Wednesday,19 September, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1207, (24 - 30 July 2014)
Wednesday,19 September, 2018
Issue 1207, (24 - 30 July 2014)

Ahram Weekly

Initiatives by proxy

Gaza has become a football in regional politicking, writes Doaa El-Bey

Al-Ahram Weekly

The introduction of the Qatari initiative turned moves to ease the suffering and resolve the crisis in Gaza into a game of point-scoring, played over the bodies of Palestinian civilians.

It is obvious, said a diplomat who talked on condition of anonymity, that Qatar is seeking to abort Egypt’s meditation efforts and that Hamas’s refusal to cooperate with Egypt is in line with the Muslim Brotherhood’s position since 30 June 2013.

“Egypt has always been the main mediator when it comes to inter Palestinian or Palestinian-Israeli differences. In spite of the strain in Egypt-Hamas relations it is likely Cairo will play its traditional role. Internal problems will not hinder this,” said the diplomat.

Tarek Fahmi, deputy head of National Centre for Middle East Studies, believes the Qatari initiative is an attempt to block Egypt’s ceasefire plan.

Qatar’s intervention, says Fahmi, is a reflection of the fall of the Muslim brotherhood in Egypt and of deepening Arab-Arab differences.

“The agreement between parties like Hamas, Qatar, Hizbullah, and Turkey opposed to the Egyptian, Saudi, Emirati, Kuwaiti and Jordanian détente has severe repercussions for the situation in Gaza. The differences caused by the present crisis are likely to last and impact on other Arab issues - the Syrian and Iraqi files, security in the Gulf and relations with Iran.”

The Qatari initiative aims to reach a ceasefire, lift the blockade, release all re-arrested Palestinian prisoners and open border crossings. It seeks to replace last week’s Egyptian initiative that called for an immediate end to hostilities from both sides.

Egypt had proposed a truce beginning at 0600 GMT the following day, with a ceasefire going into effect 12 hours later. Within 48 hours of the truce announcement Cairo hoped to host high-level delegations from both Israel and the Palestinian factions to discuss the trust-building measures necessary to implement a deal.

“The Qatari initiative focuses on a US role at the expense of an Arab or Egyptian role while Cairo was stressing an Egyptian-Arab role supported by the Arab League. The latter lacked a detailed schedule after the ceasefire,” says Fahmi.

The Palestinian Authority and Israel accepted the Egyptian initiative while Hamas - later joined by most other Palestinian factions  - rejected it on the grounds it failed to acknowledge the demand of Palestinians in Gaza for an end to the siege Israel has  imposed on the densely populated Strip since Hamas took power in 2007.

“Hamas was pushed by Qatar and Turkey to refuse the initiative and so stop Egypt from being the country that ends the crisis in Gaza,” says the diplomatic source.

Minister of Foreign Affairs Sameh Shukri, condemned the escalation of Israeli military operations in Gaza and its bloody attacks on Al-Shejaiya district in the last few days.

“The people and government of Egypt are standing with the Palestinians,” said a statement issued by the foreign ministry on Sunday.

Shukri has discussed the crisis with Omani Foreign Minister Youssef Bin Alawi, Bahraini Foreign Minister Hamed El-Khalifa, leading member of the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) Saeb Erekat, German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, and US Secretary of State John Kerry, according to a statement issued by the ministry.

Foreign ministry spokesman Badr Abdel-Atti said talks focused on developments in Gaza and the Egyptian initiative.

He met with his French, Italian and Emirati counterparts late last week. In a joint press conference with the French foreign minister Shukri stressed the Egyptian initiative remained the only plan endorsed by the Arab League and the international community and still offers the opportunity for a ceasefire, halting Palestinian bloodshed.

Hamas leader Moussa Abou Marzouk was in Egypt late last week for talks with senior intelligence officials.

Last week Shukri also discussed developments in Gaza with his Iranian counterpart, according to a statement issued by the press office at the Egyptian foreign ministry.

US Secretary of State John Kerry, who has twice cancelled scheduled visits to the Middle East, arrived in Cairo Monday night for an open-ended round of shuttle diplomacy seeking to end the crisis in Gaza.

In a joint press conference with Shukri the day after his arrival Kerry called for an immediate ceasefire. He added that a ceasefire should be followed by negotiations and discussions addressing “all underlying concerns”. He described the Egyptian initiative as providing “a framework” and “a forum” for serious discussion between all parties. During the same conference Shukri reiterated his calls for all parties to accept the Egyptian initiative.

Kerry’s trip came as US President Barack Obama made his strongest public push yet to bring an end to nearly two weeks of fighting, citing “serious concerns” about the growing numbers of deaths in Gaza in comments at the White House on Monday.

“It now has to be our focus and the focus of the international community to bring about a cease-fire that ends the fighting,” Obama said. “Obviously it will not be easy.”

Kerry called on Hamas to agree to the Egyptian initiative and expressed more than once his country’s support for that initiative. However, leaks suggest Kerry mooted to Shukri the possibility of wider diplomatic cooperation that could include either Qatar or Turkey, or both, in order to conclude a deal to end the war on Gaza.

This week also witnessed regional and international efforts to reach an immediate ceasefire. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon embarked on a tour that took him to Qatar, Kuwait, Cairo, Jerusalem, Ramallah and Amman.

Ki-moon met with Qatar’s Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in Doha.

“Israelis, but also Palestinians, need to feel a sense of security,” he said in a press conference after the meeting. “Palestinians, but also Israelis, need to see a horizon of hope.”

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas visited Cairo, Ankara, Bahrain and Doha. In Cairo he met with President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi and Egyptian, Israeli and Hamas officials in an attempt to secure a deal acceptable to all parties. Abbas also looked to Qatar and Turkey to use their ties with Hamas to push a ceasefire.

Violence in the coastal strip began building up three weeks ago after three Jewish settlers were abducted in the occupied West Bank. Their bodies were found one week later. A Palestinian teenager was then kidnapped and burned alive in Jerusalem.

Fahmi said no initiative – from Qatar or any other state- could succeed unless it included the terms of the Egyptian initiative supported on the regional- ie Arab, and international level.

“The US may integrate the Egyptian and Qatari initiatives into a new initiative,” he said, adding the extent of Egypt’s contribution to a truce in Gaza will have repercussions across the region.

If a ceasefire is reached with clear Egyptian support, he argued, Cairo will have delivered an important message to regional and Arab parties on its ability to resolve matters in a rational way that places its security as a priority.

“It could also invest on its success in Gaza to mediate other complicated regional files like the Iraqi file and coordination with the EU to restart the Egyptian role in Palestinian-Israeli peace talks that has long been ignored by the US.”

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