Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met secretly in Cairo in May with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi to discuss ways to end the violence in Gaza.
According to a Channel Ten report, Netanyahu traveled to Cairo with a small number of advisers and security guards on May 22, when he joined Sisi in the Iftar feast breaking the Ramadan fast. It occurred just a week after the US moved its embassy to Jerusalem, and violence along the Gaza border peaked when 62 Palestinians were killed in riot.
The report, based on American officials, said that the two talked about efforts to come to a political arrangement in Gaza that would include a return of the Palestinian Authority to Gaza, a significant lifting of the Israeli and Egyptian blockade of Gaza, and the reconstruction of vital infrastructure projects for Gaza. The two also discussed the return of the bodies of the Israeli soldiers and the Israeli civilians held by Hamas.
According to the report, Sisi said that the solution to the crisis in Gaza “runs through” a return of the Palestinian Authority to Gaza, and its taking responsibility for the Strip – even if all of PA President Mahmoud Abbas’ conditions for returning to Gaza were not met. The report said Sisi’s message was that Israel, the Arab world, and the international community needed to press Abbas to return to Gaza, even though he is opposed.
According to Channel Ten, Netanyahu and Sisi also discussed the US blueprint plan for peace in the Mideast.
Egypt has been intensively involved in recent weeks with trying to broker a truce between Hamas and Israel.
About a month after his trip to Cairo, Netanyahu went to Amman and met with Jordanian King Abdullah II, a visit that both sides publicized soon after it took place.
Netanyahu and Sisi last met publicly on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly meeting in New York last September. They have reportedly held other clandestine meetings over the years, as security and intelligence ties between the two countries are believed to be as close as they have ever been.
In a related development, Israel could reopen the Kerem Shalom crossing if the calm in hostilities between Hamas and Israel holds until Tuesday, a senior Israeli defense source said on Monday.
This would include lifting the ban on commercial goods, which Israel imposed on July 10 to protest the Gaza rockets and the Palestinian incendiary devices which burned thousands of acres of Israeli forests and fields.
Restrictions on Gaza fishermen would be eased and their boats would be allowed to travel up to nine nautical miles offshore instead of three. The ban on gas and fuel would also be lifted. It was first imposed on July 17, lifted on the 25, and then imposed again on August 1.
Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman plans to hold consultations at noon on Tuesday with senior members of the IDF and the Defense establishment to assess the situation before making a final decision.
“The defense establishment wants to examine whether the quiet that has been maintained since yesterday [Sunday] is a signal from the other side,” the defense source said. “If it holds and this is indeed a trend that would continue, Israel would consider further easing in the coming days.”
Israel wants to show “the Gaza street that it has something to gain from quiet and something to lose from the terror [activities with regard to the] incendiary kites and along the [border] fence,” the source added.
Liberman weighed a similar decision in July, after a short period of calm. He temporarily lifted the ban on gas and fuel, but then reimposed it after another round of violence.
The intention to reopen Kerem Shalom, Gaza’s main commercial crossing, is one of the first concrete signs that a formal understanding might be in the works between Israel and Hamas to end the violence that began on March 30.
Such a restoration of calm would be a necessary first step toward a larger cease-fire understanding. The security cabinet met three times in nine days to discuss such a cease-fire
being brokered by Egypt and the UN.
Already this week, Israel made an exception to bans and allowed in 25 trucks of cement, gravel, electronic equipment, and mechanical equipment needed to finish sewage treatment facilities in the Gaza Strip in Khan Yunis and al-Bureij, according to the Office of the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories. Nine tankers of fuel were approved so that sewage treatment facilities could resume operation.
They had shut down for lack of fuel, sending sewage into the Mediterranean Sea.
“Out of the concern that sewage from Gaza will reach Israeli shores and cause damage to the environment, the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories Maj. Gen. Kamil Abu Rokon, with the approval of the Defense Minister, has decided to allow the supervised entry of fuels and building materials in an exceptional manner, for the purpose of enabling the sewage treatment networks in Gaza to resume operating,” COGAT said.
Six non-governmental groups petitioned the High Court of Justice on Thursday to force the Defense Ministry to lift the restrictions at Kerem Shalom, on the grounds that it was collective punishment and against international law.
The six NGOs were: Geisha with the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, HaMoked – Center for the Defense of the Individual, Al Mezan Center for Human Rights, Adalah, and Physicians for Human Rights.
“Even before the closing of Kerem Shalom was announced, the crossing failed to supply the population’s minimal needs,” the petition stated. “And so, rather than take measures to prevent the demise of a population of two million people, the respondents are acting to further deteriorate the humanitarian and economic situation in the Gaza Strip (…) with complete disregard for the destructive implications of their decision for the civilian population.”