The Egyptian government on Monday evening proposed a cease-fire between Israel and the Palestinian groups in the Gaza Strip, according to which the two sides would end “hostilities” as of 9 a.m.on Tuesday.
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu is to convene the security cabinet early Tuesday morning to discuss the proposal.
Diplomatic officials said that Netanyahu was expected to encourage the other seven members of the security cabinet to accept the proposal, which would return the situation in Gaza to what it was before Operation Protective Edge began a week ago. Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman and Economy Minister are expected to oppose the proposal in the security cabinet, but are unlikely to be able to prevent the forum from accepting it.
Some 48 hours after the cease fire goes into effect, Egypt is to convene representatives of both Israel and Hamas for further negotiations.
One diplomatic official said that the cease fire would be returned to what it was last Sunday, but “with Hamas much weaker.”
“The effectiveness of their rockets have been neutralized, their storehouses and manufacturing capabilities have been hit, and they have been caused deep frustration because of the effectiveness of Iron Dome,” he said.
In addition, he said, Hamas failed in effort to carry out attacks by land air and seat, and is at a low point in public opinion in Judea and Samaria, the international community, the Arab world and even inside Gaza.
“Th goals of the operation were to restore quiet for a long period of time, and that goal has been achieved.,” he said. “The bottom line is that Hamas did not hit Israel to the degree it thought it would, and – on the other hand – it’s power was weakened.”
Israel, the official said, would now work in the international arena for the dismantling of the rockets and the closing of the tunnels.
The proposal states that Israel would end all “hostilities in the Gaza Strip from the land, air, and sea and would refrain from launching a ground offensive that targets civilians.”
According to the proposal, the Palestinian factions would cease all “hostilities” emanating from the Gaza Strip against Israel.
The Egyptian initiative calls for reopening the border crossings into the Gaza Strip to passengers and goods as the security situation becomes stable. It also calls for receiving representatives of the Israeli government and the Palestinian factions in Cairo within 48 hours after the cease-fire goes into effect to discuss “confidence-building measures” between the two sides. The Egyptians, according to the plan, would hold separate talks with the Israelis and Palestinians in Cairo.
In response to the Egyptian proposal, Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum said his movement would not accept any truce that “excludes the conditions of the Palestinian groups and people.”
Israel’s government had no immediate comment on the Egyptian proposal.
US Secretary of State John Kerry is likely to fly to Egypt Tuesday to hold talks with senior Egyptian officials, Egypt’s official MENA news agency reported on Monday, amid stepped-up international diplomatic efforts to bring an end to the ongoing terrorist rocket fire.
Despite the Egyptian report, US officials said Kerry’s trip to Egypt remained “unconfirmed.”
Kerry is currently in Vienna for talks with Iran over its nuclear program.
Israeli officials also would not confirm reports that Kerry was coming to the region.
Kerry, according to the MENA report, spoke on Sunday with Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry, as he did with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu. Kerry also spoke Sunday on the sidelines of the talks in Vienna with his counterparts from Germany, France, and Britain, as the EU issued a statement calling for a cease-fire.
German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier is scheduled to arrive Tuesday and meet – among others – with Netanyahu, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman, and Justice Minister Tzipi Livni. In addition, Italy’s Foreign Minister Federica Mogherini will also arrive for talks on Tuesday, and Norway’s Foreign Minister Borge Brende will come the next day. Each of those visits was not scheduled in advance and is a result of the current crisis.
Diplomatic officials in Jerusalem were not saying what Israel’s conditions for a ceasefire are, but have indicated that Jerusalem will not agree to the type of agreement that put an end to Operation Pillar of Defense in 2012.
Netanyahu has said repeatedly in recent days that the goals of the operation are to restore long-term quiet to the country’s cities and significantly damage Hamas’s infrastructure, and that those goals could be attained either militarily or through diplomatic means.
Differences of opinion inside the cabinet have emerged publicly as the talk of a cease-fire gets louder.
Economy Minister Naftali Bennett (Bayit Yehudi) said during an interview on Channel 2 that Israel is “grinding Hamas, their officers, the terrorist activists, their homes, their tunnels. They are absorbing a very hard blow.
And precisely because this is the situation, and they [Hamas] are isolated in the world, including in the Arab world, now is the time to change the situation so we don’t go find ourselves in the same situation in another half a year.”
Transportation Minister Israel Katz (Likud) said Israel should hold out for a deal that includes the demilitarization of Gaza.
Science and Technology Minister Yaakov Peri (Yesh Atid) said the dismantling of Hamas’s rocket capabilities would be the ideal option, “but we should not lie to ourselves or the public about this; it’s not realistic to demand demilitarization.”
Meanwhile, the PA said Monday the countdown for reaching a new cease-fire between Israel and Hamas has begun.
“Hamas is desperate for a cease-fire,” a Palestinian official in Ramallah said. “They have appealed to Qatar, Egypt, and Turkey to help in reaching a new truce with Israel.”
The official claimed that Hamas has been under heavy pressure from Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, who have “paid an unusually heavy price” during the fighting.
Hamas and Islamic Jihad officials reiterated their readiness to reach an agreement that would end the current fighting with Israel, but have conditions of their own.
Islamic Jihad leader Ramadan Shalah said his organization would agree to a new truce with Israel if the “aggression” on the Gaza Strip stopped and the border crossings are reopened. Shalah said the only party that could play a role in achieving a truce is the US administration. He added that without Egyptian mediation, it would also be impossible to stop the fighting.
Channel 10 reported that one idea being floated was for the PA to take control of the border crossings with Egypt, which would then be opened.
Meanwhile, the visits by the European foreign ministers come amid signals reaching Jerusalem that at the regularly scheduled EU foreign ministers meeting at the end of the month, there are those who want a strong statement that would not only deal with Gaza, but also slam Israel for settlements, dragging its feet in the peace process, and not allowing Palestinian development in Area C.
An indication of European thinking came Monday in London when British Foreign Secretary William Hague called in Parliament for Israel and Hamas to implement an immediate cease-fire.
Israel, he said, had suffered sustained barrages of rocket fire from militants in Gaza and, he emphasized, is entitled to defend itself against indiscriminate attacks against its civilian population.
The people of Gaza, he added, have a fundamental right to live in peace and security. Hague expressed great concern over the number of civilian deaths, saying that some 80% of those killed were civilians a and a third were children.
“The whole House will share our deep concern at these events,” he said. “This is the third major military operation in Gaza in six years. It underlines the terrible human cost, to both sides, of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and it comes at a time when the security situation in the Middle East is the worst it has been in decades.”
Hague said international efforts are being made to broker a cease-fire, but with Egypt no longer having the influence and contacts with Hamas he indicated that other Arab states including Jordan and Qatar were involved in trying to bring about an agreement. He declined to say which other countries.
During the 80-minute session, numerous MPs pressed Hague to call on Israel to halt its operation, but besides suggesting Israel should show restraint he studiously avoided using the word proportionate even when challenged to do so. However, he repeatedly made clear that Israel has a right to defend itself and he was equally adamant that Hamas has to shoulder responsibility for firing rockets at Israel from civilian areas.
The only mild warning he had for Israel was to make sure its actions were within the requirements of international humanitarian law. Both sides have to distinguish between civilian and military targets, he added.
“The world looks on in horror once again as Israel suffers from rocket attacks and Palestinians die. Only a real peace, with a safe and secure Israel living alongside a viable and contiguous Palestinian state, can end this cycle of violence. And it is only the parties themselves, with our support, who can make peace.”
Michael Wilner contributed to this report from Vienna.