Sunday,23 September, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1243, (23 - 29 April 2015)
Sunday,23 September, 2018
Issue 1243, (23 - 29 April 2015)

Ahram Weekly

Will Gaza go it alone?

Reports that Hamas has been in secret talks with Israel over a long-term truce in return for a state of its own in Gaza continue to cause ripples through Palestinian society, writes Ahmed Al-Sayed

Al-Ahram Weekly

Hamas denies the accusation, but Fatah insists that the movement is holding talks with Israel secretly about creating a mini-state with “temporary” borders. The deal, if true, could jeopardise the chances of statehood for the Palestinians.

According to unconfirmed media reports, European mediators are talking to Hamas and Israel about establishing a “long-term” truce in Gaza.

Despite Hamas’s denial, recent statements by its leaders suggest that a deal may be in the offing.

Mahmoud Al-Zahhar, for example, said that Hamas “has one thousand ways to end the siege on Gaza”.

Ismail Haniyeh, former prime minister of the Gaza self-declared government and a key figure in Hamas, said that current developments in the region were “good” for Gaza.

On 26 August 2014, Hamas and Israel reached a ceasefire, brokered by Egypt, which ended Israel’s third war on Gaza in six years. The war, lasting 51 days, left 2,000 Palestinians dead and over 11,000 injured.

Israel is yet to honour this agreement in full. Aside from the ceasefire, the agreement calls for the opening of commercial crossings and the delivery of construction material into Gaza. The deal also calls for further negotiations in Cairo about unresolved matters, including the prisoners’ exchange and the construction of a port and airport in Gaza.

Last February, the Israeli news website Walla said that documents obtained from Western diplomatic sources show that Hamas offered the Israelis a five-year truce in exchange for the opening of all crossings, free passage of all goods into Gaza, and the building of a port and airport.

Commenting on the Walla report, Hamas admitted that the proposal existed. But it said that “international parties” are the ones who made it, and that the movement has given “no answer” yet.

During a memorial service for the assassinated Hamas founder Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, Haniyeh told members of the Islamic Jihad that Hamas was not against a five-year truce deal with Israel, but only on terms that wouldn’t undermine the West Bank.

“Ideas were suggested by international parties about a truce between the resistance in Gaza and Israel for five years. Hamas is not against that and is not ruling out any ideas of that kind, on the condition that these ideas do not lead to Israel pushing the West Bank into a corner,” Haniyeh stated.

“Such a truce will not take place except through national reconciliation,” he added.

The trouble, however, is that reconciliation has not been going so well. And with the continued bickering between Hamas and Fatah, Hamas leaders may just decide to go it alone.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has publicly accused Hamas of making secret deals with the Israelis.

On 12 April, during a visit to Moscow, Abbas told reporters that Hamas is holding “separate negotiations with Israel about a state (in Gaza) with temporary borders”. “There is an Israeli scheme [designed to create] a state in Gaza coupled with self-rule in the West Bank,” the PA president said.

This scheme, Abbas pointed out, has no mention of Jerusalem or the rights of Palestinian refugees. “Unfortunately, this scheme is acceptable to Hamas,” Abbas claimed.

Hamas denies that it is talking to Israel about a state with “temporary” borders in Gaza.

The irony, of course, is that Hamas was the one in the past that criticised the PA for trying to make deals with Israel. Now the shoe is in the other foot. Hamas, whose charter calls for Israel’s obliteration, is the one accused of talking to the Israelis and of making unacceptable concessions.

Speaking at a memorial for assassinated Hamas leader Abdel-Aziz Al-Rantisi in Khan Younis, Haniyeh assured his audience that “Hamas is faithful to its principles and vision.”

“Hamas will not hold negotiations with the Zionist enemy and will not accept a state or an emirate with temporary borders in Gaza,” Haniyeh announced.

Palestinian analyst Fahmi Sharrab, in a recent article, argued that Hamas could not possibly agree to a Gaza-based mini-state. “There can be no state in Gaza and no state without Gaza,” Sharrab wrote.

According to Sharrab, Hamas has enough trouble running Gaza as a rump state. It cannot possibly risk running it as a full-fledged one. If it does, it will have to tackle issues of international legitimacy, such as recognising Israel, which so far  as a resistance movement  it has managed to avoid.

“The presence of the PA at the helm relieves Hamas of the need to recognise Israel and renounce violence, and from subjecting the Qassam Brigades (Hamas’s armed wing) to international supervision, a demand that the Quartet already made,” Sharrab pointed out.

Delivering a Friday sermon in Gaza in early April, the hawkish Mahmoud Al-Zahhar said that “Gaza is not enough and the West Bank is not enough. We cannot accept less than Palestine, all of Palestine.”

Fatah is not convinced. Ahmed Assaf, its spokesman, said that the movement was “colluding with regional and well-known powers to create its own emirate in Gaza”. “What is the price that Hamas will pay Israel to let it have its own state in Gaza?” he asked.

The idea of creating a state in Gaza is not a new one. In 2004, Israel’s national security chief, Giora Eisland, came up with a plan to swap land three ways between Egypt, Israel and the Palestinians.

According to Eisland’s scheme, Israel would withdraw from Gaza, which it did unilaterally in 2005. Egypt would give Gaza 720 square kilometres, tripling its size. Israel would take from the West Bank an equivalent area, including the major settlements. Egypt would then take from Israel a corridor of land in the southern Negev that would connect it, through tunnels, to Jordan.

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