WASHINGTON, July 15, 2014 — Hamas has categorically rejected a cease-fire plan proffered by the Egyptian foreign ministry, saying the plan was “not worth the ink it was written with.”
The group further called the proposal “an initiative of kneeling and submission.”
The response came after Israel accepted the truce. Israel briefly halted air strikes against Gaza, but resumed bombings shortly after Hamas turned down the plan.
The Egyptian Foreign Ministry had proposed a three step plan, starting with an immediate cease-fire by both sides. After a halt in fighting, Egypt and Israel would open Gaza’s border crossing, and Egypt would then host bilateral talks in Cairo.
Opening the border would allow people and goods to enter and leave Gaza. Otherwise, Gaza is effectively sealed off.
Egypt, under former Islamist President Mohamed Morsi, brokered the last peace deal between Hamas and Israel.
Egyptian President al-Sisi, a former military general, has cracked down on the Muslim Brotherhood inside Egypt and has cool relations with Hamas. However, Cairo has also condemned the air strikes and expressed solidarity with “the brotherly Palestinian people” and warned Israel against escalating the violence.
Although Sisi has demurred from taking a direct role in negotiations, Egypt is a logical mediator. Not only does Egypt control the border with Gaza, it has a long-standing treaty with Israel and is considered an “honest broker” in the region.
Hamas is economically dependent on trade from the border, and needs Israel and Egypt to loosen border controls for it to survive. Any truce that does not carry the blessing of Egypt would risk continued border closings.
Hamas almost certainly rejected the Egyptian deal in hopes of gaining more concessions. Specifically, the militants want stronger guarantees of border access and the release of prisoners arrested by Israel over the last several days.
However, Israel is unlikely to budge on either issue.
The refusal by Hamas to accept a preliminary agreement will bring a harsh response from Israel, which has said it will work to destroy Hamas. Israeli’s want Hamas to pay not only for the recent rocket attacks, but also for the kidnapping and murder of three Israeli teens which ignited the latest fighting.
The rejection also moves Israel closer to a ground assault on Gaza. Although Israel knows an invasion will be costly both in terms of international condemnation and lives, it cannot afford to continue the current crisis and will attempt to infiltrate Gaza to more directly strike at Hamas.
One complicating factor in the crisis is the shadow hand of Iran in the conflict. While the West holds talks with Iran over its nuclear program and the possibility of lifting sanctions, Iran apparently is arming Hamas.
Israel yesterday intercepted a Hamas drone, which appears similar to drone technology used by Iran. Moreover, Hamas has displayed Iranian-build long range rockets, further suggesting Iranian involvement.
Although it is not clear whether Iran is pushing Hamas to continue fighting, and to reject the truce, suggestions of Iranian influence will harden Israel’s position both against Hamas and Iran, and complicate future efforts to end the violence in Gaza.