AP Analysis: Steep obstacles to any Gaza deal
Aug. 20, 2014
GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip (AP) — Renewed Israel-Hamas fighting after the collapse of truce talks in Cairo highlights the steep obstacles to ending the Gaza war. Israel's leadership is under domestic pressure not to hand achievements to Hamas after the Islamic militant group fired thousands of rockets at Israel in the past six weeks. Hamas feels it can't afford to settle for vague Israeli promises about an easing of the blockade of the strip after a war that killed more than 2,000 Gazans and left 100,000 homeless. With chances for diplomacy fading, there's a risk of protracted fighting. Here's a look at what each side wants. WHAT WAS ON THE TABLE IN CAIRO? Egypt had proposed a limited interim deal. Israel was to ease movement of goods and people at two crossings with Gaza, while bigger issues — such as the construction of a seaport and airport in Gaza — would be discussed a month from now. Hamas demanded specifics on the easing of restrictions, but Israel said details would come later. WHAT HAPPENED AFTER THE COLLAPSE OF THE TALKS? With negotiations going nowhere, Gaza militants resumed rocket fire Tuesday, about eight hours before the end of a six-day truce. Since then, Hamas and other groups have fired dozens of rockets, some deep into Israel, while Israel launched scores of airstrikes at Gaza, killing at least 16 Palestinians. One of the strikes killed a wife and infant son of Mohammed Deif, the shadowy Hamas military leader who escaped several Israeli assassination attempts in recent years. CAN TALKS IN CAIRO RECONVENE? The negotiations seem to have run their course, with each side unwilling to budge. Egypt said Wednesday it will keep talking to Israelis and Palestinians separately, suggesting that it is not going to attempt to host another round anytime soon. WHAT DOES HAMAS WANT? From Hamas' perspective, the group has less to lose by continuing to fight than by accepting a deal it fears will simply restore the closure regime that was in place before the start of the fighting July 8. "Our eyes are on our people," Hamas negotiator Khalil al-Haya said Wednesday. "We cannot bring them a document of defeat after 2,000 victims." As part of the border closure, imposed by Israel and Egypt after the Hamas takeover of Gaza in 2007, virtually all exports from Gaza are banned and the vast majority of the territory's 1.8 million people cannot travel. For years, Hamas was able to manage by operating smuggling tunnels under the Egypt-Gaza border. However, Egypt closed the tunnels over the past year, depriving Hamas of key revenues and supply routes. Weakened by a crippling cash crunch, Hamas agreed in the spring to a power-sharing deal with its political rival, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. Under the deal, Abbas was to head a technocrat government in the West Bank and Gaza, while Hamas would retain control over its security forces and military arsenal in Gaza, effectively retaining control of the strip, which it seized from Abbas in 2007. WHAT DOES ABBAS WANT? Formally, the Palestinian delegation, made up of Abbas confidants and senior Hamas officials, presented a united front. However, the longtime Palestinian rivals had conflicting objectives. The Abbas loyalists in the team urged Hamas repeatedly to accept the Egyptian offer of an interim deal, even in a watered-down version that would leave decisions on how to ease the blockade in Israel's hands. The Abbas camp wants to prevent Hamas from scoring any significant achievements in the negotiations, for fear this would strengthen the militants and make it harder to deal with them after the war, said a senior Palestinian official who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was discussing internal deliberations. Instead, Abbas wants a deal in which his technocrat government would oversee the reconstruction of Gaza, with his forces deployed at Gaza's crossings to allay concerns by Israel and the West that some of the money and goods entering Gaza would reach Hamas. WHAT DOES EGYPT WANT? Even though it assumed the role of mediator, Egypt is a party to the conflict, siding with Israel and to some extent Abbas in trying to prevent Hamas from emerging from the war with concrete achievements. Egyptian policy toward Hamas turned hostile after the military there deposed a Hamas-friendly government in Cairo more than a year ago. Egypt has tried to put off talks on easing restrictions at its border crossing with Gaza, saying the talks in Cairo should focus on trade and movement through the Israeli crossings. WHAT DOES ISRAEL WANT? Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says his goal is to end the rocket fire at Israel, which the military campaign so far failed to achieve. He is under pressure from hawks in his center-right coalition to try to defeat Hamas militarily, including by intensifying air and artillery strikes and sending ground forces back into Gaza. The previous air and ground campaign weakened Hamas' military capabilities, but the group remains rooted in Gaza as a social and political movement and is believed to have several thousand rockets left in its arsenal. A military escalation would drive up the Palestinian civilian death toll, leading to further international condemnation of Israel, despite general agreement in the U.S. and Europe that Israel has a right to defend itself against rocket fire. An unofficial cease-fire, without a deal, would enable Hamas to dictate developments by deciding when it wants to provoke Israel with rocket fire. There is great public impatience in Israel with this situation. Israeli media say Netanyahu initially leaned toward trying to reach an agreement, but ordered negotiators to toughen their positions after the Egyptian proposal was leaked. Netanyahu feared he wouldn't be able to win approval from his Cabinet for a deal offering even the slightest achievements to Hamas, the reports said. WHO ELSE IS INVOLVED? Qatar is a major player, though not directly involved in negotiations. The small Gulf kingdom hosts the top Hamas leader in exile, Khaled Mashaal, and is seen as a regional champion of Hamas. Abbas was flying to Doha later Wednesday for talks with Mashaal and the emir of Qatar. The trip was scheduled before the collapse of the truce talks, and Abbas was meant to persuade Mashaal and Qatar's leaders to give the Egyptian plan a chance. It's not clear whether Abbas will still try to seek their support. Qatar is a regional rival of Egypt. There has been speculation in the Abbas camp, though without evidence, that Mashaal, prodded by Qatar, has urged the Hamas negotiators to toughen their stance in order to derail the Cairo talks. THE UNITED STATES AND EUROPE The European Union has offered practical help in any new border deal, including deploying inspectors at the Gaza crossings, but such arrangements could only come after Israel and Hamas reached an agreement in principle. The United States and the United Nations were initially involved in cease-fire negotiations, but after several failed attempts appear to have let Egypt take the lead. The U.S. State Department has called for a new cease-fire and a resumption of negotiations. The U.S. and Europe shun Hamas as a terrorist group, complicating international efforts to assist in reconstruction. ___ Daraghmeh reported from Cairo. ___ Laub has covered the Israeli-Palestinian conflict since 1987. Daraghmeh has covered Palestinian affairs since 1996.