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EXCLUSIVE: New European Gaza ceasefire abandons demilitarisation demands

Sources reveal that a renewed Palestinian peace-push along 1967 lines is gathering momentum
Sources reveal the international community may be softening its stance on Gaza (AA)

European-led ceasefire plans could be shifting away from calls to demilitarise Gaza to “more realistic” proposals that would seek to prevent Hamas rearming, the Middle East Eye can reveal.

The development comes a day after details of a so-called European E3, UN Security Council ceasefire proposal were leaked to the media, seemingly indicating that the UN route had taken over from the Cairo talks that collapsed last week.

According to well-informed western sources, the Europeans and the Americans have been locking horns for more than two weeks over whether to seek a UN Security Council solution to the conflict. While the Europeans have been angling for a UN Resolution, the Americans wanted to prioritise the Cairo talks fearing that a UN resolution, which failed to get the backing of both sides, would only undermine the UN Security Council’s authority.

However, the source explained to Middle East Eye that there was now a growing realisation among the Israelis, Palestinians and the international community that Egypt could no longer act as a broker as Cairo allegedly desired to extend hostilities (in order to weaken Hamas), while Israel was keen to bring the rocket fire to a halt.

The move from Cairo has now allowed the E3 - French, German and British - proposal, seemingly promoting a shift away toward demilitarisation to gain ground. This could be a sign that the western position may be softening.

Calls for demilitarisation - a key Israeli demand originally backed by the EU - were seen as a key stumbling block at the Cairo talks. Several other key issues reportedly stalled the talks, namely ending the Israeli siege on Gaza and the reopening the strip’s naval port.

Hamas has long made the lifting of the blockade a prerequisite for peace, while Israel insists such a move would endanger its security and allow Hamas to obtain ever-more sophisticated weapons.

The latest Palestinian demands - a version of which has been seen by MEE but not made public yet - continue to insist on a “complete” lifting of the Israeli siege and the opening of a sea port, but only ask for a “preliminary agreement” during which viability studies could be conducted ahead of a final deal.

Comprehensive peace?

MEE sources insist that the Europeans have been negotiating the draft with the Israelis for weeks, and that the two sides have moved closer to a set of demands that could yield a longer lasting deal.

According to Haaretz, the two-page draft named “Elements,” calls for Gaza to be returned to the Palestinian Authority (PA) and for a large international reconstruction effort to be backed by guarantees that would prevent Hamas from rearming.

The Palestinian demands seen by MEE are mute on the rearmament issue but agree that rebuilding efforts be supervised by a Palestinian Authority government headed by Palestinian Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah.

If approved by both sides, this foundation could see wider talks resume. The E3 document also calls for “renewed and urgent efforts by the parties and the international community to resume the negotiations in order to achieve a comprehensive peace based on the vision of two democratic States, Palestine and Israel, living side by side on the basis of the pre-1967 borders in peace and security.”

Such an outline, which calls for a separate Israeli and Palestinian state living side-by-side, has long been embraced by the majority of the international community and has been a key Palestinian negotiating demand. However, the concept proved an obstacle in the latest rounds of the US-brokered Israeli-Palestinian peace talks that began in July 2013 but collapsed in April this year after Israel refused to release a pre-agreed cache of Palestinian prisoners.

“The [leaked E3] proposal is broadly similar to what the US and Israel have been asking for,” Hugh Lovett, the ‎Israel/Palestine Project Coordinator at the European Council on Foreign Relations told Middle East Eye.

“The interesting thing is that they are allowing proposals to be passed around which call for the resumption of peace talks after this. This would be interesting because this line talks about the 1967 borders. It makes reference to the 1967 lines, and over nine months of negotiations Israel never allowed itself to be pinned down to 1967 line, not once.

“It will be interesting to see how the US reacts to this and whether it will allow the language to go to a vote,” Lovett added.

But MEE’s source seemed to suggest that the US was broadly sympathetic to the new ceasefire plan, deeming it sufficiently broad to be accepted by both Israel and Palestine, while also direct enough to avoid being brushed off as pure rhetoric, with no follow-through capacity.

"It seems that the gaps between the two are not that wide," the source explained, while also suggesting that a fresh line of bilateral talks that cut out the Egyptians should not be ruled out.

“The ceasefire, to be effective, would have to ensure some kind of buy-in from Hamas, and looks toward not just renewing peace talks but can also deal with some of the issues that have proved contentions,” Lovett said.

"The UN plan would likely have to offer something that Israel could point to as a victory - like an EU or UN monitoring mission - but would not necessarily have to address the difficult issue of demilitarisation," he explained.

“A good way to do this would be to look for what has worked in the past,” Lovett said. “The Israeli press - and even some Israeli ministers - have been talking about the situation in South Lebanon and UN Resolution 1701 which ended the 2006 Israel-Hezbollah war […] and that has actually worked quite well.”

The resolution called for the disarmament of all non-governmental groups in Lebanon and established a UN peacekeeping and monitoring mission that would ensure that Hezbollah kept out of a key stretch of land near the border.

“The reason it has worked in south Lebanon is that both Israel and Hezbollah agreed to it,” said Lovett. “The provision about disarming groups in Lebanon has not been implemented, yet Israel can still point to a UN Security Council Resolution endorsing its position.

“This is the kind of thing that Israel would like to see in Gaza,” he added. 

Since Israel launched Operation Protective Edge on 7 July, almost 2,100 Palestinians have been killed in Gaza and more than 10,000 injured. 68 Israelis - including 64 soldiers - have also been killed. On Friday an Israeli child was killed, becoming the fourth civilian to be killed in Israel.