By: Dr. Mohsen Mohammad Saleh.
It seems that there is a tendency among actors concerned with the Gaza Strip (GS) to pursue a long-term truce or at least test the waters to find out the real possibilities for implementing one.
However, these actors have different perspectives, criteria, conditions, and approaches to guarantee their interests in the context of such a truce. Indeed, Hamas and resistance forces have their own approach, and the Palestinian Authority (PA) in Ramallah has its own approach. Likewise, the Israelis and the Americans behind them have their own vision, Egypt has its own vision, and the Europeans have their own point of view.
In general, there is accord over the broad outlines of the idea, a feeling that the “game” has reached its maximum extent, that there are no new cards that can be put to use, and that everyone would lose (or may lose) if the blockade, war, and destruction are further prolonged. However, there is still a long way to go towards determining the cost that each side will have to pay to reach an agreement on the desired truce.
The idea of a long-term truce between Israel and the resistance forces (especially Hamas) in GS took on a more serious dimension in the past weeks. The features of the idea emerged more clearly, when the outgoing United Nations Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Robert Serry called for adopting a “Gaza First” strategy. This includes a 5-year truce between Israel and the Palestinian factions, under the supervision of the national consensus government. During the truce, the GS blockade would be completely lifted, reconstruction would proceed, and the resistance’s military activities above ground and underground would be frozen.
What is interesting is that Serry did not propose his project until after his term expired, giving a negative message regarding its seriousness and credibility. Recently, Tony Blair, the former Quartet envoy, who served for the eight years, also made similar proposals before the expiry of this term, speaking about the need to put an end to the suffering of GS. After visiting the Strip, he said he was eager to see the conditions there change. The general outlines of his plan talk about Israeli “concessions” and about opening the crossings. Blair also stressed that Palestinian unity would encourage the peace process. Blair resumed his activities, meeting with the head of Hamas’s political bureau Khalid Mish‘al, stressing the need to lift the GS, and the need for Hamas not to be bypassed. Blair even talk about his conviction that the European nations should deal publicly and directly with the movement.
It is not clear whether Serry and Blair’s initiatives are signs of a belatedly “awakened conscience,” or whether circumstances have matured enough for them to make such proposals explicitly, or even whether they are playing a long due role in the European-international framework to arrange a final or quasi-final resolution for the Gaza crisis. What is certain, however, is that there has been increasing European activity in recent months to present an approach that would be acceptable to all sides to lift the siege and launch reconstruction. The Swiss and the Scandinavians are particularly active towards achieving this. Tony Blair also has special relations with the authorities in the UK and the US.
It appears that Qatar and Turkey, which understand Hamas’s position and support reconstruction and an end to the siege, have made proposals in this direction in return for a long-term truce.
For Hamas and the resistance forces in GS, ending the siege and the reconstruction are a natural right. They believe that the blockade itself is a crime against humanity, and is in contradiction of international law, and therefore should not be linked to the disarmament of the resistance. At the same time, the resistance is aware of the Gazzans’ need to catch their breath and for reconstruction, in light of the crippling humanitarian situation in Gaza after eight years of siege and three devastating wars. The resistance is also in need for a “warrior’s rest,” to renew its capabilities.
However, at the same time, Hamas is dealing cautiously with the proposals for a truce, especially since the past wars were followed by promises and commitments to lift the siege and to launch reconstruction, promises that were not kept especially by the Israeli side.
Hamas has confirmed that Western parties communicated proposals for a long-term truce to its officials and said it would study them. Those who have followed up Hamas’s reactions in this regard, through a number of its officials and spokespersons such as Isma‘il Haniyyah, Musa Abu Marzuq, ‘Izzat al-Rishq, Usama Hamdan, Sami Abu Zuhri, Fawzi Barhoum, Salah Bardawil, Taher Nunu and Isma‘il Radwan, will notice that Hamas’s position can be summed up as follows:
1- The need for guarantees that would compel Israel to lift the blockade and end its aggressions.
2- For the long-term truce to take place in the context of national accord, especially among resistance forces in Gaza.
3- For the truce not to imply Israel would have full domination over the West Bank (WB), and for it not to lead in any way to the separation of WB from GS.
Mahmud ‘Abbas, head of the PLO, PA and Fatah, who guides the national consensus government, spoke in a skeptical accusatory tone regarding Hamas, the long-term truce, and European contacts with the movement.
Speaking to Albawaba, an Egyptian website, on 16/1/2015, ‘Abbas accused Hamas leaders of sitting with the Israelis and agreeing with them on the Giora Eiland project to establish a Palestinian state in GS and parts of Sinai, ceding Jerusalem, the right of return, and the Palestinian cause!! ‘Abbas even claimed that Hamas had already signed an agreement with Israel in this regard.
‘Abbas made the same accusations in an interview with Al-Arab TV, a transcript of which was published by the Emirati Alittihad newspaper on 5/4/2015, saying senior Hamas leaders took part in meetings with Israeli officials!!
Abbas echoed the same allegations in statements made to Russia’s Sputnik news agency on 13/4/2015, and then in a speech before Fatah’s Revolutionary Council on 13/4/2015.
There were allegations along the same lines made against Hamas, of seeking to separate GS from the WB, by the leaders of PLO Executive Committee and other Palestinian factions, including Wasil Abu Yusuf, Jamil Shehadeh, Ahmad Majdalani, Saleh Zaidan and Rabah Muhanna.
Hamas repeatedly denied having made any direct contacts or engaged in negotiations with Israel, stressing the only language Israel understands is resistance and steadfastness. Hamas said it refuses any proposals seeking to divide the homeland or the Palestinian people.. according to leaders like ‘Izzat al-Rishq and Isma‘il Radwan.
Observers following Palestinian affairs will know that ‘Abbas and the leadership in Ramallah lack the credibility when they speak of their national fears concerning concessions by Hamas. Firstly because: If there is anyone who is a source of concern when it comes to making national concessions, it would be ‘Abbas and his associates in the “Oslo school,” which has ceded most of Palestine, recognized Israel, and renounced violence (or resistance to be more precise). This authority has a functional role of serving the Israeli occupation in WB, rather than serving the Palestinian national project, and drained its security apparatus by coordinating with Israel and cracking down on resistance forces.
Secondly, ‘Abbas and his associates in the PLO and the PA have undermined the PLO, disrupted the Palestinian National Council, and disabled the Legislative Council, after removing all clauses related to the struggle with Israel and the Zionist project from the Palestinian national Charter. This faction is so intimately linked to the peace process that they were given Israeli “VIP cards” and were greeted with American red carpets.
Thirdly, ‘Abbas and his associates’ warning against a mini-state in Gaza is a “boogeyman” they are using. They fear the GS blockade might end before Hamas and the resistance forces bow down to their demands concerning the domination of the PA and Fatah on GS.
In other words, the leadership of the PLO and PA have refrained from dealing seriously with the issues of the GS blockade and reconstruction, in addition to its prevarication when it comes to implementing the requirements of Palestinian reconciliation including its natural commitments in reactivating Gaza’s institutions and paying the wages of civil servants.
Perhaps, as a prominent Fatah leader once said, the humanitarian crisis (due to the destruction, blockade, and the dwindling financial support Hamas receives) would force Hamas to accept their terms.
Therefore, ‘Abbas fears Hamas could overcome Ramallah’s prevarication and seek agreements and a truce on its own. This would mean Hamas and the resistance’s influence and power would continue, something that ‘Abbas does not want to see happen.
The Israeli side is the biggest beneficiary of the Palestinian division, and the separation of GS from WB, with two rival authorities. However, the Israeli strategic line is consistent with that of the peace process and Oslo represented by ‘Abbas and the PA, and not with that of resistance forces. Therefore, the language of fire, siege, and destruction was the language Israel used to deal with the resistance forces in GS.
What is new is that there is a growing sentiment in Europe, and to a varying degree in Israel and Egypt, that the blockade has reached its maximum extent without achieving the desired results. These parties believe the GS conditions could lead to an explosion or full collapse of institutions that have been denied budget allocations and the ability to function. As a result, chaos and extremism, such as the brand associated with al-Qaeda and the Islamic State, could spread in GS.
In addition, the protracted blockade is something that the European countries no longer want to legitimize, after it proved its failure and its moral, legal, and political costs. Meanwhile, there are growing popular demands in Europe to lift the siege, which is seen as a black stain on the conscience of anyone supporting it or participating in it.
However, we must not deal naively with important developments concerning lifting the siege by the Israeli or Western parties. There should be specific positions and guarantees reaffirming that the cause of breaking the siege and reconstruction is a national consensus cause. But at the same time, we must not downplay the outstanding steadfastness of the people of GS, and the exceptional military achievements of Hamas and other resistance forces. They must extract their rights that the Israelis have committed themselves to, when declaring the truce after the last two wars, and deal with the siege as an anomaly inconsistent with international law and moral and humanitarian principles, and not as an ordinary situation whose end should come as a surprise.
Hamas and the resistance forces that agreed to form a government of national consensus did not do so only to implement what the Israeli occupation failed to accomplish, namely to force the resistance on its knees, disarm it, and neutralize it. It only agreed to such a government to foster national Palestinian partnership. Therefore, ‘Abbas would be wrong to think he can force Ramallah’s functional role on GS, which forced Israeli withdrawal from it.
Hamas and the resistance forces were the ones who fought, and protected GS and shouldered responsibility for governing it. They extracted pledges to lift the siege. When these forces see complacency and partisan haggling to pressure it or to delay the end of the siege, then it is their right to take practical measures to end the blockade. When these forces agreed to a national consensus government, they were not lacking in legitimacy, be it from the resistance or from popular constitutional weight. It was not they who disrupted the work of the Legislative Council that otherwise gives legitimacy to any government. So let ‘Abbas return to the Legislative Council, if he were keen on not monopolizing power and on respecting institutional, legal, and legislative work.
Finally yet importantly, instead of ‘Abbas and PLO and the PA leaders poisoning the climate of national reconciliation, distributing fabrications and allegations against their partners in the national reconciliation, they should take steps to build confidence, implement reconciliation, and end the GS siege.