Representatives of various Palestinian factions in the Gaza Strip headed to Cairo on Tuesday for talks with Egyptian intelligence officials on the possibility of reaching a truce agreement with Israel, and ending the Hamas-Fatah power struggle.
The visit coincides with unconfirmed reports in the Arab media that the Palestinian factions and Israel are close to reaching a long-term cease-fire agreement under the auspices of Egypt and the United Nations.
The faction representatives were invited by the Egyptian authorities in the context of Cairo’s continued effort to avoid a military confrontation between Hamas and Israel, and persuade Hamas and Fatah to agree to the formation of a unity government.
Such a unity deal, along with the restoration of calm between Israel and Hamas, are necessary components of larger cease-fire agreement that would also include the economic rehabilitation of the Gaza Strip, which is home to 2 million Palestinians.
The security cabinet is set to meet on Wednesday morning to discuss Gaza and the details of that deal. It is the fourth such meeting they have held in 10 days. No operative decisions were publicized following each of the previous meetings.
As negotiations intensify, Hamas-Israel violence has almost come to a sudden halt, with three straight days of relative calm, the longest such period in months during which there were violent Palestinian riots at the border, and the launching of incendiary devices and rockets against Israel.
As a sign of the restoration of normality, Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman is set to lift its ban on the entry of commercial goods, fuel and gas into Gaza. At 9 a.m. on Wednesday, Gaza’s main commercial crossing at Kerem Shalom is set to reopen for those goods. The nautical limit for Gaza fishermen will also be extended from three to nine nautical miles.
On Tuesday night, Education Minister Naftali Bennett said the Bayit Yehudi party, which he heads, would vote against any kind of agreement or understanding between Hamas and Israel that would allow for Hamas to retain its arms.
“Liberman’s gestures to Hamas are a mistake – [Bayit Yehudi] ministers will vote against the Israel-Hamas agreement,” said Bennett, who is also a member of the security cabinet.
Sources in the Gaza Strip said the representatives who headed to Cairo through the Rafah border crossing belong to Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad, the Popular Resistance Committees of Palestine, al-Ahrar, al-Mujahideen, Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, and Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine.
Last week, a Fatah delegation headed by Azzam al-Ahmad held talks in Cairo with Egyptian mediators about the proposed truce with Israel, as well as the ongoing dispute with Hamas. It was not clear whether the Fatah officials would participate in the new discussions.
According to the sources, the faction representatives will join a senior Hamas delegation that is already in Cairo.
Hamas leaders have informed the Egyptians that any cease-fire agreement with Israel should be taken by all Palestinian factions, and not only Hamas, the sources added. The same thing applies to efforts to end the Hamas-Fatah rift, the sources said, adding that Hamas does not want to be seen as striking any deal with Israel or Fatah on its own.
Senior Hamas official Izzat al-Risheq was quoted on Tuesday as saying the discussions in Cairo were mainly focused on attempts to reach a cease-fire agreement with Israel. The Palestinian factions were also holding consultations with each other and with Egyptian intelligence officials on ways to achieve “national reconciliation” between Hamas and Fatah, he said.
Husam Badran, another senior Hamas official, said his movement was prepared to end its dispute with Fatah on the basis of the 2011 reconciliation agreement signed between the two parties. He was referring to the Hamas-Fatah agreement that was signed in Cairo on May 3, 2011, in which both parties agreed to form a national consensus government. The agreement also called for holding long overdue presidential and parliamentary elections within a year.
However, Hamas and Fatah have failed to implement the agreement and a similar one that was signed in Cairo in October 2017.
The two rival parties continue to hold each other responsible for the failure of the agreements. Fatah says Hamas’s refusal to cede control over the Gaza Strip to the Ramallah-based PA government remains a major obstacle hindering the implementation of the agreements. Hamas, for its part, has accused the PA government of failing to lift economic sanctions it had imposed on the Gaza Strip last year.
Hamas has ruled the Gaza Strip since it kicked Fatah out in a bloody coup in 2007. The 11-year division has stymied any possibility of a peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians. The Hamas rule also makes it difficult for the international community to provide the level of funding needed to rehabilitate Gaza, particularly given the continued possibility of another Hamas-Israel war.
A demilitarized Hamas has been one of Israel’s conditions for a permanent cease-fire. It is also understood that Israel wants to see the return of the remains of two soldiers presumed killed during the 2014 war, Lt. Hadar Goldin and St.-Sgt. Oron Shaul. It also wants Hamas to release three Israelis civilians held captive in Gaza.
Bennett said he feared any agreement in which Hamas would retain its arms.
“This ‘quiet’ will award Hamas total immunity to replenish tens of thousands of rockets threatening all parts of the country, and allow them to launch a war against Israel at a time and under conditions most convenient to them,” Bennett said. “This will ultimately lead to the opening of two highly dangerous fronts, to the north and to the south – at a time determined by the enemy and under their conditions. After 130 days under attack and rocket fire, we must not reward terrorists without the return of our captives and our fallen. The terrorists will learn that terror pays, and Israel’s power of deterrent will be harmed.”
Bennett said he had a plan to eliminate terror from Gaza without an IDF ground operation into Gaza.
“We put forward the plan in the relevant security forums – at this stage it has not yet been adopted, but we will continue to promote this,” he said.
Liberman’s party, Yisrael Beytenu, immediately chastised Bennett for his remarks.
“As usual, Minister Bennett has raced to the media with empty slogans,” so that he can play “little politics” at the expense of the IDF and the Security Services, Yisrael Beytenu said.
He would be better advised to focus on the rise in school violence, the party added.
Goldin’s parents, Leah and Simha Goldin, tweeted that they believed the agreement being formulated does not include their son. Israel already made an embarrassing agreement with Turkey and now, “the government of Israel is caving to Hamas.”
On Twitter, Meretz party head MK Tamar Zandberg urged cabinet members not to be swayed by populist politics and to support a long-term truce that would halt continued rounds of futile bloodshed.
“According to Bennett’s logic, any reality in [which] there is no war and blood is not spilled, is contrary to the interest he represents,” Zandberg said.Herb Keinon contributed to this report.
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