Eyes Turn to Cairo Talks as Cease-Fire Holds in Gaza
The calm of a renewed cease-fire settled over the Gaza Strip on Thursday, with focus shifting to the outcome of talks in Cairo on a long-term deal to end the latest fighting between Israel and Hamas.
The five-day truce, agreed upon by Israeli and Palestinian negotiators late Wednesday, was largely holding Thursday. A rocket was fired from Gaza at 8:20 a.m. local time, but fell short of Israeli territory, Israel's military said. There was no claim of responsibility for the attack.
The Egyptian-mediated talks between Israel and the Palestinians weren't set to resume until Monday, which means negotiators will have less than a day to work out an accord or agreement to extend the truce.
But political pressure mounted in Israeli and the Palestinian territories to translate battlefield gains or losses to political, economic and security arrangements that will prevent a recurrence of fighting.
One member of the Palestinian negotiating team who doesn't belong to Hamas on Thursday said the gap between Israeli and Palestinian negotiators remained wide. He said a breakthrough was possible because a return to fighting didn't seem an option for either side.
In Gaza, Palestinian representatives to the indirect talks are under political pressure to deliver improvements to the lives of Gaza's 1.8 million inhabitants, who have lived under an Israeli and Egyptian economic embargo of varying degrees since 2007.
Ibrahim Abu Al Sadiq, a 70-year-old fisherman in Gaza City, on Thursday said he and other Gazans were closely watching developments in the Cairo talks.
What mattered at the end of the day was that the losses of the war wouldn't be in vain, he said. "If you get something at the end, it is worth waiting."
Sitting on a plastic chair on a Gaza City sidewalk with four friends, Abu Zakir Hissi was more emphatic in his assessment of the Cairo talks. "The thing is, we've seen nothing," he said.
Izzat Risheq, one of five representatives to the talks from Hamas, which rules the Gaza Strip, is aware that for his own constituents the clock is ticking for Palestinian negotiators. "Everybody wants the Palestinian people's demands to be met, and nobody is interested in time-wasting and maneuvering," he said.
Ghassan Khatib, vice president of Bir Zeit University in the West Bank city of Ramallah, said Hamas faces a difficult political predicament, having agreed to a cease-fire but having nothing yet to show for the huge losses its war with Israel has inflicted on the Gaza Strip.
"The public in Gaza wants the war to stop, so any restart of fighting is a burden for Hamas," said Mr. Khatib, also a prominent Palestinian political analyst. "At the same time, its end without the accomplishment of any goals will be a problem for Hamas."
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and other Israeli officials have offered a straightforward formula for ending the latest Gaza conflict, the third in less than six years: Israel will return quiet for quiet—no Palestinian rocket and mortar at Israel, no Israeli military strikes.
But how many concessions to make at the negotiating table in Cairo—or whether to make any at all—is under fierce debate among top Israeli officials.
Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, a moderate in Mr. Netanyahu's government, said Thursday her approval of a deal in Cairo would depend on whether Hamas will "profit as a result of this terrorism."
"The central question for me, and this is what I will base my vote in the cabinet on, is whether Hamas will profit as a results of this terrorism, yes or no," she told Israel Radio.
Uri Ariel, Israel's housing minister and a member of the pro-settler Jewish Home party, said a cease-fire should be pushed aside in favor of letting Israel's military, the Israel Defense Forces, root out Hamas.
"The IDF did very important work in destroying the tunnels and it has to finish the job by getting rid of the rocket threat and the mortar shell threat at Israel's children. This reality is intolerable," he said.
At a rally in central Tel Aviv Thursday evening, the mayor of the southern border town of Sderot, Alon Davidi, urged the government to solve the problem of rocket fire "once and for all" either by military or diplomatic means.
Thousands of residents of southern Israel attended the demonstration, many saying they were frustrated with negotiations and cease-fires that have been punctuated by rocket fire.
"This process of negotiations with fire in the middle is difficult,'' said Irit Heifets, a resident of Kibbutz Nirim, which lies close to the Gaza border.
"We don't really believe our government or Hamas that this is for real, and will solve the problem for the next 30 years."
Read the full article at the Wall Street Journal