July 16, 2014
Egypt says it has not been involved in any talks since collapse of proposed ceasefire and resumption of Israeli air strikes
“The outcome of discussions within the internal institutions of the movement was to reject the proposal and therefore, Hamas informed Egypt last night it apologises for not accepting it,” spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri said on Wednesday.
Hamas’s armed wing had already spurned the Egyptian plan on Tuesday, and Israel, which briefly halted its Gaza offensive, resumed attacks after cross-border rocket fire from the Palestinian territory persisted.
Egypt claims it has not been involved in any negotiations since its proposed ceasefire in Gaza – which was accepted by Israel but rejected by Hamas – failed to gain traction on Tuesday.
A key mediator in previous Israeli-Palestinian tensions, Egypt proposed a ceasefire on Monday night, which it hoped would end the latest Gaza conflict that has killed more than 200 Palestinians and one Israeli. The proposals were quickly accepted by Israel. While one Hamas official said the group was considering its reaction, others in the group’s political and military wings rejected the initiative outright, claiming they had only found about it through the media and were angry that it did not deal with some of the group’s major demands: a conclusive end of Israel and Egypt’s blockade on Gaza, and the release of certain prisoners from Israeli jails.
Observers remain doubtful that Egypt has really stopped participating in negotiations following the failure of its ceasefire, given the embarrassment involved in failing to fulfil its traditional role of mediation. “There is of course contact on all sorts of levels,” said one Cairo-based diplomat.
HA Hellyer, a non-resident fellow at the Brookings Institution and Cairo-based analyst, said the unilateral nature of Egypt’s earlier efforts might make Hamas even less willing to engage with them. But he doubted that Egypt had taken a backseat.
“I would doubt the Egyptian foreign ministry is simply leaving this process out there without being proactively engaged,” said Hellyer. “Otherwise, another peace deal could emerge from somewhere else that they’re not involved in – and that would be embarrassing. Gaza is on Egypt’s border, and is traditionally a big Egyptian file. If the new government can’t deal with it in time, before someone else does, it’s a big diplomatic faux-pas.”
Another senior diplomat in Cairo agreed: “This is very bad for Egypt. This is [Egyptian president] Sisi’s first main international challenge since his election. Given Egypt’s historic role in mediating this conflict, he needs to succeed.”
Sisi’s administration has been criticised for the clumsiness with which it approached the ceasefire. It is accused of failing to properly engage with Hamas before the announcement of its proposal, and of underestimating Hamas’s desire to win substantial concessions from negotiations.
“Hamas were informed about the deal, they were told about it,” said Hellyer. “But they weren’t part of the negotiations for the ceasefire, while the Israelis were, and I think it was bound to fail for that reason. Hamas had made it clear it is not in the mood for a ceasefire that doesn’t give it much – particularly after a conflict that has seen so many deaths. It was quite foreseeable what would happen.”
The Egyptian administration may be wary of being perceived within Egypt to be negotiating too closely with Hamas. The government has led a year-long vilification of the Islamist group, due to Hamas’s links with Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood, which was forced from office last July. Brotherhood officials have been accused of spying for Hamas, while Hamas itself was banned in Egypt, and constantly attacked in pro-regime Egyptian media for allegedly meddling in Egyptian affairs.
In an example of Egyptians’ unusually mixed reaction to the Gaza conflict, a cartoon in Egypt’s leading private broadsheet newspaper on Wednesday portrayed Hamas’s leadership as rejecting Egypt’s mediation out of spite.
“We listened to you and refused the Egyptian initiative,” a cartoon Hamas leader says into a telephone. “Send us a Qatari or Turkish initiative that we can approve of right away.”
Source: The Guardian
Photo Credit: ISM Palestine. CC.