Monday,23 July, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1244, (30 April - 6 May 2015)
Monday,23 July, 2018
Issue 1244, (30 April - 6 May 2015)

Ahram Weekly

More truce echoes from Gaza

Hamas and Israel are reportedly thinking of burying the hatchet. The Palestinian Authority is not amused, Ahmed Al-Sayed reports from Gaza

Al-Ahram Weekly

Hamas is upping the ante, both in its rivalry with Fatah at home and its ongoing confrontation with Israel. For a port, open crossings, and the release of prisoners, the Islamist movement that has been Gaza’s ruler for eight years may have 15 more years in power, this time without the pressure of a blockade and armed confrontation.

Nothing official has emerged yet, but hints are being dropped every day to the effect that European mediators are hammering out a truce deal that would turn Gaza into a semi-independent state. The move may undermine the two-state solution and weaken the hand of the Ramallah-based Palestinian Authority (PA) in any future talks with the Israelis.

Ahmed Youssef, one of Hamas’s more moderate leaders, said that indirect “chatting” is underway between Hamas and the Israelis, with European mediators proposing a truce featuring a ceasefire, a seaport, and a release of prisoners.

Youssef’s remarks bring into sharper focus recent statements by other Hamas officials, in which they promised to make “tough choices” to ease up Gaza’s suffering.

Hamas and the PA, now officially partners in government, have not abandoned their old habit of blaming each other for Gaza’s plight. Hamas says the PA is not doing enough for Gaza; Fatah says that Hamas is blocking the PA from operating in the coastal Strip.

Speaking to the Palestinian Maan News Agency, Youssef said that he expects progress to be made after the formation of the Israeli government.

“We are awaiting the formation of an Israeli government for things to get more serious. European diplomats and civil society activists come to Gaza continually and they bring along Israeli views about a truce and the port. They also relay, unofficially, Hamas’s reaction,” Youssef pointed out.

According to Youssef, the current exchanges aim to “end the siege, while offering Gaza sea access to the outside world.”

Youssef, however, denied that Hamas is holding direct talks with Israel, a state that the Islamist movement doesn’t recognise.

The Hamas charter calls for the liberation of Palestine from the “(Mediterranean) sea to the river (Jordan)”.

The news has proved troublesome to Fatah and other Palestinian factions who see a separate deal between Hamas and Israel as detrimental to Palestinian nationhood. If Hamas and Israel make peace, however temporary and piecemeal, the PA would have less leverage in future talks. This, observers say, is why PA President Mahmoud Abbas had recently softened his rhetoric on Israel, offering a resumption of talks without preconditions.

Another group that is involved in the current mediation is the Elders, a non-governmental club of veteran politicians seeking to address global concerns. Two members of this group, founded in 2007 by Nelson Mandela, plan to tour the region soon.

Former US President Jimmy Carter and former Norwegian Prime Minister Gro Brundtland were expected in Gaza Thursday on a visit that will also take them to Israel and the West Bank.

Carter and Bundtland plan to do more than mediate between Hamas and Israel. For them, reconciliation between Hamas and its rival, Fatah, is a matter of essence.

According to Youssef, “Carter will meet Hamas leaders, led by Ismail Haniyeh, to discuss reconciliation. Carter will then meet President Abbas in a bid to narrow differences.”

Carter will have talks with various Palestinian factions as well as ministers of the reconciliation government in Gaza.

Since the last Israeli war ended on 26 August 2015, many international emissaries came to Gaza, including UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and the Quartet’s impresario Tony Blair.

Saudi Arabia is said to be helping Carter in his mediation efforts between Fatah and Hamas.

According to a high-level Palestinian source that declined to be named, Carter met recently with senior Saudi officials and asked them to intercede with both Fatah and Hamas to promote reconciliation. Riyadh agreed to help.

“The Saudi leadership expressed its readiness to mediate between the two movements,” the source said, predicting a new deal between the two sides.

The last reconciliation deal between Fatah and Hamas was reached in Mecca on 8 February 2007. It was mediated by the late Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah. The agreement led to the formation of a short-lived national unity government. But persistent differences led to a renewal of clashes, ending in Hamas taking over Gaza a few months later and forming a runaway government.

According to the source, the Saudi leadership is asking for guarantees by Fatah and Hamas leaders that they are prepared to work together.

Recent Palestinian efforts at reconciliation have failed, including the Shatie Agreement, a deal concluded a year ago, at Haniyeh’s home in the Shatie Camp, west of Gaza.

The Shatie deal opened the way to the formation of a reconciliation government, but that government hasn’t yet managed to take over in Gaza. Fatah says that Hamas has blocked its efforts, preferring instead to run the Strip through a “shadow government”.

Indirect talks between Hamas and Israel are likely to address the issue of captive Israeli soldiers, a topic that Netanyahu declined to discuss in public during the recent election campaign.

Youssef believes that Hamas is in a strong negotiating position.

“Hamas is holding many important cards and some surprises regarding the missing soldiers. The dossier will be discussed after the formation of the Israeli government,” he said.

“We told all mediators that there will be no new deal before Israel commits to ... releasing the prisoners whom it rearrested after the abduction of the three settlers in Hebron last year,” Youssef added.

On 20 April, a Hamas official said that, “Netanyahu needs to take count of his soldiers and stop misleading the families of missing soldiers.”

Hamas is likely to demand the release of all 6,500 detainees in Israeli prisons in exchange for the Israeli soldiers it is believed to have captured.

In October 2011, Israel released 1,027 Palestinian prisoners in exchange for Gilad Shalit, a soldier who was captured in June 2006.

During the war waged by Israel on Gaza last summer, the Qassam Brigades, the armed wing of Hamas, said 20 July that it captured another Israeli soldier, which it identified as Shaul Aaron. Two days later, the Israeli army admitted that Aaron was missing in action.

Alex Fishman, a military analyst with Yedioth Ahronoth, said in a recent article that Israel was communicating with Hamas, which he described as a “terrorist group”, in a bid to bring about “calm”.

According to Fishman, “For several weeks now, official representatives of the Israeli government, members of the defence establishment, have been holding a real dialogue with Hamas partly direct, partly indirect in a bid to reach a long-term calm between the sides.”

Fishman pointed out that both Egypt and the US were displeased with this development.

“That is what is actually happening in the Strip today, without the government or cabinet making a formal decision which changes Israel’s strategy towards Hamas. Not to mention the fact that the Egyptians and Americans don’t like the Hamas initiative, which bypasses the Palestinian Authority,” he added.

The extent of the talks seem bewildering even to this seasoned analyst. “Israel is rolling into a dialogue with Hamas, even if it isn’t making a decision about it. So they are talking about rebuilding the Strip, a possibility of creating water and electricity infrastructures, and even an independent seaport that will serve Gaza is no longer considered a bad word,” Fishman said.

If Israel is changing tack on Hamas, partly it is because it wants to keep division in Palestinian ranks alive. On the other hand, another war on Gaza would be devastating to its international standing. Recent reports from The Hague suggest that the International Criminal Court may take action against Israel if it threatens Gaza with more destruction. It is therefore in Netanyahu’s interest to keep talks with Hamas going, and to brace himself for a hard sell to his right-wing allies.

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