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The Globe and Mail

‘Diplomatic movement’ for Israel ceasefire agreement

A firefighter responds to the scene of an Israeli attack in Gaza City, July 14, 2014.


Israel's security cabinet was to meet early Tuesday to consider an Egyptian proposal for a truce that would halt all hostilities in the eight-day conflict between Israel and militant Palestinian movements including Hamas effective Tuesday.

If both sides agree to the ceasefire, Israel would stop aerial, naval and ground operations against militants in the Gaza Strip and agree not to engage in a ground offensive or to harm civilians. At the same time, all Palestinian factions would hold their fire.

While being welcomed by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the proposal may face its biggest hurdle in getting accepted by his largely right-wing cabinet. Hamas's top leader in Gaza confirmed Monday there was "diplomatic movement," even though Hamas said its agreement was not a foregone conclusion.

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If accepted by both sides, within 48 hours of the ceasefire, Israeli and Palestinian delegations would travel to Cairo for continued indirect talks to discuss details and implementation.

The far-ranging proposal is similar to one reportedly put forward in secret last week by Egypt. At that time, Mr. Netanyahu was said to have favoured it in principle, while Hamas rejected it.

Now, the offer may look a little more attractive to Hamas.

The death toll in Gaza has mounted to a total now of more than 175, and Israel has mobilized almost 40,000 troops declaring it was prepared to launch a ground invasion of Gaza in order to silence the group's rockets. As well, there is growing international criticism of Hamas for its use of civilians as human shields.

The United States on Monday welcomed the Egyptian ceasefire proposal as did the Arab League.

The agreement would give each side the ability to claim victory.

Israel wanted, in the words of its Prime Minister, "a sustainable quiet," a peace that would last longer than a couple of years.

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The Israeli government also wanted to seriously damage Hamas's armaments' infrastructure and its ability to import weapons. After eight days of bombardment, it can claim to have achieved this. And, because of its technical achievement in the Iron Dome anti-missile defence system, it can claim to have won this conflict without the loss of a single Israeli life.

For its part, Hamas began this war with a long list of demands that included the release of prisoners, the payment of salaries to 43,000 civil servants by the Palestinian Authority, as well as an end to the state of siege imposed on Gaza by Israel and an end to various aggressive acts by Israeli authorities.

In the end, as predicted last Friday by a senior Hamas-affiliated imam, Naif Rajoub, Hamas would be agreeing to end its rocket fire in exchange for Israel ending its own – nothing more, at least not on the surface.

Hamas can claim to have won, not so much by this ceasefire agreement but because it has re-established itself as the pre-eminent Palestinian resistance movement, a position that some groups in Gaza had been doubting.

Hamas's capacity to launch hundreds of missiles against Israel, and to have them travel much farther and more accurately than ever before, allows Hamas to again claim that Israelis had been frightened by them. Even the flight Monday of a drone launched in Gaza and flown into Israeli airspace adds to Hamas's lustre in the eyes of its constituents.

And while it suffered damage to its Gaza infrastructure and 175 Gazan lives were lost, Hamas still is standing – the ultimate mark of success in war.

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That is what riles some members of the Netanyahu cabinet.

Late Monday night, Economy Minister Naftali Bennett, whose party represents the interests of Israel's large settler population, was said to be planning to vote against the ceasefire. Mr. Bennett has emphasized the importance of not just damaging Hamas in this conflict but of destroying it.

Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman's vote also is in doubt. A week ago, Mr. Lieberman pulled his Yisrael Beitenu Party out of an electoral alliance it had with Mr. Netanyahu's Likud party, because he considered the Prime Minister too soft on Hamas. Since then he has called for a large-scale ground invasion not only to wipe out Hamas but to possibly reoccupy the Gaza Strip.

There was a hint Monday that a deal might be in the offing. Israel pointedly cut back on the number of assaults it carried out on Gaza Sunday night and Monday, and Hamas followed suit.

As well, Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh, whose nephew was killed in the week-long conflict, said in a speech Monday that Hamas had not sought escalation in tensions with Israel, but that Israel had violated the previous truce, reached in December, 2012.

The implication was that Hamas would be content to return to a truce such as that.

The truce of 2012 also was arrived at through mediation by Egypt, then under president Mohammed Morsi, a member of the Muslim Brotherhood to which Hamas is affiliated.

Mr. Morsi now is in an Egyptian jail under trial for capital crimes and the country is run by the man who overthrew him, former military chief Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi.

The truce, if agreed on, would be a victory for Mr. el-Sissi too, as Egypt is once again the lynchpin in efforts at ending fighting between Israel and Palestinian militants.

As negotiations go forward, Egypt would receive guaranties from both Israel and Hamas, and promises to implement the framework.

The ceasefire also would be a victory for Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas who leaned heavily on Mr. el-Sissi to assume this traditional Egyptian role. Mr. el-Sissi remains a strong opponent of the Muslim Brotherhood and all related groups and it wasn't clear if he would be willing to help negotiate a deal involving Hamas.

For his part, Mr. Abbas launched strong criticisms of Hamas last week for demanding too much as its price for reaching a truce, and for trading in war with the blood of Palestinians in Gaza. An adviser to the Palestinian president said his efforts all were being aimed at securing a long term agreement on a two-state solution.

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