Rumors, denials fly about long-term Israel-Gaza truce

Just the suggestion that a long-term truce could be in the works between Israel and the Gaza Strip factions has Palestinians fired up.

al-monitor Palestinian Islamic Jihad militants take part in a military show marking the 32nd anniversary of the organization's founding, in the central Gaza Strip, Oct. 3, 2019.  Photo by REUTERS/Ibraheem Abu Mustafa.

Dec 20, 2019

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip — Several Israeli media outlets, along with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, have been circulating rumors that Palestinian factions in the Gaza Strip are negotiating a long-term truce with Israel under Egyptian brokerage. Hamas and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) deny such talk. 

Leaders of those factions did visit Cairo on Dec. 2, following Egypt's call for deliberations to cement the latest cease-fire agreement reached with Israel in November. The talks also followed up on the latest developments regarding other truce understandings reached in October 2018, and on issues of internal Palestinian reconciliation and general elections.

But Hamas and the PIJ denied in press statements Dec. 10 having even received any suggestions for a long-term truce with Israel from an international mediator or party, and dismissed the news as false. They accused Netanyahu of promoting these ideas to exploit them in electoral campaigning for the third Israeli elections, scheduled for early March.

PIJ leader Ahmad al-Mudallal spoke to Al-Monitor about his group's rejection of any long-term truce with Israel.

“Our strategy is based on the principle of constant engagement with Israel, which is occupying our Palestinian territories, stealing our resources and besieging us," he said. He argued that any long-term truce would grant Israel calm and stability that it would use to expropriate the remaining Palestinian lands and resources in the West Bank and Jerusalem.

A PIJ political document released in February 2018 stated, "The PIJ has a consistent approach for confronting the Zionist enemy, draining its capacities and abilities, shaking its security and stability and forcing it to leave our lands until the liberation of all Palestinian territories.”

The Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) has a similar opinion. PFLP leader Jamil Mezher stressed in a Dec. 7 speech in Gaza City that the group rejects any long-term truce with Israel.

For his part, Yahya Moussa, head of the Palestinian Legislative Council’s Oversight Committee and a prominent Hamas political leader, told Al-Monitor, “We did not receive or discuss any proposals of a long-term truce with Israel, and we suggested no such thing to Israel.”

He said the understandings with Israel under the brokerage of Egypt, Qatar and UN special envoy for the peace process in the Middle East Nickolay Mladenov aim to lift the Israeli siege on the Gaza Strip.

The Palestinian Authority (PA) and Fatah in the West Bank expressed concern about and warned against any truce that doesn't involve the PLO. The PA is worried by any progress in implementing understandings between Hamas and Israel, and there have been a few. For example, Israel approves of a project to establish a US field hospital in the Gaza Strip — which PA officials fear will serve some malicious purpose. Israel also approved the ongoing flow of Qatari funds to the enclave.

Hassan Abdo, a political analyst close to the PIJ, told Al-Monitor that any longstanding truce would render the legitimacy and raison d’etre of Palestinian factions doubtful, as they were initially formed to resist Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories.

Abdo said growing talk about a truce has been unilateral, from Israel’s side, to create media scuffles between Palestinians endorsing the suggestion and those opposing it. He indicated that Israel capitalized on such rows between Palestinian factions during the latest round of clashes with the PIJ on Nov. 12, by spreading news that Hamas abandoned the PIJ in that round.

The Israeli Haaretz newspaper on Dec. 12 cited Israeli army sources’ concerns that the political crisis in Israel might ruin what otherwise would be an ideal time to negotiate a truce with Hamas, after the heavy blow the PIJ received in the Nov. 12 confrontation and Hamas refrained from fighting.

Iyad al-Qarra, a political analyst at the Hamas-affiliated Felesteen newspaper, told Al-Monitor that Israel is the source of baseless talks about a long-term truce, knowing there is currently no government that could actually negotiate such an understanding.

He indicated that Palestinian factions are aware that any long-term truce in the near future would be a gift to Israel, which wants calm on the Gaza Strip front so it can focus completely on Iran. Israeli intelligence officials reported in July that they believe Hamas and Iran have agreed to open a front in Gaza if war breaks out between Israel and Lebanon's Hezbollah.

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