While the stagnant waters of the Hamas-Fatah reconciliation and the potential long-term truce between Palestinian factions and Israel await Egyptian or international intervention, an Israeli tank fired on a location near Beit Lahiya on Tuesday, killing two members of the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades – the military wing of Hamas.
The strike — which, according to the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, hit a graduation ceremony of Qassam fighters at Hamas’s Askelan base that was attended by senior Hamas figures — comes as Hamas and other Palestinian factions are considering the details of a new Egyptian proposal to de-escalate tensions in Gaza and push through reconciliation between Fatah and Hamas. It is yet unclear how the strike will affect the negotiations, but the Israeli Defense Forces reinforced its southern division and closed several Israeli roads near Gaza on Wednesday. This was the prelude to an exchange of fire on Wednesday night, in which rockets were launched at the Israeli town of Sderot, one of which hit a house, injuring settlers. Israel responded by striking a military engineering unit on the northern border of the strip and a base affiliated with the Qassam Brigades in the east of the city of Jabaliya, located north of the Gaza Strip.
The talks concerning the new Egyptian proposal have gathered several key Hamas political figures to Gaza City. Ahead of a Sunday meeting, several key foreign-based Hamas leaders entered Gaza last week.
The group includes several figures who are wanted by Israel — most notably political bureau member Salah al-Arouri, who sits atop the wanted list, as Israel says that he is the one responsible for Hamas’ military operations in the West Bank. Moussa Abu Marzouk, Hossam Badran, Mohamed Nasr, Ezzat al-Rishiq, Maher Salah and Moussa Doudin were also among the delegation of Hamas leaders returning to the strip.
According to the Israeli broadcasting channel I24NEWS, Israel promised Cairo not to target any of the Hamas leaders during their stay in the strip.
However, according to a Hamas source, Arouri was at the site of the Tuesday strike carried out by Israel.
This, in addition to disagreements among Palestinian factions during their Sunday meeting, may pose a significant impediment to this new Egyptian proposal coming to fruition.
Hamas’s Department of National Relations called for the Sunday meeting between all Palestinian factions operating within the Gaza Strip, according to a source who attended the meeting and spoke to Mada Masr on condition of anonymity.
In the meeting, department officials updated the attendants on reconciliation talks between Hamas and Fatah and consulted them on the details of the new Egyptian proposal.
Hamas’s Gaza-based Politburo Deputy Head Khalil al-Hayya started the meeting by noting that the previous Egyptian initiative, which Hamas had already accepted, had been submitted to Fatah’s Executive Committee Member Azzam al-Ahmad in Cairo.
“This is exactly our vision,” Hayya relayed Ahmad as saying. According to the Gaza politburo deputy head, Ahmad requested that the initiative be submitted to President Mahmoud Abbas.
“They came back with a different proposal, not just remarks on the original,” Hayya continued. “After [Egypt’s General Intelligence Service Chief] Abbas Kamel returned to Egypt [from a visit to Washington], they invited us to Cairo, saying that there were several updates. We went, thinking that we were back there to talk about the details of the first proposal, not to listen to a whole new one.”
According to Hayya, the Fatah-amended proposal now involves three stages.
The first stage laid out in the proposal is set to take one week: Ministers would be reinstated and start to perform their duties. Everything would remain the same until the administrative committee tasked with finding the most suitable method of integrating Hamas and Palestinian Authority (PA) employees has finished looking into the issue. Then, senior officials of the PA’s West Bank-based security entities would head to Egypt to meet with experts on how to model a security framework for Gaza after the West Bank’s. A monitoring committee would then be created and would include independent members, as well as representatives from Hamas and Fatah and Egyptian representatives. This committee would be responsible for following up on the implementation of the provisions of the new proposal.
The second stage would be completed in a month. Hamas would hand taxing authorities over in exchange for a pledge from the government to pay the salaries of civil employees and members of the police and the Civil Defense. However, the salaries of security personnel would not be part of this arrangement. Under the earlier Egyptian proposal, the power to collect levies would have been given to Hamas, and would have covered the salaries of security personnel.
The third stage would be allotted 10 weeks, during which the implementation of the preceding two stages would be reviewed. Subsequently, government representatives would hold a press conference to announce the implementation had been completed, and then visit Egypt to start preparing for elections as well as to sort out any pending issues.
While some of those who attended the Sunday meeting gave their full endorsement for the Egyptian initiative, others opted to reject it.
An Islamic Jihad Movement source who attended the meeting and spoke to Mada Masr on condition of anonymity says that Khalid Abu Hilal, a Palestinian Freedom Movement leader, was among those who struck out against the proposal. “Abbas’ policy forms the cornerstone of the new reconciliation proposal — it is crafted with the intention to see only his wishes realized,” Abu Hilal said, advising Hamas to reject the proposal in its entirety.
Mohamed Abu Nseirah, a leader from the Popular Resistance Committees, a coalition of armed Palestinian factions, expressed a similar sentiment. “Abbas’ new proposal must be disregarded,” he said in the meeting, according to the source who was in attendance.
“The foundation that the reconciliation should be built upon is the 2011 Cairo Agreement. A reconciliation that does not involve granting employees their rights and ending the sanctions should not be accepted,” said Hani al-Thawabteh, a Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine leader.
Among those who were sympathetic toward the new Egyptian proposal was Mahmoud al-Zaq, a leader in the leftist Palestinian Popular Struggle Front party. He called on Hamas to immediately accept it and refuse any other proposals that do not come through official channels.
Essam Abu Daqqah, a Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine leader, shared Zaq’s view. “Hamas and Fatah must stop acting unilaterally with respect to national issues. You never follow the principle of partnership,” Abu Daqqah added.
A truce with Israel has been part of every reconciliation proposal introduced to date, including the Egyptian proposal and the one put forth by UN Envoy for the Peace Process in the Middle East Nikolai Miladinov in February of this year.
The Egyptians’ vision involves a relatively long-term armistice. It starts with Palestinian reconciliation and is followed by the implementation of vital projects in the Gaza Strip with funding from Arab Gulf states.
Miladinov’s vision, on the other hand, does not hinge on Palestinian reconciliation. Rather, it focuses on establishing key service and economic projects inside the strip, a truce with Israel and ending the Great March of Return protests in exchange for opening the crossings and extending the fishing range in the Mediterranean.
A report published by Israeli newspaper Haaretz on Tuesday mentions that both proposals set the time frame for this potential truce at five to seven years.
It appears as though the Egypt and UN-sponsored understandings have been set back to square one, even before a truce deal between Hamas and Israel could be fully formed. Following a Sunday meeting held by Israel’s Security Cabinet, a forum of senior government ministers, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told the press, “The Israeli military is prepared for any scenario in the Gaza Strip.”
Netanyahu’s comments were followed by the Tuesday strike on the Qassam Brigades’ graduation ceremony.
Hebrew-language broadcasting channel Reshet Kan reported earlier that Netanyahu and Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman are against any truce deal with Hamas that does not involve the disarmament of the movement or revealing information about the status of the captured Israeli soldiers, whom the Qassam Brigades announced in 2016 were in their custody. Observers have interpreted this stance as Israel exerting pressure on Hamas to reach a truce deal at the least possible cost.
Hamas, on the other hand, leaked to the Turkish news agency Anadolu – through a Qassam Brigades source – that “the leadership of Qassam Brigades has assured members of the political leadership that it is capable of inflicting damages on the Israeli military that would overwhelm the [Israeli] government and domestic front.”
“Qassam Brigades leadership,” the source added, “has briefed the political leadership about the extent of the ongoing coordination and the joint action with other armed Palestinian factions within the framework of their shared operations room.”
A senior Qassam Brigades source tells Mada Masr that “Qassam Brigades are for any efforts that involve alleviating the human and economic [suffering] of the people in Gaza, without compromising national fundamental principles.”
The source refused to elaborate on the matter of the Israeli soldiers held in Qassam Brigades’ custody, only saying that “time is not on the side of the soldiers’ families. Qassam Brigades are always prepared when it comes to this issue.”
For political analyst Hossam al-Dajani, this marks the beginning of a new phase of Israeli pressure on Hamas. “Israel has, in practice, started to negotiate with fire, and this is a negotiation tactic that it does well. The ball is in Hamas’s court now. How will it respond and in what way?” he asks.
Political analyst Akram Atallah shares Dajani’s sentiment. “Israel is throwing a last-minute monkey wrench in the works, especially that it is not making favorable progress on the issue of the [captive soldiers],” he adds.
The family of deceased Israeli soldier Oron Shaul has demanded that the Israeli government not sign a truce agreement with Hamas without the latter handing over Shaul’s remains, as well as those of Hadar Goldin. According to the Arabic-language Israeli broadcasting channel Makan, Shaul’s family said – openly addressing Netanyahu and members of the security cabinet – that any agreement that does not involve the captives constitutes an act of surrender.
In any case, according to the political analysts who spoke to Mada Masr, Israel is aware that it would not be easy for Hamas to retaliate for the latest strike while its foreign-based leaders are in town. This may compel Hamas to put any counterstrikes on hold, during which time, the Egyptians would meditate to diffuse the situation.