Tuesday,17 October, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1259, (20 - 26 August 2015)
Tuesday,17 October, 2017
Issue 1259, (20 - 26 August 2015)

Ahram Weekly

Blair trades for Gaza truce

Fresh reports of negotiations between Hamas and Israel emerge, with controversial figure Tony Blair at the centre, writes Ahmed El-Sayed in Gaza

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Al-Ahram Weekly

Once again, there are reports about a long-term truce between Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip, and Israel, revealed in reports about a mediation effort led by controversial former Quartet envoy Tony Blair. It has raised the ire of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

Palestinian sources revealed that Israel agreed to creating a sea lane connecting Gaza with Cyprus in the Mediterranean Sea as well as completely lifting the eight-year siege on Gaza in return for a long-term truce that could last seven to 10 years.

The London-based Al-Hayat newspaper said that unidentified, albeit trusted, sources said that “so far, Israel is refusing to allow the reconstruction of Gaza International Airport which is named after the late President Yasser Arafat, and that a comprehensive deal is still a long way away. Israel will not agree without a comprehensive deal for a prisoner exchange between the two sides.”

The newspaper added that Israel’s approval of a sea lane and lifting the siege came through an indirect negotiating track between Israel and Hamas led by former British prime minister Tony Blair.

For the first time, Hamas admitted to meeting with Blair after the media reported there were several meetings between Blair and the head of Hamas’s politburo, Khaled Meshaal, in Qatar. Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zahra said there was a series of separate meetings in recent days between Hamas and national and Islamist factions in Gaza, including the Islamic Jihad, Fatah, the Popular and Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine, and the National Palestinian Initiative. During these meetings, Hamas briefed the groups about its meetings with European and international parties, including Blair, regarding a “truce” with Israel.

According to Palestinian and Israeli news reports, Hamas’s Shura Council in Gaza held a board meeting and approved the Blair-Meshal deal. Hamas leaders asked Egyptian authorities to allow them to leave Gaza via the Rafah Crossing to meet with the head of Egyptian intelligence and approve the deal with Hamas leaders inside and abroad.

Blair, who is no longer on official assignment but has US, Israeli, European and Arab support, shuttled between capitals in the region before leaving his post 27 May. According to Western sources, Blair’s resignation as Quartet envoy was to facilitate his mission and not embarrass the Quartet, which demanded that Hamas recognise Israel and the agreements between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO), as well as renounce violence. These are all conditions Hamas has rejected.

Palestinian factions, led by Fatah, are suspicious of Blair’s intentions and accuse him of having an agenda that primarily serves Israel’s interests, and that the truce he is proposing is an “Israeli trap” and a step to separate the Gaza Strip from the territories of the anticipated Palestinian state.

Fatah led by Abbas believes the real purpose of Blair’s meetings with Meshaal in Doha is to entrench the divide and separate the Gaza Strip from the rest of the Palestinian state within the 1967 borders, as well as undermine the unity of the Palestinian front. This serves Israel’s goal of blocking the creation of an independent Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital.

In a press statement issued Sunday, Fatah said “The document Blair relayed from Meshaal to promote Hamas in the West under the banner ‘lifting the siege in return for truce’ is in exchange for postponing final settlement issues, most notably the status of Jerusalem. This will result in the city’s Judaicisation and elimination of Palestinian presence there.”

Fatah added that the deal is an attempt to circumvent Palestinian legitimacy represented by the PLO and the president elected by the Palestinian people who upholds and defends nationalist fundamentals. Also, that it will transform Palestinian representation into armed militias that only serve their own interests and gains.

The statement continued that a seaport in Gaza is a natural right for Palestinians stipulated in the Oslo Accords and subsequent agreements. Fatah reiterated that it “will not agree to pay a political price that destroys the Palestinian cause and our people’s goal of creating an independent state with Jerusalem as its capital, in return for a sea lane that is controlled by the occupation from start to end, and has no national sovereignty whatsoever.”

Fatah spokesman Osama Al-Qawasmeh strongly criticised Blair, saying he “aims to transform Palestinian issues into matters for brokering and Itrading. He wants to create an institution between Israel and Hamas to broker deals and prevent resolving issues that are based on national fundamentals and what the PLO delegation agreed to in Cairo last year.” Al-Qawasmeh added that, “Blair has no official capacity after he was fired by the Quartet,” and asked: “In what capacity is Blair playing this dubious role? And in what capacity is he relaying messages and holding talks between Israel and Hamas? He has no official capacity whatsoever, whether from Britain or the international community. He is working as a broker and obstructing matters. This is unacceptable.”

The spokesman continued that Israel should desist these obvious manoeuvres and abide by what was agreed upon with the PLO delegation under the auspices of Egypt (after the last war on Gaza), including the airport, seaport, expanding fishing zones and eliminating buffer zones on land, as stipulated in the Cairo deal.

On 26 August 2014, Palestinians and Israelis reached a ceasefire agreement sponsored by Egypt that ended Israel’s 51-day war on the Gaza Strip that killed more than 2,000 Palestinians, injured more than 11,000 and destroyed tens of thousands of homes. Both sides agreed to hold indirect talks in Cairo to discuss remaining issues, most notably lifting the siege for good, opening border crossings, constructing a seaport and reconstructing the destroyed airport. However, Israel did not implement any of these demands.

Gamil Mazhar, member of the politburo of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) and its representative in the Gaza Strip, also rejects the long-term truce in Gaza. Mazhar warned against “attempts to revive the futile and unsuccessful negotiations track, or reach a long-term truce in Gaza during which the Gaza Strip would be neutralised in the conflict and the resistance disarmed.”

In a speech to a mass gathering sponsored by the left-wing faction in Beit Hanoun in northern Gaza, the PFLP official said: “Both tracks are wrong and full of thorns and pitfalls, and will have no outcome. They are an absolute gain for the occupation and its racist settlements project.” He asserted that no faction has the right to unilaterally make peace and war decisions, or decisions on strategic issues pertaining to Palestinians, the conflict and confronting the occupation.

Mustafa Ibrahim, a Palestinian political analyst and writer, said Hamas is following in the footsteps of Fatah and the Palestinian Authority (PA) by negotiating with Israel through mediators and secret channels, and was given proposals that are appealing. “A truce would relieve intense pressure from Gazans and restore the group’s image in Gaza, end the siege and the political blackmail it is exposed to. It is also an opportunity to cement its authority and put pressure on the PA and barter with it.”

Ibrahim noted: “Whether it’s a short or long truce, people only care about ending the status quo and don’t care about Fatah’s accusations against Hamas.” He continued that, “Former Quarter envoy and spearhead Blair, who is being criticised, remains a dear guest of the Palestinian leadership. Fatah views itself as the sole and exclusive representative in any negotiations with Israel.”

Ibrahim downplayed opposition to the truce by left-wing factions, stating that they have not presented themselves as an alternative or third power that can impose their own conditions. “Left-wing factions have criticised the Oslo Accords for 20 years, despite being part of the PLO and some of them were members of several PA cabinets. Their warnings against the secession of Gaza from the West Bank are no more than words, slogans and expressions of concern.”

He added that any truce would be fragile and short-lived without national reconciliation and joint action, restructuring Palestinian ranks through ending divisions, overhauling the PLO and restoring its status, lifting the siege, and opening border crossings.

Meanwhile, the Israeli military supports a long-term truce with Hamas and a seaport that connects the Gaza Strip to the outside world. Maariv newspaper quoted unnamed senior army officers as saying that a seaport would contribute to preventing new clashes between Hamas and Israel. According to these sources, building a seaport in Gaza would take a decade, provide thousands of jobs and occupy a large number of Gazans, which means Palestinian groups and Gazans will have good reason to maintain the truce. This would give settlements bordering Gaza some calm. They added that a seaport in Gaza would mean the Gaza Strip would have much to lose if confrontations with Israel re-erupted in the future, and thus it would be a deterrent.

A seaport in Gaza is also supported by the opposition in Israel. The leader of the Labour Party (Zionist camp), Yitzhak Herzog, believes it is a guarantee to ensure calm on the southern front. Herzog told Israeli Radio that he spoke recently about the idea with Cyprus President Nicos Anastasiades, who agreed to make Cyprus an intermediary port to transport goods and passengers to the Gaza port.

Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu briefly visited Cyprus at the end of July to discuss with Anastasiades the construction of a floating port in Gaza, as well as other economic issues such as joint cooperation on natural gas fields in the Mediterranean Sea.

According to Haaretz newspaper, if an indirect agreement is reached between Israel and Hamas, Netanyahu’s government believes “it will not be required to stop building settlements or withdraw from occupied areas (the West Bank)”. This has several advantages, including freedom from international pressure to lift the siege on Gaza and reduce economic pressure that threatens eruption in the Gaza Strip.

The newspaper stated that the main losers in the deal would be Abbas and Fatah, “because economic development in Gaza under Hamas leadership would mean a separation from the West Bank”.

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