CMEP Bulletin: Gaza conflict escalates
Weekly update by Churches for Middle East Peace
Negotiations over terms of a ceasefire faltered July 17th with the return of Israeli negotiators from Egypt and the announcement that Israel has launched a ground offensive in northern Gaza . After meeting with President Abdullah Gul in Turkey on Thursday, Abbas returned to Cairo. Abbas is asking France to lobby Qatar and Turkey to pressure Hamas into accepting the original Cairo cease-fire proposal.
The question of violence between Gaza and Israel has been mired in Palestinian, Arab, and regional politics. The failure of US- mediated negotiations this spring left President Abbas vulnerable to domestic political criticism that he had failed to make progress towards ending the Israeli military occupation in return for his security cooperation with Israel and the U.S. In order to strengthen his political position he entered into an agreement to form a coalition government with political rival Hamas. Hamas, also trying to strengthen its position, was looking for a way out of its political isolation from Arab governments.
The strong Israeli reaction against the Palestinian coalition, that included Hamas, led it to attack Hamas’ infrastructure and arrest many Hamas operatives in the West Bank following the murder of three Israeli students in June, which Israel blamed on Hamas. Abbas condemned the abductions and his security forces cooperated with the Israelis looking for the students .
Since the last outbreak of violence in 2012, Hamas has reportedly sought to maintain a relative calm with Israel. Following Israel’s West Bank crackdown, Hamas increased rocket fire from Gaza into Israel, enhancing its visibility and political position vis-à-vis Abbas. This rocket fire is a kind of political speech, calling attention to Hamas and allowing them to assert an identity separate from Ramallah.
On Monday Secretary of State Kerry began pressuring Netanyahu, Abbas, and the Egyptian Foreign Minister to negotiate a cease-fire through phone calls and offers to fly to Cairo or Jerusalem. Wanting to avoid further U.S. involvement, Israel accepted an Egyptian proposal that called for a cease-fire to be followed by negotiations. Hamas, surprised to learn of the cease-fire from the media, rejected the cease-fire and continued to fire rockets.