For the first time since its men seized control of the Gaza Strip in 2007, Hamas announced on Monday it would not oppose the return of forces loyal to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to the Rafah border crossing.
The announcement came during the first day of a 72-hour cease-fire as Israel and Hamas launched indirect talks in Cairo in a bid to reach an agreement over a longer-term truce.
The announcement also came following unconfirmed reports that the Egyptians would agree to the deployment of some 1,000 PA policemen along the border between Gaza and Egypt.
Izzat al-Risheq, one of the Hamas officials at the Cairo talks, said his group was not opposed to the idea of placing the Rafah terminal under control of Abbas loyalists – but only on the basis of a “partnership” with the PA.
“We have notified President Abbas and the brothers in the Palestinian Authority that we are ready as of now – rather than today – to hand over the Rafah terminal to President Abbas,” Risheq said. “Before that, we handed over [to the PA] ministries in order to remove obstacles to lifting the siege on our people.”
The Hamas official said his group also had no objections to Abbas and the PA overseeing the reconstruction of the Gaza Strip.
“We support the formation of a national body headed by a clean, transparent and professional personality, to be in charge of the reconstruction,” he said. “Everyone is facing a crisis; Israel, the Palestinian Authority and Hamas. International and regional realities have changed and we must interact with these circumstances for the sake of our people and cause.”
Azzam al-Ahmed, a senior Fatah official and head of the Palestinian delegation to the cease-fire talks, said the PA and all its institutions would be responsible for the implementation of any agreement reached under the auspices of the Egyptians.
The PA would also be in charge of the reconstruction of Gaza, he said.
Meanwhile, the security cabinet is scheduled to meet at noon on Tuesday to discuss the developments.
Two members of the eight-member forum – Finance Minister Yair Lapid and Economy Minister Naftali Bennett – presented widely divergent views of the situation.
Lapid unveiled a plan he is promoting that involves the US, the EU, Russia, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Jordan toward the goal of demilitarizing Gaza, and eventually transferring it to Palestinian Authority control.
Lapid said Operation Protective Edge cannot end – and will not end – without a diplomatic component, and that without such a process the sides would simply enter a countdown to the next round of violence.
Lapid’s plan, which has been presented to Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, includes the following elements: returning the PA to the border crossings; making the PA responsible for the rehabilitation of Gaza and the sole body responsible for the rehabilitation funds; conditioning progress in rehabilitation of Gaza to Israel’s security; establishing principles to prevent the strengthening of terror organizations; ensuring the demilitarization of Gaza; and removing the threat of tunnels and rockets from Israel.
While Lapid’s plan leaned heavily on the Palestinian Authority, Bennett said on Channel 2 that Abbas is “a partner for terror.”
“I think that we are deluding ourselves with this whole line that Abu Mazen [Abbas] is Mother Theresa. He is the one who is talking about going to UN institutions to harm Israel – he has been turned here into some kind of hero.”
Abbas, he said, is a partner in the Palestinian unity government with Hamas that has fired thousands of rockets on Israel, and “today pays Hamas terrorists in jail.”
Bennett said the two-state solution is over, and “today everyone knows that a Palestinian state would destroy Israel’s economy and would mean rockets on the center of Israel.”
While Lapid said there needed to be a diplomatic process, Bennett said, “I believe that in the end we will sooner or later have to defeat Hamas.”
Bennett said deterrence needed to be re-established, not “all kinds of technology that will defend Israel, but rather that Hamas, and everyone around – Hezbollah and the Islamic State – will understand that they don’t mess with Israel.”
The indirect talks taking place in Cairo between Israel and Hamas are being held under the auspices of Egypt’s General Intelligence Service.
The Egyptians are hoping to reach an agreement before the expiration of the latest ceasefire, which went into effect on Sunday at midnight.
No details were available about the results of Monday’s talks in Cairo.
However, unnamed Palestinian sources were quoted as saying that so far no progress has been achieved.
The sources told Palestinian daily Al-Quds that in the wake of Israel’s response to the demands presented by Hamas and other Palestinian factions, “the talks are headed toward failure.”
According to the sources, Israel has rejected the Palestinians’ demand to open the Erez and Karni border crossings indefinitely to individuals and goods.
Israel agreed, however, to keep the Kerem Shalom border crossing open and to increase the number of trucks loaded with food and goods permitted into the Gaza Strip, the sources said.
As for the Rafah border crossing, Israel’s reply was that it had nothing to do with this issue, the sources added. On the other hand, the Egyptians said they would be prepared to reopen the Rafah terminal, provided such a move does not affect security in Sinai.
The sources said Israel has expressed strong opposition to the opening of the airport and seaport in Gaza.
With regards to Hamas’s demand that Israel release Palestinian prisoners who were detained over the past two months in the West Bank, the sources said the Israelis have agreed to free those who were part of the Gilad Schalit prisoner exchange.
Israel has also agreed, the sources claimed, to release the fourth batch of prisoners who were arrested before the signing of the Oslo Accords and who were supposed to be freed earlier this year as part of a US-sponsored agreement between Israel and the PA, but only in return for the bodies of two IDF soldiers killed during Operation Protection Edge.
Asked about these claims, one Israeli diplomatic official said Israel “is not responding to any of the misinformation coming out of Cairo.”
Also Monday, Hamas’s armed wing, Izzadin Kassam, said it was prepared to provide information about the fate of the two soldiers in exchange for a list with the names of Israeli “collaborators” in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.