Gaza Truce Nears End but War Not Expected

One-month ceasefire agreed August 26 ends Wednesday, but Gaza is in deep trouble and can't afford more fighting.

Gil Ronen,

Gaza man in the ruins of his home.
Gaza man in the ruins of his home.
Reuters

The one-month truce agreed to by Israeli and Palestinian Arab delegations to Cairo August 26 ends on Wednesday, but the fighting is not expected to resume anytime soon, according to Israeli analysts on Channel 2 television.

As the winter months approach, Gaza is mired in the aftermath of the latest war it picked to fight with its stronger neighbor, the Jewish state – the 50-day Operation Protective Edge campaign, as it is known in Israel, which began in early July.

According to the Channel 2 experts, Gaza has 110,000 refugees to take care of: real refugees, who have nowhere to live, not the usual Palestinian “refugees” that UNRWA takes care of, who are descendants of the survivors of wars fought 50 or 60 years ago.

About 20,000 homes in Gaza have been destroyed or rendered uninhabitable by the war. Many of the refugees seek to rent alternative homes, and the prices of rent have shot up accordingly – up to 2.5 times what they were before the war, according to Channel 2's Ohad Hemo.

Hamas officials have an added problem: many landlords refuse to rent their homes to them, for fear that Israel will target those homes when fighting flares up again.

Building materials are not flowing into Gaza, because the mechanism for making sure they are not used for building terror tunnels has not yet been worked out. Reconstruction has therefore not yet begun.

To make things worse, the Palestinian Authority under Mahmoud Abbas has yet to transfer money for the salaries of Hamas officials in Gaza. The jobs of over 40,000 Hamas employees have been up in the air since June.

And winter is approaching.

These combined conditions make it extremely unlikely that Hamas will opt for another round of fighting, according to the expert panel.

Divided they stand

The Palestinian delegation will try to present a united front vis-a-vis Israel in Cairo in the next session of talks on Tuesday, but to do so, internal Palestinian divisions must be put aside and the two sides must agree upon a "unified strategy," officials told AFP.

Before meeting the Israeli team, representatives of the Hamas and Fatah terror factions are to gather on Tuesday to address issues blocking the implementation of a reconciliation deal, which was inked in April but is now threatening to collapse.

The unity deal was to have ended years of bitter rivalry between the Fatah faction of Mahmoud Abbas that dominates the Ramallah-based Palestinian Authority, and the Islamist movement Hamas, which has ruled the Gaza Strip for the past seven years.

Following the deal, the rivals set up a government of independents, the first united administration in seven years, which took office in early June.

But sharp divisions quickly emerged over the control of Gaza, where the Hamas government formally stepped down on June 2 but has remained the de facto power.

Abbas has accused Hamas of operating a "shadow government" and threatened to end the unity deal unless the Islamists allow the new government to function properly there.

In Cairo, the factions will focus on governance in Gaza and allowing the consensus government to do its job, as well as key questions of security in the enclave following the seven-week war with Israel.

And they will have to agree on "a unified Palestinian strategy" vis-a-vis truce talks with Israel, senior Fatah official Sakher Bseiso told AFP at the weekend.

"Negotiations with Israel must be based on a clear vision on which the Palestinians, particularly Fatah and Hamas, will agree in advance," he said.

The inter-Palestinian talks are due to last three days.

A Gazan family returns home. Reuters

Truce talks face Rosh Hashana 

In parallel, the Palestinians will be expected to conduct indirect truce talks with Israel. These also are up against the clock, with the Jewish New Year beginning at sundown Wednesday.

As part of the August 26 truce agreement, Israel and Hamas agreed to halt their fire and meet again within a month to discuss crunch issues on which the two sides are bitterly divided.

The negotiations center on several conflicting demands: Hamas wants an end to Israel's eight-year blockade and to have a Gaza airport and seaport, and Israel has conditioned its agreement to Gaza's reconstruction on terrorists laying down their weapons.

Both sets of demands have been rejected out of hand by the other side.

But the parties both have an interest in some kind of arrangement under which Hamas would release the remains of two Israeli soldiers – Staff Sgt. Oron Shaul and Lt. Hadar Goldin hy”d – in exchange for Israel freeing Palestinian prisoners.

Israel is skeptical that any kind of deal can be reached.

"I don't have very high hopes ... as long as Hamas won't agree to demilitarize Gaza," Israel's Strategic Affairs Minister Yuval Steinitz said on Sunday.

"Unfortunately, I don't see it accepting these principles, so, apart from the immediate rehabilitation (of Gaza), there is no real, long-term solution to the situation," said Steinitz.

No concrete advances

Under terms of the deal, Israel was to have eased restrictions on the entry of construction materials such as concrete, cement and steel into the enclave, imports of which have been almost completely blocked for years for fear they could be used by militant groups to build fortifications or weapons.

Last week, however, the United Nations said it had brokered a trilateral Israeli-Palestinian deal to allow in materials for Gaza's reconstruction that would ensure they will not be diverted for military purposes.

No details have been released as to how the mechanism would work or when it would be put in place.

The Palestinians' chief truce negotiator said it was likely that negotiations with Israel would resume after the end of upcoming Jewish holidays.

"We will resume negotiations at the end of the Jewish holidays, about a week after that," Azzam al-Ahmed told AFP.

After the Jewish New Year, Israelis will mark Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the Jewish calendar, and then the week-long Sukkot. The holiday season formally ends on October 19.

Following the diplomatic activity in Cairo, Abbas will on September 26 address the UN General Assembly at which he will seek international backing for ending what he terms the Israeli “occupation” within three years and establishing a Palestinian state based on 1967 lines.




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