Ron Ben-Yishai

Why did Hamas change its tune?

Analysis: Palestinian delegation to Cairo talks toughened negotiating positions because they have nothing to lose.

Over the weekend, the Palestinian delegation to the ceasefire talks in Cairo changed its tune. Officials from Hamas, Islamic Jihad, and even representatives of Mahmoud Abbas – who expressed optimism on Friday – tempered their tone on Saturday.



The delegation now says that the Egyptian proposal does not answer their demands and has threatened to let the ceasefire expire on Monday and begin a war of attrition against Israel.


There are two reasons for this turn around in public declarations.


The first is that Hamas and the other Gazan factions did not receive any concession in the Egyptian draft that they could not have elicited before Operation Protective Edge.


Essentially, the Egyptian proposal is an improved version of the understandings reached during Operation Pillar of Defense – it includes the transfer of salaries for Hamas' civil employees, which Israel first offered through UN envoy Robert Serry a month before the beginning of the military campaign.


Therefore Hamas and the other Palestinian factions must demonstrate resilience in the negotiations, which will create the impression they received a respectable concession when, in reality, they elicited nothing from Israel as a result of the fighting and Egypt only offered opening the Rafah border crossing under Palestinian Authority – and likely European – supervision.


This was not the "lifting of the blockage" that the Palestinians declared as the central aim of the operation. It is possible the Palestinians will reject the Egyptian offer during the negotiations that start Sunday in Cairo, preferring a de-facto ceasefire to a fruitless Egyptian proposal.


Currently the Rafah border crossing remains closed, and it will likely stay dormant for the extended future. Hamas is in a difficult position because the leadership in Gaza feels both a commitment and a need to ease the suffering of the locals and allow them to rehabilitate their lives.


The Gazans cannot return to their lives as long as there is no formal ceasefire and the fighting may resume. The factions may threaten Israel with a war of attrition, but they recognize that such a war would cause great suffering in Gaza and may even push the local population to rebel.


The second reason to the change in tone from the Palestinian delegation relates to meetings Hamas political chief Khaled Mashal conducted in Qatar over the weekend.


The political bureau leader, currently enjoying the luxuries of Doha, never wanted the temporary truce, preferring to negotiate a ceasefire while the fighting continued – hoping that the soft Israeli public would pressure the government and Netanyahu to give in to Hamas' demands.


Mashal has maintained his position and has even managed to influence the Palestinian delegation to toughen its stance and threaten Israel with war. Khaled Mashal was and remains the central source of the hardened Palestinian positions and their increasingly exaggerated demands.


Mashal clarified this today in an interview with Al Jazeera, where he reiterated that Hamas would not concede on a future seaport or airport.


The Israeli outlook

Israel has two plays in this game. It continues its diplomatic maneuvers with Egypt in order to assure that Hamas could not rebuild and rehabilitate its military wing even if the Rafah crossing is opened by the Egyptians.


Israel has also made it clear that opening a seaport and airport in Gaza was not feasible in the near future and that such a possibility would only be accepted if the Palestinians agree to turn over their weapon caches, including rockets and mortar, and handed over a map of all the tunnels dug under the Strip.


All of this, though, is in the distant future. In the short term Israel is essentially negotiating with Egypt to assure that the supervision of the Rafah crossing involves not only Palestinian Authority security forces, but also European ones.


On Friday the foreign ministers of the European Union announced they offered to send European personnel to supervise the Rafah crossing (as previously occurred after the disengagement from Gaza). They also offered to train the personnel deployed by Abbas – if such an agreement is reached – along the security barrier with Israel.


Israel is gladly advancing such initiatives as it is interested in returning Abbas to the Strip, but also because the Europeans have a reputation as honest supervisors.


Additionally, comprehensive negotiations – through Egyptian mediation – between Israel and the Gazan factions are deliberating on measures to implement of the new understandings, in such a manner that does not allow Hamas and Islamic Jihad to utilize the arrangement to rearm.


The Israeli conclusions:


  • The calm will be maintained using the deterrence measures Israel achieved during the operation. If the calm is not maintained, Israel will act with force and will not allow the rehabilitation of the Strip until its deterrence is restored. It is possible a partial seizure of the Gaza Strip would be required in order to achieve an immutable deterrence that would lead to a few years of quiet.


  • Prevention of reinforcement of Gaza by having Egypt destroy the smuggling tunnels around Rafah, with close supervision over crossings by Israel, and supervision of Strip projects by European and UNRWA personnel – to assure that the cement and other construction materials are not used by Hamas to manufacture rockets and dig tunnels.


  • Preventing any political gain by Hamas to assure they do not strengthen their position on the Palestinian street or the international arena. Egypt and Israel see eye-to-eye on this issue, as Egypt has worked towards that end without any influence from Israel.


  • The current estimate is that even though Hamas has not achieved its aims, it will maintain the ceasefire even without a formal agreement. Israel will accept that scenario, though it clarified that if hostilities resume the Israeli response will be forceful and disproportionate. Israel will not accept a war of attrition, and would prefer another incursion into Gaza over a war of attrition which denies southern residents the opportunity to return to their homes.


פרסום ראשון: 08.17.14, 00:20
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