After a breakdown in mediation efforts last month, a four-day meeting between a Hamas delegation and Egypt’s General Intelligence Service (GIS) officials in Cairo concluded on Wednesday with a proposal to salvage a partial truce agreement with Israel.
Palestinian sources close to the talks tell Mada Masr that the terms of the truce aim to keep violence between Palestinian military factions and Israel to a minimum.
The deal also seeks to ease the siege on Gaza, in order to facilitate the entry of humanitarian aid into the Strip under United Nations’ supervision, these sources add. Israel has long been adamant about preventing humanitarian campaigns from being handled by Palestinian factions.
The Palestinian sources, speaking to Mada Masr on condition of anonymity, say that the Hamas delegation also raised the issue of a prisoner exchange with Israel. While the Israeli government requested that Egyptian meditators address a potential prisoner exchange within the context of truce talks, Hamas has refused to do so, according to the sources.
“Hamas wants this issue to be discussed on its own terms, separate from any truce-related talks,” one of the sources explains.
The prisoner-exchange deal would see the Qassam Brigades, Hamas’ military wing, release a number of Israeli soldiers currently held hostage. On its part, Gaza is looking to secure the release of 52 Palestinians detained by Israeli forces in 2014, who were initially released from Israeli custody in 2011 as part of the Shalit deal, but re-arrested three years later.
“The Israeli government asked the Egyptians to solve this matter with the fewest political losses possible,” one of the sources tells Mada Masr, “since Egypt did a great job as the middleman” in mediating the Shalit deal.
The truce proposal that Hamas put on the table this week in Cairo is a slimmed-down version of what, in August, seemed to be a finished deal. The earlier truce sought to end violence between Gaza and Israel by reopening border crossings, expanding the Mediterranean fishing zone and rebuilding Gaza’s infrastructure.
But after a fraught back-and-forth between the West Bank and Gaza, mediated by Cairo, Egypt’s GIS delegation moved with Fatah to freeze the truce deal in early September, insisting that no agreement with Israel was possible before Fatah and Hamas reconciled.
Sources close to the Palestinian Authority (PA) tell Mada Masr that Hamas also submitted a new proposal for reconciliation during the Cairo talks, which Fatah has yet to consider. According to the sources, the new proposal is a compromise of its earlier demands, stipulating a partial handover of several important administrative entities in Gaza to the PA.
Fatah had previously demanded a full execution of the 2011 Cairo agreement for a reconciliation with Hamas, which would entail all administrative control of Gaza being handed over to the PA in the West Bank. Sources close to the PA told Mada Masr in September that the Fatah delegation also pushed for control over income sources and taxation.
As Gaza factions voiced their opposition to the Egyptian proposal and continued to insist on the importance of a truce with Israel, the PA moved at the end of September to prepare a new round of economic sanctions to be imposed on the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip.
PA President Mahmoud Abbas had imposed sanctions on Gaza in April 2017, pending the dissolution of the Hamas-led administrative committee in Gaza and its handover to a unity government.
While a Fatah delegation headed to Cairo to discuss reconciliation on September 18, Hamas political bureau leader Ismail Haniyeh took to the stage at a conference to commemorate the 30th anniversary of Hamas’ founding, insisting on the need to proceed with truce negotiations with Israel, regardless of where reconciliation talks stand.