A Ceasefire for Hamas and Israel?

  • Middle East Policy

    Middle East Policy has been one of the world’s most cited publications on the region since its inception in 1982, and our Breaking Analysis series makes high-quality, diverse analysis available to a broader audience.

Views from the Region

August 9, 2018

Following months of violence, it appears that Israeli and Hamas officials are on the verge of a ceasefire agreement brokered by Egypt. According to regional news sources, the talks are aimed at putting an end to border clashes by providing economic relief to the Hamas-controlled Palestinian territory in exchange for cessation of hostilities against Israel. While Hamas negotiates economic relief for Palestinians in Gaza, the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank remains absent from the table. Meanwhile, recent attempts by members of the U.S. Congress to remove the recognition of refugee status from millions of Palestinians are a reminder of the difficult and perhaps intractable issues that must be addressed before a permanent and acceptable agreement may be signed.


Reflecting on the ongoing violence at the border with Gaza, Yedioth Ahronoth columnist Ron Ben-Yishai argues that Israel has lost its ability to deter Hamas, which explains why Hamas will continue to instrumentalize violence until it gets what it wants: “There’s no calm in the south because Hamas is not interested in calm until it achieves its goals without having to make any significant concessions. Hamas wants money from the Palestinian Authority, electricity and water from Israel, and an open Rafah crossing from Egypt. These are part of the demands it is making…. And yet, all of this is part of a chaotic reality, which contains a lot of details, but the bottom line is all that matters: the IDF and the Israeli government are no longer successful in creating effective deterrence—not in the north and not in the south. The deterrence may not be completely gone, but it has been seriously eroded, in a way that puts the State of Israel in a hopeless situation.”


That loss of deterrence may explain the prime minister’s willingness to negotiate a ceasefire in exchange for economic relief. Reporting from Ramallah, Asharq Alawsat’s Kifah Ziboun confirms what many have suspected, which is that “The Hamas leadership is working on a ‘progressive’ agreement with Israel on ending marches organized at the border with the Gaza Strip and on the cessation of hostilities between Israel and the movement, including incendiary balloons, in exchange for lifting the latest economic blockade imposed on the enclave…. Husam Badran, a member of the ‘Hamas’ politburo, offered Sunday assurances that the movement would not agree to establish a state in Gaza and would not reach any political arrangement without Palestinian national consensus. However, the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) and the Fatah Movement accused Hamas of working ‘individually’ on implementing the ‘shady’ agreement.”

The absence of the Palestinian Authority from the negotiations is a detail that some Israeli columnists, including Smadar Perry of Ynet news, are quick to point out: “Note that we are talking about a cease-fire deal with Gaza alone, the arrangement does not include the West Bank. Our eyes, then, are set to the strip, and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and his associates will follow the developments as well and burst with anger…. It is important to emphasize what is missing from the agreement: the connection between the Gaza Strip and the West Bank is not mentioned, as if they were two separate entities. The Palestinian Authority, if it wishes, can establish relations with Jordan, and Gaza can gradually establish close ties with Egypt.”

However, as this op-ed by Jerusalem Post’s Dave Harden reminds its readers, the roots of violence in Gaza go beyond the need for short-term economic relief, requiring a comprehensive solution of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, which still requires Ramallah’s blessing: “Gaza is on the precipice of war, again. The Kushner/Greenblatt Peace Plan has gone nowhere. Oslo is dead. The Trump administration is not perceived as a neutral arbitrator, leaving no viable dealmaker who can close the impossible deal. The peace process cottage industry is out of ideas. There is an emerging Gulf state-Israeli axis. But the road from Jerusalem to Riyadh still runs through Ramallah. Geo-strategists in the Arab world simply cannot ignore the Palestinians.”

On this issue, Times of Israel’s Michael Bachner writes that Palestinian Authority officials have been assured by the Saudi government of their support, despite what he sees as U.S. efforts to create a divide between the various Arab countries: “Saudi Arabia has reportedly reassured the Palestinian Authority and Arab states that it would oppose any peace plan put forward by U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration that does not accept the Palestinian stance on the status of Jerusalem and the resettlement of millions of descendants of refugees….  the naming of this year’s Arab League conference ‘The Jerusalem Summit’ and the announcement of a $200 million aid package for the Palestinians were understood as messages that issues such as Jerusalem and the ‘right of return’ for refugees and their descendants were ‘back on the table’.”

Last week’s report by the Palestinian website Ma’an News seems to confirm that right of return is back on the agenda, but not in a way that the Palestinians would find acceptable: “A new bill was introduced in the United States Congress this past week which several US senators are attempting to pass into law that recognizes only 40,000 Palestinian refugees instead of 5.3 million refugees. The newly introduced bill would ensure that the [funds] contributed to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) would go towards the resettlement of Palestinians displaced by the Arab-Israeli war of 1948, and not their descendants – who are a total number of 5.3 million people…. UNRWA included descendants of the original Palestinian refugees in its total sum of refugees who fled or were expelled from their homes after the 1948 war, as well as those refugees who fled during the 1967 Six Day war.”

The National’s editorial condemns such efforts by Congress and the White House, which bring into question the very premise of the involvement of the U.S. government as an honest broker: “There was little faith left that America could be considered an honest broker in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process after Mr Trump moved the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem in May in a ceremony attended by Mr Kushner. With the revelation that Mr Kushner secretly called upon Jordan to revoke the refugee status of displaced Palestinians, all doubt has surely been swept away. Can anyone in the Trump administration seriously believe that the Palestinians’ refugee status is a choice or that anyone would willingly place themselves in such a situation if any other option were open to them? Israel displaced these people and has no intention of allowing them back home…. Hope is fading that the U.S. can do anything more than break the spirit and will of Palestinians. It is time to find another, more honest broker.”

  • Middle East Policy

    Middle East Policy has been one of the world’s most cited publications on the region since its inception in 1982, and our Breaking Analysis series makes high-quality, diverse analysis available to a broader audience.

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