The Egyptian-mediated negotiations between Hamas and the outgoing government of Israel now seem close to achieving agreements on (a) stabilizing the Gaza ceasefire, and possibly also (b) a prisoner exchange involving Hamas-held Israeli POW Gilad Shait and perhaps 1,000 Palestinian political prisoners.
The ceasefire-stabilization agreement seems closer. The pro-Hamas PIC website reported today that,
- Dr. Salah Al-Bardawil, a senior Hamas leader, announced Friday that a ceasefire agreement was reached with Israel and would take effect as of Sunday, but he said that there was a technical problem that emerged in the last hours when Israel demanded a permanent calm agreement.
Dr. Bardawil explained that the agreement provides for a mutual 18-month truce, during which Israel is bound to lift the siege, open the crossings and allow in 80 percent of goods and building materials.
The Hamas leader underscored that Hamas and Egypt rejected the Israeli demand of having a permanent calm, noting that this obstacle would be eliminated in the coming hours.
The “80 percent” of goods relates, I think, to the pre-2006 rate of passage across the Israeli-controlled freight crossing points, which was 750 trucks a day.
Bardawil also gave some details I hadn’t seen before about the guaranteeing and monitoring mechanism associated with this truce-stabilization agreement:
- Bardawil also pointed out that it was agreed that Egypt would guarantee the Israeli implementation of this agreement. He added that there would be a specific mechanism to oversee the Israeli commitment to the [crossings-opening aspects] truce whereby a tripartite committee of Egypt, the UNRWA and Hamas would be formed to supervise Israel’s abidance by opening of crossings.
As for the Rafah border crossing [the Strip’s main people-crossing point, which is between Egypt and Gaza], the Hamas leader asserted that Hamas had received a promise from Cairo to reach another agreement guaranteeing the opening of this crossing as of next March.
Today, however, some additional last-minute obstacles seemed to arise in the negotiations. AP reported from Gaza this afternoon that,
- Hamas official said Saturday that new problems have come up. Hamas wants an 18-month cease-fire. Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum says Israel created new obstacles by seeking an open-ended cease-fire.
Israel sought an unlimited truce in the past. A senior Israeli official said Saturday that a cease-fire would also have to be linked to a prisoner swap that frees an Israeli soldier held in Gaza.
Having a ceasefire whose terms have been explicitly agreed to by both fighting parties is obviously a lot better than the present situation of having two parallel, un-negotiated and unilateral ceasefires. Having the ceasefire text explicitly attested to by a respected governmental third party (Egypt) is also an improvement on the June 2008 agreement, of which there was never an explicitly agreed and third-party-attested text. Having a mechanism to monitor compliance with the urgent matter of crossings openings is good.
However, this agreement could be weak indeed if there is no provision for monitoring of the ceasefire aspects– which should be applied to both fighting parties.
Also, I am pretty sure the administration of the border crossings from the Palestinian side requires some sort of PA framework within which Fateh and Hamas would work together.
Israeli PM Olmert’s office, meanwhile, has said that he will not sign off on the ceasefire agreement unless the release of Shalit is also part of the deal. Hamas has until now remained adamant that it wants to keep that negotiation– which also involves the release of many Palestinian prisoners– separate from the ceasefire agreement. But if Egyptian diplomacy is good for anything, then surely it should be able to find a way to sequence and/or finesse this issue.
Olmert is said to have a very strong desire to see Shalit freed before he leaves office.
A Palestinian prisoner release on the scale that I heard talked about in Egypt (roughly 1,000 of the 12,000 or so Palestinian political prisoners whom Israel now holds) could, if done right, have the potential for helping smooth the way to the intra-Palestinian reconciliation that is so desperately needed at this point. That’s because inside the Israel’s walled prisons and detention centers (as opposed to in the open-air prisons that all parts of the occupied territories have become), the prisoners from all different factions have found better ways to get along, and to manage the political differences among them, than the people in the wider open-air prisons have.
In particular, in May 2006, prisoner leaders from all the main factions came together and produced the “National Conciliation Document of the Prisoners” which set out what still today looks like an excellent plan for reunifying the Palestinian people around a workable and broad-based plan of political and popular action.
Egypt will also be hosting/mediating the top-level Palestinian reunification negotiation, which is scheduled to start on February 22 in Cairo.
Let’s hope and pray that all these important de-escalation moves succeed. Those of us who are citizens of the US, the EU, and other powerful nations have a special responsibility to make sure our governments allow the Palestinian reconciliation to proceed on terms agreed in a fair manner among the Palestinians themselves, without outside interference.
The project the US government, in particular, has pursued since 2006 to incite, arm, and support one portion of the Palestinian people to fight, Contra-like, against the portion that won the free and fair legislative elections of January 2006 must be ended. That campaign has already inflicted far too much damage on the long-suffering Palestinian people. It did not “succeed” in replacing Hamas in the affections and loyalties of many Palestinians with affection for Fateh. Just the opposite. The support for Fateh is now considerably lower than it was when Bush aide Elliott Abrams launched his highly immoral “Fateh as Contras” project back in 2006.
Meantime, let’s hope the ceasefire-stabilization and prisoner-exchange negotiations achieve success as quickly as possible.