After playing a key role in quelling the tension that pushed Gaza and Israel to the brink of war last week, Egypt is making an extensive push with the three parties who’ve often been at loggerheads over how to manage internal Palestinian reconciliation and a ceasefire agreement.
A source close to Hamas tells Mada Masr that the Egyptian delegation will be traveling between Gaza — where it has already made two visits this week — Ramallah and Tel Aviv in the coming days to speed up the talks between Hamas, Fatah and Israel.
While the delegation’s discussions in Gaza have focused on Egypt’s pledge to ensure humanitarian relief in exchange for Hamas’ de-escalation of last Friday’s Great March of Return protests, some headway seems to have already been made with the Palestinian Authority (PA) in advance of a trip to Ramallah.
A decision to rescind the reduction in administrative employees’ salaries, a long-standing point of contention since it was introduced in 2017, is close to being taken, according to multiple sources close to the PA who spoke to Mada Masr on condition of anonymity.
This would mark a stark reversal for the PA on the sanctions Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas imposed on Gaza in April 2017, the lifting of which was contingent on Hamas dissolving the Gaza administrative committee and ceding administrative control to the 2014 national unity government. As recently as the end of last month, Abbas had considered a new round of punitive measures on the Gaza Strip to apply pressure on Hamas to halt ceasefire negotiations with Israel and resume reconciliation talks.
“It seems that the PA knows that it can’t stop the truce talks anymore, combined with the Egyptians’ political pressure on them. At the same time, there has been European pressure on the PA’s economic status,” one of the sources close to the PA says, explaining the rationale for the decision to step away from sanctions.
However, while Egypt sided with the PA in deciding to freeze ceasefire talks between Israel and Hamas in September, it has not issued a blanket endorsement to the West Bank-based government. In early October, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi made a call to Abbas to dissuade him from imposing new sanctions.
“Abbas received an unexpected call from Sisi, in which the latter asked Abbas to stop considering any sanctions on Gaza,” a second source close to the PA told Mada Masr in early October. “The atmosphere in that call was very strange, as Sisi seemed very serious about the matter. Abbas promised he would not launch any sanctions.”
The latest framework for reconciliation comes in the form of an Egypt-sponsored proposal that was finalized and sent to the PA for review, following talks between Gaza factions and Egyptian officials at the beginning of October, in which a slimmed down truce agreement was hammered out.
Under the terms of the new deal, the PA would take full control over Gaza’s ministries and administrative departments for the next three months, a third source close to the PA tells Mada Masr, with Qatar assuming responsibility for funding 50 percent of the salaries of Gaza’s Hamas-employed administrative employees.
At the beginning of October, the same source told Mada Masr, “This three-month period will be used to form a new government that represents everyone, so as to satisfy Hamas’s demands, which include a new national government that represents all the Palestinians.”
The deal also includes language that would create a police and internal security force made up of members from Hamas and Fatah, while tabling the question of armaments for military factions inside Gaza for a later stage in talks due to “the sensitivity of the matter,” the source says.
The Egyptian delegation — which consists of Egyptian General Intelligence Service (GIS) Major General Ahmad Abdel Khaleq, who is in charge of the Palestinian file, and the Egyptian consul Hamam Abu Zeid — has made two visits to Gaza in the past few days, with the first coming on Monday. After meeting with senior Hamas political leader Ismail Haniyeh and political bureau members Yahia al-Senwar, Taher al-Nouno and Rawhi Mushtaha at Haniyeh’s house, the delegation left on Tuesday night, only to return again early on Wednesday morning.
In Gaza, the Egyptian delegation has continued its efforts to make good on the promises it made to Hamas ahead of last week’s marches, while also pressing for continued containment of the popular protests that are demanding Palestinian’s right of return in the face of continued Israeli occupation of Palestinian land.
According to the same source close to Hamas, the Egyptian delegation passed along a message from Israel to Hamas during the first delegation visit.
Chief among Israel’s concerns, according to the source, is for Hamas to contain the aggression of the next Friday protest. In exchange for keeping protesters away from the fence that encircles the strip, Israel promised to keep the use of firepower to a minimum.
“Quiet marches next Friday mean that the Israelis will consider allowing more than 400,000 liters of Qatari fuel to enter Gaza to supply the strip’s sole power plant,” the source says.
Indeed, aid will be filtering into Gaza on Wednesday night, as the Palestinian Ma’an news agency reported on Wednesday that Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman decided to allow diesel fuel funded by Qatar to enter Gaza after a 12-day halt.
Egypt also agreed to grant Hamas more facilitations on the Rafah crossing, allowing more people to move freely in and out of Egypt, in addition to moving more products into Gaza on a daily basis, the source says.
However, Hamas has not been so quick to agree to containing the protests.
“Hamas feels like they have already given too much by cooling down the protestors last week, so they demanded that Israel allow more projects to enter Gaza this week, to test if Israel has the same goodwill,” the source says.
In the Wednesday meeting, the Egyptian delegation met with several Palestinian factions at Hamas leader Yehia al-Sinwar’s office in Gaza.
According to the source close to Hamas, the Palestinian factions expressed satisfaction with the ongoing easing of the blockade and requested that Egypt make a greater push for reconciliation with the PA along the lines established by the 2011 Cairo agreement.
Hamas and Israel moved to the brink of war on October 17, after exchange of fire in which Israeli airstrikes killed Naji al-Za’anin, 25, and injured three others.
Sources close to Hamas told Mada Masr at the time that Egyptian and United Nations meditation contained the Wednesday violence from escalating.
After the exchange of fire, the Israeli military increased troop deployments, sending tanks and other military vehicles to the border to respond to the Friday march. A planned Egyptian GIS delegation visit to Gaza led by GIS head Abbas Kamel was called off late on Wednesday amid the tension.
By midday the next day, Hamas and the Islamic Jihad’s military wings each published video messages addressed to the Israeli military, insinuating their readiness for war, and Egypt sent a delegation to Gaza for a rushed meeting.
After the meeting concluded, the source close to Hamas, who spoke to Mada Masr on condition of anonymity late on Thursday night, said that Hamas would be ready for war if Israel inflicted significant casualties during the marches.
Despite these preparations and rhetoric however, there were notably fewer protesters and incendiary balloons launched during Friday’s protest.
A second source close to Hamas told Mada Masr on Friday that the lower turnout was a result of Hamas’ decision to de-escalate the marches on Thursday night, after the meeting with the Egyptian delegation.