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2014-08-04

Likely Solution for a Lasting Ceasefire was on the Table Before Israeli Assault & Over 1,800 Dead

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Is a lasting ceasefire in Gaza possible —- and on what terms? Our guest Nathan Thrall has laid out a possible plan for a ceasefire in his new article in the London Review of Books, "Hamas’s Chances." Thrall writes: "The obvious solution is to let the new Palestinian government return to Gaza and reconstruct it. Israel can claim it is weakening Hamas by strengthening its enemies. Hamas can claim it won the recognition of the new government and a significant lifting of the blockade. This solution would of course have been available to Israel, the U.S., Egypt and the Palestinian Authority in the weeks and months before the war began, before so many lives were shattered." Speaking to us from Jerusalem, Thrall is a senior analyst at the International Crisis Group, covering Gaza, Israel, Jordan and the West Bank. He also addresses Hamas’ accusation that Israel misled the world about the alleged capture of an Israeli soldier. On Friday, Israel said one of its soldiers, Lt. Hadar Goldin, had been captured near Rafah. His suspected abduction led to an Israeli offensive in Rafah that killed more than 100 people and the collapse of a U.S.— and U.N.-brokered ceasefire.

Transcript

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: Is a lasting ceasefire in Gaza possible? On what terms? Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi has proposed terms for a truce, but neither Israeli nor Hamas officials plan to send envoys to the proposed peace talks in Cairo. [Note: Palestinian officials did travel to Cairo.] Hamas has reportedly rejected the initial Egyptian initiative, saying it was not consulted and the plans failed to end Israel’s blockade of Gaza. The seven-year siege has crippled the economy, civilian infrastructure and water supplies. Unemployment tops 40 percent, and almost 80 percent rely on humanitarian aid. The United Nations has warned Gaza will no longer be livable by 2020 unless urgent steps are taken.

Our next guest has just laid out a possible plan for a ceasefire in his new article in the London Review of Books called "Hamas’s Chances." In the article, Nathan Thrall writes, quote, "The obvious solution is to let the new Palestinian government return to Gaza and reconstruct it. Israel can claim it is weakening Hamas by strengthening its enemies. Hamas can claim it won the recognition of the new government and a significant lifting of the blockade." For more, we stay in Jerusalem, where we’re joined by Nathan Thrall, senior analyst at the International Crisis Group, covering Gaza, Israel, Jordan and the West Bank.

Nathan, welcome back to Democracy Now! Why don’t you lay out your plan?

NATHAN THRALL: Sure. I should say beforehand that I think that it is less likely to occur now, since the ceasefire broke down on Friday. But basically, until several days ago, what you had were three possibilities for the way that this conflict could end. And one was an escalation with Israeli re-occupation of Gaza that would cost a lot of Israeli lives and would last at least a year or more, if its intent was truly to try to, quote-unquote, "disarm" Hamas and replace it with some other unknown entity. The second option was a negotiated agreement. And the third was a unilateral Israeli withdrawal and a hope that that would result in some kind of a ceasefire that would not be a negotiated agreement, and then afterward Israel would decide what it would or wouldn’t do for Gaza on its own terms.

And I think that that third option is now the most likely one, in part because of Hamas’s performance on the ground—they have actually inflicted a lot more damage on Israel than anyone had expected—and because the Israeli prime minister is being attacked from the right for not doing more to undermine Hamas, and actually people calling for totally reoccupying Gaza. He’s quite vulnerable to the criticism that he’s capitulating to extortion through rocket fire, and virtually any concessions that he makes in a negotiated agreement—and, of course, he would have to make concessions in a negotiated agreement—he’d be vulnerable to a great deal of attack. So I think that his preferred route at this point is a unilateral withdrawal and to hope that then the rocket fire slowly subsides, and then he can try and make some changes toward Gaza afterward in order to minimize the likelihood of a new eruption. But, of course, a new eruption would be inevitable if that’s how this ends.

The other option of a negotiated agreement is basically what you had all along, were two fundamental demands that at first seemed irreconcilable. The first was the Israeli demand that in order to lift the blockade, Hamas would have to demilitarize or be demilitarized. The second was the Hamas demand that in exchange for a ceasefire, the blockade would be lifted. And the task of the mediators was to try to essentially square the circle. And the way, I think, that one could do it is basically to say demilitarization of Hamas is, in its literal sense, very unlikely. The only way that that can occur is by force, by Israel doing it by force, or a negotiated two-state settlement in which Hamas’s forces and other militant factions are integrated into the security forces of a Palestinian state. So, that, the latter, is not on the table right now, but it is, theoretically, another way out of this crisis.

And so, the way to deal with it was to break down these two concepts—the Israeli demand for demilitarization, the Hamas demand for lifting the blockade—into many, many component parts. Lifting the blockade consists of opening the Rafah crossing to Egypt, increasing the number of people who travel through there. It means increases in exports for Gaza. It means increased travel between Gaza and the West Bank. It could potentially mean a floating pier, with EU monitors, that brings goods back and forth from Cyprus. So, there are a number of ways in which one can conceptualize lifting the blockade in concrete terms.

Similarly, for demilitarization, though Hamas is not going to put its rockets into weapons stores guarded by Egyptian soldiers, there are other things that are more feasible: monitors who come and make sure that construction materials are—who make sure that one limits the amount of diversion of construction materials to military purposes. One can have monitors who are in Gaza enforcing on both sides, enforcing the ceasefire and making sure that it is in fact being observed. One can have anti-smuggling efforts, done primarily on the Egypt-Gaza border. So, some—there’s also a distinction between the, quote-unquote, "offensive" tunnels, where Hamas has tunnels that go into Israeli territory, and what Hamas considers defensive tunnels, which are the ones that are underneath Gaza itself.

All of these things are items that could be negotiated in a ceasefire, and the only way that that could be implemented is by bringing the Palestinian Authority government, the new government formed on June 2nd, into Gaza in order to implement it. And all parties concerned understand that the Palestinian Authority government is the only mechanism. That’s because Egypt is unwilling to have any real dealings with Hamas. And so, they demand that the soldiers who man the border with Egypt and who operate at the crossing, that they be Palestinian Authority soldiers. Israel similarly demands that they deal with Israel—with the Palestinian Authority at the crossings. And finally, Hamas agrees. They understand that after Sisi came to power in Egypt, the president who came to power in July 2013, that there is basically no possibility for them to govern Gaza themselves. And so, they have acquiesced in this already, months before this conflict began, and are prepared to have the Palestinian Authority come back.

AMY GOODMAN: I just want to correct something I said earlier: There is a Palestinian delegation in Cairo, is that right? Israel has at this—

NATHAN THRALL: That’s right.

AMY GOODMAN: So, what is happening? Israel is refusing at this point to participate in Egypt, in Cairo?

NATHAN THRALL: That’s right. So, the Egyptians are negotiating with a Palestinian delegation. So far, there are no Gaza Hamas members of that delegation, which is a problem. And I think there are some—there’s some discussion of finding a way to guarantee that they could be permitted to leave Gaza in order to come to Egypt. And so, Egypt will work with the Palestinian delegation to come up with a new modified ceasefire proposal that then would be brought to Israel. And Israel hasn’t commented on it publicly, but Israel would of course review that offer.

AMY GOODMAN: This latest breaking news: An attacker rammed the front end of a massive construction excavator into an Israeli bus Monday, overturning the vehicle, killing a pedestrian, before he was shot and killed by a police officer. Police are calling it a terrorist attack, indicating they suspected Palestinian involvement. Do you know about this, Nathan? You’re in Jerusalem.

NATHAN THRALL: Yes, I was actually just a couple of blocks away from it when it happened, and there were an extraordinary number of sirens and police cars going to the scene. You know, this is one of a series of events that’s been occurring since before this conflict began. In many senses, this conflict began in Jerusalem and the West Bank and among the Palestinian citizens of Israel itself. There was a lot of turmoil in the weeks preceding the conflict, particularly after the abduction and murder of the three Israeli teenage students at yeshivas in the West Bank and then the revenge killing of a 16-year-old Palestinian boy in East Jerusalem. And since the conflict has started in early July, there have been nightly clashes in West Bank villages and in Jerusalem. And this is something that’s not being paid attention to closely enough.

AMY GOODMAN: And what this allegation that an Israeli soldier was captured, that turned out not to be the case, on Friday, that the White House called "barbaric"—the significance of this in the killings that took place over the weekend?

NATHAN THRALL: I’m sorry, the killing of the—

AMY GOODMAN: The allegation—the allegation that Israel had made on Friday that an Israeli soldier was captured. Hamas said it wasn’t true. It turned out not to be true. The White House weighed in heavily on Friday afternoon, saying it was "barbaric" that he was captured. But in the end it turned out that he was killed in battle, and Israel admitted that. But the justification of the—

NATHAN THRALL: Yes.

AMY GOODMAN: —attacks that took place after that.

NATHAN THRALL: I see, whether the attack today in Jerusalem was a response to that in some sense.

AMY GOODMAN: No, no, not related to today, but I’m talking about what happened over the weekend.

NATHAN THRALL: I see. I mean, the problem with the ceasefire that was supposed to take place for 72 hours beginning Friday morning was that it was never quite clear what the terms of the ceasefire were, what the rules of engagement were. Of course, Hamas always looked at it as very one-sided to permit Israeli forces to stay inside Gaza and blow up tunnels while Hamas is not permitted to fight against Israel. The announcement that Kerry made with the secretary-general of the U.N. of the ceasefire did not make clear whether or not Israel would be permitted to do such activities.

And then, according to Hamas’s account and some U.N. accounts of what occurred prior to the 8:00 a.m. start of the ceasefire, what was supposed to be the start of the ceasefire, is that at 6:00 a.m., Israeli forces, which had for several days been just 200 meters inside the border at Rafah, which is the southern-most town inside Gaza, that the Israeli forces at 6:00 a.m. moved from 200 meters inside Rafah to two kilometers inside Rafah, and according to the military correspondent for Ha’aretz, in a story yesterday, they went two-and-a-half kilometers in. And the idea behind this was, of course, to try and acquire as much—to put their forces as deeply into Gaza territory as possible just before the 8:00 a.m. ceasefire goes into effect, with the understanding that wherever they are, then they are allowed in that area, and, of course, east of it towards the border, to do all kinds of anti-tunneling operations. The U.N. did not consider this to be in the spirit of the ceasefire, despite the fact that it literally occurred two hours before, and Hamas forces retaliated at 7:00 a.m. This is Hamas’s account, that they retaliated against those forces at 7:00 a.m. At 7:30, the Qassam Brigades—that’s the military wing of Hamas—posted a tweet at 7:30 or 7:34 a.m. in Arabic, saying, "We just did a major operation against Israeli forces in Rafah, and we killed several of them." Now, the Israeli claim is that this incident took place at 9:30, after the ceasefire took place, and I don’t know whether the incident reported in the Twitter feed was the same one in which the soldier and a couple others died, but it is clear that there was lots of fighting in the hours going up to the ceasefire and that it continued after the ceasefire.

AMY GOODMAN: Nathan Thrall—

NATHAN THRALL: And from Hamas’s perspective—

AMY GOODMAN: Finish your thought.

NATHAN THRALL: I was just going to say, from Hamas’s perspective, yes, whether or not the killing of these soldiers took place just after the ceasefire or just before is immaterial, if both sides were firing at each other after the ceasefire took place.

AMY GOODMAN: Nathan Thrall, I want to thank you for being with us, senior analyst at the International Crisis Group, covering Gaza, Israel, Jordan and the West Bank. We’ll link to your article in the London Review of Books. It’s headlined "Hamas’s Chances."

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