Ceasefire between Israel and Gaza Extended but Talks Stall on Lifting Blockade

Journalist Allison Deger explains what Israel and Hamas expect to achieve from the negotiations and why Israel continues to fear a unity agreement between Hamas and Fatah

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JESSICA DESVARIEUX, TRNN PRODUCER: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Jessica Desvarieux in Baltimore.

The ceasefire between Hamas and Israel ends at midnight on Thursday, and there is still no reported deal. Reports say that the new deal’s guidelines would create a 500 yard buffer zone on the Gaza side of the border. Also, the blockade would only be eased and not ended as Hamas has demanded.

Joining us from Jerusalem to give us an update on the negotiations is Allison Deger. Allison is a correspondent and editor for Mondoweiss, and she has recently returned from the Gaza Strip, where she reported on the humanitarian crisis during Operation Protective Edge.

Thank you for joining us, Allison.

ALLISON DEGER, CORRESPONDENT, MONDOWEISS: Thank you for having me.

DESVARIEUX: So, Allison, let’s give our viewers a bit of an update here, since there have been ceasefires back to back. It’s good for us to kind of get back to the negotiations and what both sides want out of the deal. So let’s first map out the Israelis’ expectations. What are they hoping to get out of these negotiations in Cairo?

DEGER: [incompr.] for a demilitarization of the Gaza Strip and they’re calling for [incompr.] in comparison to [incompr.] demilitarization of the West Bank. For the Palestinian negotiating team, they’re looking at this as an opportunity to pull back aspects of the blockade, with the ultimate goal [incompr.] entirely. For the Palestinians, they’ll want to get to an end point where there is a return to external trade, reestablishment of a marine port [incompr.] respond to people’s reopening of an airport in Gaza, and allowing the movement of Palestinians from Gaza into Israel and back into the West Bank [incompr.] of people. Israel has suggested that [incompr.] to [incompr.] movement of Palestinians outside of Gaza, that issues such as external trade, as reestablishing the port, really lifting the fullest aspects that seal Gaza in. So the Israelis say these are [incompr.] status issues to be negotiated in a separate process with the Palestinian Authority and not from these talks [incompr.] And at the same time, the Palestinian Authority is also pressing for the release of prisoners, which we’ve seen [incompr.] every time there’s a negotiation since the Gaza [incompr.] between Israeli and Palestinian leaders. They’re looking specifically at prisoners that were rearrested from the Shalit exchange, [incompr.] about 500 rearrested, and also the release of Palestinian forces [incompr.] prisoners who die or are killed in Israeli jail cells do not need to [incompr.] home to their families for burials. They generally are negotiated in a prisoner release and exchange.

DESVARIEUX: You were recently in Gaza, and I want to get a sense of what you heard on the ground. Specifically, what were Gazans saying about their expectations in terms of what would be acceptable as a offer from the Israelis or what kind of deal? What things could they not compromise on, essentially?

DEGER: The time when I was in Gaza sort of approaches the peak of the violence of Operation Protective Edge. And there’s been about a half a dozen of these inspired before the one that we’re in right now. And while I was there, you know, everyone was referring to them as humanitarian pauses. So we had a few hours in the afternoon to kind of move around, make interviews, and assess damage. And when I was there, it was really the first time [incompr.] Palestinians had to go back to their homes and their villages to see if they were still there, often to find out that they weren’t. And I think–I was there for the first day. [incompr.] movement back to Beit Hanoun, a northern Palestinian village with a population of about 200,000 before Operation Protective Edge, and now it’s essentially a town that’s not there anymore. People had discovered Shuja’iyya was gone, Beit Hanoun was gone, Jabalia Refugee Camp [incompr.] was gone. And there were reports of similar kinds of things happening [incompr.] and [incompr.] in the south, but there hadn’t yet been a chance to sort of assess that damage. And so Palestinians were really discovering that 2014 was not going to be like 2012 or 2009, previous Israeli operations. They were discovering at that time that the destruction and the human impact was much worse. And we haven’t seen in the past the entire clearing of urban areas. And it’s been compared a lot to [incompr.] in 2006, where Israelis cleared [incompr.] area of a football field. [incompr.] Fatah [incompr.] And so that kind of mass displacement that was [incompr.] and devastation. Palestinians at that moment were really feeling the siege has to end and that this was the war to be the end of all wars. They’ve had recent Hamas [incompr.] and they were prepared to continue this until the siege [incompr.] removed, although now it seems that expectation has been [incompr.] augmented on the ground. But I would still say that there’s not necessarily daylight, but a bit of space between the expectation of the average Palestinian in Gaza and the Palestinian negotiating team, which seems to understand they have a better chance at having concrete results by pushing for an easing of the siege. But, again, the ultimate goal of Palestinian negotiators right now is to lift the siege.

DESVARIEUX: What about their view of Hamas? Do you think Hamas has come out of all of this stronger? Or have they been weakened at all?

DEGER: So, I mean, the general tone across Gaza and the West Bank is that Hamas has been strengthened as a result of this. But we have to sort of separate what is the idea of Hamas and what is the idea of the resistance. In Gaza, people were saying that they support the resistance and not necessarily Hamas. Hamas as a governor has been incredibly repressive, and there has been protests mounted against the Israeli authorities, notably Land Day last year. Hamas security officials sought at Palestinians and prevented them approaching the security barrier with Israel. And their central policies have been much more repressive than Fatah [in the] past. And that is a reality Palestinians face, and they’re not fazed. And so you can see a consistent agitation between a population and how they feel about the Hamas social policies, but widespread support for the resistance. And you have to understand that Gaza is not just a few masked fighters sparring against Israel. There is fighters from a multitude of political parties, including Al-Aqsa Brigades, which is the armed wing of Fatah. In the West Bank, by comparison, there has been an increase of support towards Hamas and Qassam, Hamas’s armed brigades. And so it’s sort of the opposite. You know, Gaza support for the resistance and in the West Bank has just been support as Hamas as a political party. I can’t say, though, that it’s at all at a level to sort of challenge Fatah’s sort of state in the West Bank, but you can [incompr.] for the first time in years in Ramallah, Hamas music blaring from car windows and protests that police are not preventing, that they’re allowing to continue. This is new.

DESVARIEUX: And some have pointed to the fact that this Fatah-Hamas unity agreement is what actually triggered this assault in the first place. But it seems like it’s not being displayed like this in the mainstream press. But if Hamas were to aligned with Fatah, essentially it was recognizing Israel’s right to exist, sort of this de facto recognition of Israel. But why, at the end of the day, does Israel fear this unity agreement, then?

DEGER: A unity between Fatah and Hamas is a unity between the West Bank and Gaza, which hurts Israel’s leverage [incompr.] the negotiations room. It’s a lot easier. We know from the Palestine Papers that Tzipi Livni, when meeting with Palestinian negotiators from the West Bank, from Hamas, has said, should I talk with Hamas? And they said, no. If you do, it’ll legitimize them. Just to talk with us and it’ll sort of help square and solidify our stance there. And she actually [incompr.] attitude was sort of, okay, I don’t want to talk with either of you. But there has been–since Arafat [incompr.] around, there’s been an Israeli effort of [incompr.] between Hamas and Fatah, and it has worked. Israel has maintained its strong control over both territories. And that policy they’re hoping to continue, although it seems at this point they can’t. At the end of direct negotiations, when the national consensus government was announced, Israel immediately withdrew from finalizing the negotiations process. But, lo and behold, in Cairo you’ve got a Palestinian unity team, which is sort of a foundation for the reestablishment of a government [incompr.] as the national [incompr.] governments comprised of two members of Fatah, five members of Hamas, and single members from smaller parties. And what Israel is saying: they don’t negotiate directly with Hamas because they are listed as a terrorist organization. Israel likes to reference [incompr.] the United States and the European [incompr.] intelligence again said today Hamas is a terrorist organization [incompr.] the U.S. and the European Union, so they won’t negotiate directly with them [incompr.] but in this case they’re negotiating with them indirectly with all the Palestinian parties together. So it seems as though [incompr.] has managed to sort of politic her way into forcing Israel’s hand to see them as one bloc of united Palestinians.

DESVARIEUX: Alright. Allison Deger, thank you so much for joining us.

DEGER: Thank you.

DESVARIEUX: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.

End

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