US, Qatar again working on alternative ceasefire

After earlier effort alarmed both Israel and PA, new plan may undermine Egyptian initiative

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.

John Kerry with Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, left, and Qatari Foreign Minister Khalid al-Attiyah in Paris, France, on July 26, 2014. (US State Department)
John Kerry with Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, left, and Qatari Foreign Minister Khalid al-Attiyah in Paris, France, on July 26, 2014. (US State Department)

Palestinian sources in Cairo revealed on Monday that the United States and Qatar have again renewed their attempts to reach an understanding on a ceasefire in Gaza, even as Palestinian factions meet Egyptian officials in Cairo to forge their own proposal.

Representatives of the US administration are in Cairo at the same time as a Palestinian delegation that includes senior officials from Hamas, Islamic Jihad, and Fatah.

The Palestinian sources suggested that the US-Qatari initiative slows and undermines the Egyptian efforts.

Sources told The Times of Israel that the Egyptian effort is focused on convincing Hamas to first stop fighting on the basis of the understandings obtained after Pillar of Defense in 2012, then moving to a broader ceasefire which will include demands on Israel to withdraw from Gaza and to ease restrictions at the border crossings and to allow the rehabilitation of Gaza. The new Palestinian government would handle contacts between the sides over the border crossings, importing of goods, and the passage of businessmen into Israel and Gaza after the ceasefire takes effect.

Then, at a later stage, the sides would discuss other demands like the construction of a port and the opening of the Rafah crossing.

Last week both Israel and the Palestinian Authority rejected a ceasefire plan designed by US Secretary of State John Kerry in negotiations with Turkey and Qatar. The plan reportedly gave US assurances on some key Hamas demands, among them the lifting of the Israeli blockade on Gaza and the withdrawal of IDF forces before the complete destruction of a network of tunnels that have been used by Hamas terrorists to launch attacks inside Israel.

Eleven IDF soldiers have been killed in those attacks and Israel made destroying the subterranean passages a goal of its current military campaign.

The alternative Kerry plan caused alarm in Israel for giving too much to Hamas and outrage in the Palestinian Authority, which felt it had been sidelined in negotiations vital to the future of the Palestinian people. The US said it had not been a formal proposal, but rather a draft.

On Sunday a Palestinian delegation presented its joint demands to Egyptian mediators in Cairo for a truce with Israel, including an end to the Gaza blockade, officials said.

The Palestinians, who met earlier on Sunday to hammer out a joint position, agreed on “a ceasefire; Israeli troop withdrawal from Gaza; the end of the siege of Gaza and opening its border crossings,” said Maher al-Taher, a member of the delegation.

The Palestinian demands also include fishing rights up to 12 nautical miles off Gaza’s coast and the release of Palestinian prisoners demanded by Hamas and Abbas, said Taher, a senior official with the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine.

A Hamas official confirmed the agreement, saying: “These are the main points, but they must be discussed with the Egyptians. We hope things go smoothly.”

Cairo was to forward the demands on to Israel for review.

Israel and Egypt have maintained a blockade on Gaza to prevent Hamas importing weaponry and other military equipment.

Stuart Winer contributed to this report.

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