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Double-dealing peace
Published in Al-Ahram Weekly on 21 - 03 - 2019

Early Monday morning a rocket launched from Gaza hit a northern suburb of Tel Aviv. The attack was not intercepted by Israeli defences, and Hamas acted quickly to disown the attack. Yet as the week drew to a close, the chances of a further eruption in tensions, and even military hostilities, appeared to have been only partially averted.
Early on Tuesday, after the Israeli army attacked Hamas targets in the Strip in an operation justified as retaliation for Monday's rocket, Hamas tweeted that Egyptian mediation had secured a ceasefire. Yet on Tuesday afternoon the website of the Israeli newspaper Haaretz quoted a senior Israeli official saying there was no ceasefire in place and while both sides would refrain from an all-out war they were primed for a renewed phase of military confrontation.
Israel has called up military reserves and increased troop deployment along the border with Gaza and a source from Hamas, speaking on Monday afternoon, said he thought it likely Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu would launch “a short but hard attack” on the impoverished Strip.
The source said Hamas leaders were in “continuous contact” with the Egyptian mediation team that has worked for a year to secure a cessation of hostilities between Gaza and Israel and had assured the Egyptian side that there was no intention of escalating tensions with Israel.
Netanyahu had arrived in Washington to meet with US President Donald Trump on Monday evening. Earlier in the week Trump had already tweeted that the US would recognise Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights.
Trump's tweet appeared while his Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was in Israel. During a joint press conference with Netanyahu, Pompeo said that this decision was a clear message from the US that the “sacrifices made by Israeli soldiers” were not in vain.
The move prompted carefully worded criticism from Arab countries previously disappointed by Trump's decision to move the US Embassy to Jerusalem ahead of any final deal between Israel and the Palestinians.
“It seems Trump is very keen to support Netanyahu in the upcoming Israeli elections and will go all the way to show this support,” commented an Egyptian official.
“Netanyahu will have returned to Israel very empowered. Now we are counting on our good relations to prevent a tough reaction against Gaza.”
Speaking on Monday afternoon the official said that while Egypt was doing everything possible to avoid a crisis in Gaza there were no guarantees that Netanyahu would not order an attack on the Strip.
“It is important to avoid escalation and to exercise self-restraint. It is important for everyone because there is no telling of what an Israeli escalation might bring about,” the official said.
Hours before the rocket attack confrontations were continuing along the borders between Gaza and Israel. Israeli soldiers killed one Palestinian protester and injured four others. And by Monday afternoon Hamas was strongly hinting it would react to any Israeli aggression.
“Any escalation now would confuse the situation and complicate the already slim chances of the Trump peace plan being put on the table when Israeli elections have been held,” said the same Egyptian official.
According to well-informed Middle East diplomats, the team assigned by the White House to complete the proposal for a final agreement between Israel and the Palestinians is close to finishing a draft document.
One Cairo-based Western diplomat said Trump and Netanyahu had been expected to discuss the key points of the document in Washington this week. Speaking before Monday's rocket attack, the diplomat also said the two would finalise a timetable for the announcement of the deal.
“It is likely that Netanyahu would have asked Trump to delay any announcement until he had managed to build a coalition after his expected re-election,” noted a Middle Eastern diplomatic source.
The Trump proposal, according to the same diplomat, was not “a peace plan in the traditional sense of the Middle East peace process”.
“We are not talking about a legal document with clear references and parameters but about a peace proposal, something that gives an idea of how peace might be delivered and secured.”
He added that the “Americans have not shared the document with anyone yet — except the Israeli prime minister who has full insight on what counts for him — but they have started sharing some guidelines of an evolving text that seems to stand today at over 40 pages.”
According to this same diplomat, the Americans have accommodated “almost everything Israel wants on the most crucial issues, Jerusalem and the refugees”.
According to statements made by Trump, “Jerusalem is already off the table” following US recognition of the city as the capital of Israel.
On the refugees, the same diplomat says the Trump proposal will reduce the number of refugees — the UNHCR recognises six million — to “those who were living in historic Palestine and fled their homes in 1948”.
Neither proposition is compatible with international law.
“After a bit of contemplation Arab capitals, including Riyadh and Cairo, knew they cannot afford to accept such parameters,” says the diplomat.
“Trump eventually made some adjustments, proposing that an ‘East Jerusalem', basically neighbouring Abu Dis with a couple of annexed quarters of the old city, would be assigned as the future capital of a possible Palestinian homeland.”
The source did not confirm whether the word expected to appear in the document is state or a homeland.
He did, however, say that the issue of refugees was still being discussed after Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas and leaders of neighbouring countries hosting large numbers of Palestinians turned down plans for the “well compensated patriation” of refugees.
Speaking from Gaza on Monday, the Hamas source said that “it does not make sense for the Americans to be talking of a peace plan while actively encouraging Netanyahu in his aggression against the Palestinian people.”
Loathing of the expected Trump proposal is one thing that arch Palestinian rivals Hamas and the PA have in common. This is despite the fact that Trump's right-hand man on the deal, his son-in-law Jared Kushner, has already secured $65 billion mostly from Gulf countries, as an economic package to support the proposals.
According to the Middle East diplomat, the Palestinians will receive $25 billion, with the remainder going to neighbouring Arab countries in return for supporting the deal.
“No matter how generous the economic package it is unlikely that this proposal will fly since it will need a signature from Abu Mazen [Mahmoud Abbas] on a deal that eliminates indelible Palestinian rights,” says a senior Palestinian official.
According to the Egyptian official, the priority for Abbas now is “to reach a deal with Hamas not with Israel; he wants an end to Hamas control over Gaza away from the PA”.
The prospects are bleak. “The ingredients for a deal seem to be lacking. Hamas and Abbas are not really willing to compromise — at least not yet.”

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