statement during a meeting with his Turkish and Qatari counterparts in Paris late Saturday that the ceasefire proposal being negotiated involves arrangements for Israeli security, and for economic and social development for the Palestinians.

“I understand that Palestinians need to live with dignity, with some freedom, with goods that can come in and out, and they need a life that is free from the current restraints that they feel on a daily basis, and obviously free from violence,” Kerry said. “But at the same time, Israelis need to live free from rockets and from tunnels that threaten them, and every conversation we’ve had embraces a discussion about these competing interests that are real for both. And so we need to have a solution that works at this.”

“The tunnels have to be dealt with,” he added, referring to Hamas’s subterranean military infrastructure used to attack Israel. “We understand that; we’re working at that. By the same token, the Palestinians can’t have a ceasefire in which they think the status quo is going to stay and they’re not going to have the ability to be able to begin to live and breathe more freely and move within the crossings and begin to have goods and services that come in from outside.”

Israeli cabinet sources said Israel is demanding the dismantling of the Hamas rocket and tunnel infrastructure, and the deployment of Mahmoud Abbas’s PA forces at the Rafah border crossing, as part of any resolution to the current conflict, Channel 2 said late Saturday.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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