J’lem, Cairo hold quiet talks over new Gaza policy

Policy could lead to further easing of restrictions in Strip, prevent quick rearming of Hamas, help develop ties with Egypt.

Efraim Halevy 311 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Efraim Halevy 311
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Quietly and very much behind the scenes, Israel and Egypt are carrying on discussions in Cairo that could lead to the further easing of restrictions on the Gaza Strip and prevent a swift rearming of Hamas, an Israeli government official confirmed on Thursday.
A day earlier, former Mossad director Efraim Halevy said at the Bar-Ilan University Ambassadors’ Forum that he believed Israel was beginning to forge an official policy in Gaza that would become clear after the January 22 election.
November’s eight-day Operation Pillar of Defense, which the IDF launched in response to Hamas rocket attacks, ended with an amorphous Egyptian-brokered cease-fire whereby Israel pledged to “stop all hostilities in the Gaza Strip,” and Hamas agreed that “all Palestinian factions shall stop all hostilities from the Gaza Strip against Israel, including rocket attacks and all attacks along the border.”
According to the text of the agreement – the first time Israel has committed to anything in writing with Hamas – “opening the [Gaza] crossings and facilitating the movements of people and transfer of goods and refraining from restricting residents’ free movements and targeting residents in border areas and procedures of implementation shall be dealt with after 24 hours from the start of the cease-fire.”
Talks to implement the agreement began immediately with Egyptian mediation.
Halevy said that while few details were known about the agreement or about “proximity talks” apparently under way, both sides – “Israel and whoever we are negotiating with” – had an interest in very little information coming out regarding what exactly was being discussed and agreed upon.
“Even to this day little is known as to who is negotiating on whose side, and what the role of the Egyptians is,” he said.
Nevertheless, Halevy said, “you can see the beginnings of a policy emerging. We are allowing certain things in Gaza. We are treating the people in Gaza in a slightly different way than we have up to now.”
Referring to Hamas head Khaled Mashaal’s recent trip to Gaza, Halevy said that visit could not have taken place if Israel had not allowed it to happen, and certainly if Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi had not permitted it. By contrast, he said, Iran’s requests to allow its Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salahi to visit Gaza were turned down twice.
One Israeli government official, commenting on the discussion under way in Egypt, said Israel believed there were a number of crucial ingredients in ensuring the continuation of the quiet in the South.
The first element was the prevention of Hamas’s rearmament, he said. “A Hamas with diminished capabilities is less likely to invite another round of violence.”
He also said Israel was aware that easing the restrictions on Gaza, which he acknowledged was happening quietly, would extend the durability of the cease-fire.
The official said Israel had a keen interest in cultivating a serious dialogue with the new regime in Egypt, and that “if by moving forward on civilian issues in Gaza, we are able to strengthen the cease-fire there and engage the Egyptians in a positive way, then that of course would be advantageous.”
Despite the discussions, he added, no one harbored any illusions about the situation in Gaza or the fact that it could quickly explode, saying Israel’s military deterrence remained the most important element in securing the quiet.
Halevy, during his talk, spoke briefly about Iran and Syria, saying that Syria was fast becoming Iran’s Achilles’ heel in the region and that the Islamic Republic had to be kept out of any solution to the Syrian crisis.
In a related development, the situation in Syria and the need for an international effort to deal with the threat Syria’s chemical weapons pose came up in discussions in Moscow on Wednesday between the Foreign Ministry’s deputy directorgeneral for strategic affairs, Jeremy Issacharoff, and Deputy Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov.
The talks, which also included a discussion about the Iranian nuclear program, took place within the framework of the annual Russian-Israel strategic dialogue.
During his visit, Issacharoff also met with Russian President Vladimir Putin’s envoy Mikhail Bogdanov.