The 72-hour cease-fire is to expire at midnight Wednesday, with Israeli officials unable or unwilling to predict whether it will be extended or the fighting will start anew.
Finance Minister Yair Lapid, part of the eight-member security cabinet, said the gaps between Israel and Hamas in indirect talks in Cairo were “wide.”
“It is possible that the fighting will begin again at midnight,” he said in a Channel 2 interview. “But it will not be the same fighting, because we will hit them much harder.”
Lapid said Israel was dealing “with a murderous terrorist organization that wants to kill Jews,” and it would be “impossible to move forward” unless the security of the communities in the South was secured.
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu canceled a security cabinet meeting that was scheduled for Tuesday after it became apparent there had been no progress in the Cairo talks on Monday and that there was no need for any decisions to be taken. Instead, Netanyahu briefed the heads of the parties in his coalition.
One diplomatic official said Israel hoped the ceasefire would be extended, but Hamas was a “wild card” and it was not clear how it would react.
Diplomatic officials said all the options were on the table, and three scenarios were being taken into consideration: that a longer-term cease-fire is agreed upon by midnight; that another 72-hour truce is declared during which negotiations continue on a longer deal; that the cease-fire ends and Hamas again fires rockets at Israeli towns.
The Palestinians, meanwhile, said there had been almost no progress during the Egyptian-sponsored talks.
Unconfirmed reports suggested Hamas and Islamic Jihad members of the Palestinian negotiating team were considering pulling out from the negotiations in protest against Israel’s refusal to accept their demands.
They accused Israel of “procrastination” and warned that Hamas and other Palestinian factions would not agree to an extension of the cease-fire.
“Israel is continuing with its policy of foot-dragging and is not taking our demands seriously,” a Palestinian official in Cairo told the Palestinian daily Al-Quds. “Israel is trying to impose its conditions and this will never happen regardless of the cost. If Israel requests another extension of the cease-fire, our delegation won’t agree.”
The Cairo talks are being held under the auspices of Egypt’s General Intelligence Service, with the Israeli team shuttling back and forth between Cairo and Jerusalem.
Qais Abu Laila, a member of the Palestinian team at the talks, said the gap between the two sides remained “very wide.”
Abu Laila said he and his colleagues had informed the Egyptians this would be the last cease-fire with Israel.
Yehya Musa, a senior Hamas official in the Gaza Strip, said his movement was preparing for a “long battle” with Israel.
The Palestinians “won’t accept humiliation,” Musa said, during a pro-Hamas rally in Khan Yunis.
Addressing the Palestinian team in Cairo, he said: “We are all behind you until you achieve our just demands. We know that everyone is conspiring against you, but we are confident that you won’t make concessions.
Be patient because we have nothing more to lose.”
Palestinian sources told the Palestinian Ma’an news agency that Israel was insisting on discussing the fate of the two missing IDF soldiers who were killed during Operation Protective Edge, while the Palestinians asked to delay this issue.
According to the sources, Israel has thus far accepted only a few of the Palestinian demands, including increasing the number of trucks loaded with food and goods that enter through the Kerem Shalom crossing and the Nahal Oz terminal and allowing 5,000 Palestinians from the Gaza Strip to enter Israel every month.
Israel has also agreed to drop its opposition to the transfer of funds to pay salaries of Hamas civil servants in the Gaza Strip and to gradually expanding the fishing zone for Gazans, the sources said.
In addition, the sources added, the Israelis and Palestinians have agreed on the reopening of the Rafah border crossing to Sinai and the deployment of 1,000 PA police officers at the terminal there, as well as the release of the fourth batch of Palestinian prisoners, who were supposed to be freed earlier this year in accordance with a US-sponsored agreement between the PA and Israel.
However, the two sides have failed to make progress on several other issues, such the Israeli demand to disarm Palestinian groups in the Gaza Strip, and Palestinian demands for the creation of an airport and a seaport and a “safe passage” between the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, the sources added.
Israeli officials refused to relate to these reports, with one official saying Israel did not feel the need to respond to Palestinian “disinformation.”
In New York, meanwhile, US Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said at a news conference that he hoped a “durable cease-fire“ would be reached soon.
Ban said 2,000 Palestinians had been killed, including more children than were killed in the two previous Gaza crises combined; 300,000 people were being sheltered in UNRWA facilities; and 100,000 people have had their homes destroyed or damaged.
“Israel’s duty to protect its citizens from rocket attacks by Hamas and other threats is beyond question,” he said. “At the same time, the fighting has raised serious questions about Israel’s respect for the principles of distinction and proportionality.
Reports of militant activity do not justify jeopardizing the lives and safety of many thousands of innocent civilians.”
The secretary-general did not mention that on at least three occasions Hamas rockets were found stored in UNRWA schools, and that when discovered they were turned over to Hamas, nor did he mention evidence showing that rockets were fired at Israel perilously close to UN facilities.
While he directly condemned Israel, Ban only obliquely criticized Hamas, saying at one point during the press conference, though without mentioning the organization by name: “They simply have not listened to those voices of reason and they have not cared [for] their own people. In the name of protecting their own people, they have been letting their people be killed by others.”