Israel-Hamas ceasefire on a knife edge


Rocket fire from Gaza could resume in two weeks if an agreement on new security arrangements or at least a framework for talks is not reached in the coming days.

There are deep divisions, not only between the Israelis and the Palestinians, but among both sides, on the best way to reach such a deal.

The ceasefire agreement from two weeks ago stipulated that Israeli and Palestinian delegations would return to Cairo by September 25 to continue talks on allowing more goods into Gaza and plans to rebuild the airport and construct a seaport.

In an attempt to prevent renewed conflict, an Egyptian team has been visiting Jerusalem and Ramallah to try to reach a framework for further talks. The first items on the agenda will be security arrangements at the crossings from Israel and Egypt into Gaza and the transfer of building materials in order to repair the thousands of destroyed and damaged buildings.

The main sticking point is the deployment of PA personnel to the crossings, which in the best scenario will take months to arrange. There is disagreement within the Israeli security and political leadership on how stringent the security demands should be. The military and Shin Bet chiefs are in favour of giving some concessions to the Palestinians, but the cabinet is loath to allow Hamas to present any agreement as an Israeli capitulation.

In addition, there is tension between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, who is demanding Israel adopt an even harsher policy towards Gaza.

It is also still unclear what level of responsibility the PA is prepared to assume and whether Hamas will agree. Hamas is split between its military and political wings and the various leaders in Gaza, Cairo and Qatar. PA President Mahmoud Abbas is hesitant to send his forces back to Gaza after they were violently ejected seven years ago. In public he is demanding that PA control the crossings, but Palestinian sources say he is more interested in pushing for a timetable for statehood at the UN than getting stuck in the Gazan mud.

Hamas's deputy political chief, Ismail Haniyeh, was quoted last Friday saying that hostilities would resume if the crossings are not fully opened by September 25, but on Tuesday Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri denied these reports.

On Monday, Foreign Minister Lieberman said that he did not believe an agreement with the Palestinians on new security arrangements was possible, largely due to the breakdown in relations between PA and Hamas. His ministry has prepared an alternative plan to deploy international peacekeepers in Gaza, but it is unclear whether there is willingness on any other side to contemplate to such a proposal.

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