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Ali Adam

Israel-Hamas truce talks won't bear fruit for Gaza

Hopes for peace lie amid the rubble of Israeli airstrikes [Anadolu]

Date of publication: 4 September, 2018

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Comment: As long as Palestinian reconciliation efforts go unresolved, there's not much hope for Gaza, writes Ali Adam.
Indirect talks between leaders of the Palestinian factions led by Hamas and Israel are expected to resume in the coming days, in talks mediated by Egypt.

Several Hamas leaders have expressed optimism that a truce is within arm's reach, and that an end to the blockade on Gaza is not far behind.

Terms for the truce are a long-term ceasefire that includes ending the Great Return March protests and ending hostilities on both sides, in return for lifting the blockade and granting major humanitarian assistance to the Gaza Strip.

So, is Gaza's 12-year isolation nearing an end, and could the extreme agony of the Palestinians in Gaza finally be drawing to a close?

Proposing to Israel a long-term ceasefire in exchange for lifting the blockade has been Hamas' main agenda since 2007. They have raised this prospect on multiple occasions, but all in vain, especially after each of the three Hamas-Israel military confrontations.

Since the imposition of the blockade, the Islamic movement's leaders have been desperate to free themselves and the Gaza Strip, but have always looked for the right amount of compromise with Israel - one that wouldn't anger their base, and wouldn't open them to comparison with the Fatah-led Palestinian Authority.

Hamas' rise to power in 2006 spurred an immediate and newfound realisation within the movement that the political reality of the conflict was much more intricate than they had imagined. 
As Gaza started to gradually disappear from the international headlines, the blockade was tightened and Gaza went back to square one

In 2009, a similar deal to that which is currently under negotiation was proposed by Rabbi Menachem Froman and Khaled Amayreh, a journalist close to Hamas.

The deal proposed that Hamas indefinitely and completely end all attacks on Israel made in retaliation to the ongoing blockade, and impose a ceasefire on all armed groups, factions and individuals operating within the Strip, in return for an Israeli ceasefire, and the lifting of the siege. The deal was approved by senior Hamas leaders, but was ignored by Israel.

Similarly, after each of the three wars between Hamas and Israel, the terms were the same: A termination of all hostilities on both sides, a long-term ceasefire, an extension of the territory's fishing zone, the opening of all Gaza's border crossings and eased restrictions on the movement of people and goods in and out of the enclave.

But as soon as the international momentum garnered by war in Gaza fades from view, Israel walks back on its commitments and reinstates the miserable pre-war status quo.

In the 2014 ceasefire negotiations, Hamas leaders were, similar to now, extremely (but misguidedly)
hopeful that they were close not only to ending Gaza's blockade, but also to launching an internationally run airport and seaport in the Strip.

The 2014 ceasefire agreement ended with the same terms - maintaining calm in return for alleviating the blockade - and the negotiations
were set to continue a month later, so that Israel and the Palestinian factions in Gaza could discuss the construction of a seaport and airport in Gaza, in return for certain Israeli demands.

But nothing happened and Israel refused to come back for negotiations a month later. As Gaza started to gradually disappear from the international headlines, the blockade was tightened and Gaza went back to square one.

The current truce talks were prompted by the Great Return March border protests in March and April of this year. Outrage over the hundreds of peaceful protesters were killed at the Israeli fence, as well as
journalists and medics, brought Gaza back to the international stage.

Abbas' demand that Hamas gives up its arms still stands in the way of a successful rapprochement

To begin with, Hamas and Israel were negotiating on a five-year truce. But as significant progress was made through the indirect negotiations, and as Hamas started - in accordance with the talks - to prevent civil society protest organisers from leading the marches while cracking down on those launching incendiary kites and balloons, international attention gradually shifted away from Gaza. Israel's sense of urgency for a truce deal was lessened, and so they proposed it last only one year.

Israel wants to hold off on a military confrontation with Hamas for a year, until the underground barrier - currently being built alongside Gaza's border to prevent any infiltration by Palestinian militants in the event of war - can be completed. They want to reach a shorter-term truce until a prisoner exchange with Hamas can be achieved. At that point, restrictions on Gaza are likely to be re-imposed, as has happened so frequently in the past.

And Hamas seems to fall into the trap every time, their political naivete along with a lack of alternatives causing them to think they're on the verge of a breakthrough in ending Gaza's blockade.

With the current Israeli political landscape, which resembles something of a far-right Olympics, almost every Israeli cabinet member is trying to distance themself from the truce talks with Hamas, including recently,
the defence minister, Avigdor Lieberman.

Ultimately, Netanyahu is likely fearful of the internal heat and backlash that he alone would receive, were he to approve a truce that ended the blockade on Hamas-run Gaza. And this, despite the fact that he - along with other politicians and army generals -
believes the current humanitarian crisis in Gaza is becoming more and more detrimental to Israeli security.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is also another major obstacle to the truce. Over the past month he has been petrified of the possibility of a Hamas-Israel long-term truce that would bypass him and the punitive measures he imposed on Gaza in April 2017 to pressure Hamas into giving up power. Abbas fears such a deal would also tacitly afford Hamas recognition at the expense of that of the PLO.

PA officials have 
threatened to cut off all money and aid to Gaza if a truce deal is reached. The PA doesn't oppose the truce in principle, but it believes no one except the PLO has the authority and the legitimacy to sign a deal. They believe that if Hamas agreed to become a part of a deal outside of the PLO umbrella, then that would perpetuate Palestinian division and the separation of the Gaza Strip from the West Bank.

Abbas also fears that a humanitarian solution to Gaza might cause the international community to forget about the West Bank and the overall project of Palestinian statehood, which already lies in unprecedented and grave danger.

The PA currently is
pressuring Egypt and Hamas to prioritise internal Palestinian reconciliation talks over the Israeli-Hamas talks. However, Abbas' demand that Hamas give up its arms still stands in the way of a successful rapprochement.

In light of the continuing Hamas-Fatah schism, a major dilemma that stands in Israel's way - should Tel Aviv decide to agree the truce - is how to send financial aid to Gaza, if the PA refuse to do so.

Read more: Without Israel's blockade, Gaza would flourish

Israel and Egypt have long conditioned easing the restrictions on the Gaza strip on Gaza's return to the PA's rule, and alleviating the blockade with Hamas in power is still, to them, a dangerous precedent that neither seem willing to take.

So as long as the reconciliation efforts continue to fail, and as long as the PA is not in control of Gaza, there's not much hope for the coastal territory.

Ultimately, Israel's history of breaking promises, along with its domestic politics also don't give much hope to the Palestinians currently suffering in Gaza.

Either no agreement will be reached, or if one is reached, it will be a short-term truce that will make no significant improvement to the grim living conditions that Palestinians in Gaza have endured for 12 years, and counting. 

Ali Adam is a journalist and researcher whose work focuses on issues linked to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Follow him on Twitter @_Ali_Adam_

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author, and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.

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