Qatar trying to broker long-term Israel-Hamas ceasefire

Senior envoy has spoken to officials in Gaza and Ramallah about a five-year proposal that would do away with the blockade

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.

Qatari Emir Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani, left, and Gaza's Hamas prime minister Ismail Haniyeh, right, arrive for a cornerstone-laying ceremony for Hamad, a new residential neighborhood in Khan Younis, southern Gaza Strip, October 23, 2012. AP/Mohammed Salem.
Qatari Emir Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani, left, and Gaza's Hamas prime minister Ismail Haniyeh, right, arrive for a cornerstone-laying ceremony for Hamad, a new residential neighborhood in Khan Younis, southern Gaza Strip, October 23, 2012. AP/Mohammed Salem.

In recent weeks a senior Qatari official has been mediating between Israel and the Hamas government in the Gaza Strip, in a bid to negotiate a long-term ceasefire agreement and broker terms for the rehabilitation of the Palestinian coastal enclave, The Times of Israel has learned.

Qatar’s representative to the Gaza strip, Muhammad al-Ahmadi, met with top Israeli and Hamas officials to arbitrate a deal, Palestinian sources in Gaza and Ramallah said.

Ahmadi is overseeing a number of construction and infrastructure projects in the Strip funded by the Qatari government, including paving new roads and rebuilding public buildings and hundreds of new homes, following extensive damage inflicted during last summer’s war between Hamas and Israel.

Ahmadi entered the territory via the Erez border crossing from Israel, even though Qatar and Israel do not have formal diplomatic relations.

He met with senior Hamas officials in Gaza along with top Palestinian Authority officials in Ramallah, including Mohammad A-Shatieh, Mohammad Mustafa and Rami Hamdallah, among others, the sources said.

Along with funding and rehabilitation talks, The Times of Israel has learned that Ahmadi offered to mediate a five-year ceasefire deal between Israel and Hamas, which Jerusalem and many other Western countries defines as a terror group.

Two weeks ago a report came to light detailing a Switzerland-based effort, under the auspices of UN Middle East peace envoy Robert Serry, to broker a long-term agreement. On Tuesday, however, Swiss officials said that their country’s involvement was only in relation to finding a mechanism for paying salaries to Hamas officials — not toward a larger agreement.

Serry emphasized that he alone had initiated the peace efforts — a statement corroborated by Hamas — even though Palestinian, Israeli and Egyptian officials told The Times of Israel that Hamas had requested the agreement, and Serry simply acquiesced to act as a figurehead and present it as a UN initiative.

The Qatari proposal works around similar principles as the UN-backed initiative: a long-term ceasefire, ending the blockade of Gaza, inviting Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and his government back into the Strip and giving him control of the border crossings, rehabilitating Gaza, and constructing a seaport and an airport.

Some drafts of the deal do not mention demands for an airport and a harbor.

Some Hamas officials told The Times of Israel that they would not oppose such a resolution.

Senior Israeli officials said that they would be prepared to mull over the proposals and that they, too, do not rule out the possibility of a long-term ceasefire deal with Hamas.

Meanwhile, a Swiss delegation has been making the rounds in the Gaza Strip, Ramallah and Jerusalem over the past few days, in an effort to solve the financial crisis revolving around unpaid salaries for Hamas clerks.

The diplomats, Paul Garnier and Ronald Steininger, a former Swiss ambassador to the Palestinian Authority, were in Gaza on Monday meeting with representatives of the various Palestinian factions, including Hamas senior officials Ismail Radwan and Razi Hamad.

On Tuesday, they met with officials from the Palestinian Authority. Gaza officials said that the Swiss delegation was proposing a new mechanism by which a fund of some $30 million would ensure that salaries of Hamas employees who do not belong to the Islamist group’s military wing — doctors, teachers, bank clerks and others — will be paid. The fund will be overseen by Switzerland, according to the proposal.

The officials said that the Swiss were also trying to get Hamas’s agreement to consolidate all government offices in Gaza and the West Bank under PA Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah.

Radwan said the initiative was received positively but sources said the delegation left the Palestinian enclave late Tuesday with no concrete results.

Hamdallah was expected in Gaza on Wednesday.

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