The cease-fire deal, which brought to an end eight days of hostilities between Hamas and Israel, now moves to the second phase of confidence building, as talks began in Cairo.
The Cairo talks began on the cease-fire understandings amid some degree of confusion, as there have been clashes along the Israeli-Gaza border showing the fragile, temporary nature of the cease-fire. Egypt is mediating between Israel and Hamas and the negotiations focus on aspects like easing restrictions on the movement of people and goods across Gaza and allowing Palestinians more access to the buffer zone that Israel had imposed on the Gaza side of the border.
The Palestinian demands for the opening of more Israeli crossings into Gaza would help to end six years of blockade of the coastal enclave ruled by Hamas. The blockade began in 2006 after Hamas won the elections in Gaza. However, under international pressure, Israel eased restrictions on the entry of a number of export and import items, but the Jewish state still prevents the entry of construction materials based on the apprehension that it could be used for building weapons or fortifying Gaza.
While Israel has agreed to focus on the issues of easing border restriction, there are some “thorny” issues that they want to be addressed.
Israel has been raising the issue of arms smuggling into Gaza, mainly supplied by Iran. According to reports by Israeli agencies, Iran is apparently using the port of Bandar Abbas to smuggle arms into Gaza through the numerous tunnels. With some form of concessions already in place, there have been reports of minor skirmishes between Palestinians and Israeli forces along the border.
Israeli forces are compelled to fire when Palestinian demonstrators land very close to the border fence and fisherman sailing ahead of the permitted zone. In such circumstances, any form of violence could be “the fodder” for a major conflagration that could turn the region into a war zone once again.
It would be easier for Israel to arrive at some form of understanding on the issue of easing border restrictions. However, would Israel remain a mute spectator on the issue of Hamas getting armed by Iran?
With Egypt playing the role of a key negotiator and Israel willing to talk only to Egypt and not directly with Hamas is fraught with uncertainties. The disturbances inside Egypt may undermine Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi’s credibility as a leader. With Morsi out of the talks, the negotiations might fall into troubled waters once again.