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Today's extension is the last one, says Hamas official

Hamas accuses Israel of bringing up new demands that undermine cease-fire negotiations in Cairo

by Jack Khoury     19 August 2014         Haaretz


Azzam al-Ahmad, the chief Palestinian negotiator in Egypt,
looking at notes during a meeting of the Palestinian leadership, in Ramallah, August 16, 2014. Photo by AFP


A senior Hamas official and member of the Palestinian government told a Hamas website that Tuesday's negotiation extension is that last one.

"We will utilize every second and opportunity to make negotiations succeed, and a large part of the delegation members didn't want an extension today, but in the end we accepted the Egyptian request so they would not blame us of failure," Izzat Al-Rishq of Hamas told Al-Risala on Tuesday morning.

Al-Rishq accused Israel of purposely undermining the talks by making new demands that had not arisen at the start of negotiations.

Earlier, Azzam al-Ahmad, the chief Palestinian negotiator representing Fatah, said Monday night that the delegation would use every minute of the extra 24 hours to reach a deal. He said it was too early to speak of progress on any of the issues raised, and any reports of progress on a draft agreement are inaccurate.

"There has been no progress so far and there are anonymous sources trying to put stumbling blocks before the Egyptian initiative," he said. "Therefore, we agreed to extend the talks by 24 hours, and we should reach a situation tonight of either agreement or no agreement."

According to reports in Cairo, another round of talks began Tuesday morning involving the two sides and the Egyptian mediator, and an announcement regarding results of the talks would only be released toward Tuesday evening or Tuesday night.

A senior Islamic Jihad member who is also part of the Palestinian delegation, Khaled Al-Batash, said the Cairo talks could collapse at any moment because Israel is trying to torpedo them and because of damage to the faith between the Palestinians and Egyptians caused by Israel's refusal to make progress in the talks by acquiescing to Palestinian demands.

Palestinian opinion is strengthening that Netanyahu is not interested in a long-term deal but rather in a list of specific understandings, as were reached in 2012 and in previous operations. Thus, they say they believe that Israel will not take any significant step regarding the Palestinians that would be considered a diplomatic achievement for Hamas.


Netanyahu tried to hide Egyptian cease-fire proposal from cabinet

by Barak Ravid    18 August 2014          Haaretz

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu tried last week to hide from cabinet ministers the draft of a cease-fire agreement drawn up by Egypt. A senior Israeli official said that during last Thursday evening's cabinet meeting, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman confronted Netanyahu, showing him the copy of the Egyptian proposal that he, Lieberman, had received, and demanded an explanation.

The Israeli official said Lieberman surprised Netanyahu with this revelation. This was the first that the other cabinet ministers had heard that Israel had received a draft cease-fire agreement from the Egyptians, and they demanded copies of their own so they could review it.

A stormy atmosphere ensued and Netanyahu found himself on the defensive. The official said Netanyahu told the cabinet members that it was only a proposal, one of many that had been updated again and again in previous days.

"I didn't say 'yes' to this draft and for now we do not accept it," he told the ministers.
At one point Netanyahu exited the cabinet meeting to speak with some visiting mayors from the south. That get-together was to last only a few minutes, yet Netanyahu stretched it out to more than an hour. Eventually Lieberman and Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon lost their patience and left the cabinet meeting. It was decided to adjourn and continue the following morning.

When the ministers entered the cabinet room Friday morning, Netanyahu had no choice but to present the Egyptian proposal to them. He told the cabinet members that he was rejecting it because it did not answer Israel's security demands.

The prime minister went on to say that the proposal only addressed the issues of Gaza's rehabilitation and the lifting of the blockade on the Strip, without dealing at all with issues such as Gaza's demilitarization, prevention of Hamas' rearmament, or oversight of the import of building materials to Gaza and transfer of money for Gazan government employees' salaries.

The Israeli official said there was no cabinet vote but the ministers did agree that  the Egyptian proposal should be rejected. Netanyahu pledged to the cabinet members that if a draft agreement was presented that met his demands, he would bring it to them for discussion and vote.

The Thursday and Friday cabinet meetings followed nearly two weeks in which the ministers were left in a complete fog over the cease-fire negotiations in Cairo. They angrily complained that Netanyahu and Ya'alon intended to present a final agreement to them and expect their automatic approval. They were not far from wrong.

Sources close to Lieberman confirmed the version of events presented by the senior Israeli official. One aimed a barb Netanyahu's way: "The foreign minister has good enough sources to know what's going on; he doesn’t need the prime minister to update him."

The Prime Minister's Office refused to comment on the details of this report.