The Palestinian in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip elected Hamas to run the Palestinian Authority in 2006. Ismail Haniyeh became the Prime Minister according to Palestinian law and the election results — deemed “free and fair” by independent monitors — but the international community and adjacent countries did not accept this. Instead, they turned against all democratic norms promoted around the globe. Since then, the Gaza Strip has suffered from political isolation and a devastating Israeli-led siege that has shattered all aspects of life in the enclave.
Gaza has also borne the brunt of successive Israeli military offensives, with three major invasions since late 2008. On each occasion, initiatives and political efforts moved to stop the bloodshed.
According to the available data and international shuttle diplomacy to and from Gaza — and leaks from Hamas officials — the Israeli occupation government suggestion of a five-stage agreement for a medium-term (5 to 10 years) ceasefire is being discussed. This was adopted by an unprecedented meeting of the Hamas political bureau in Gaza for the first time since 1987, in the presence of all bureau members from within and outside Palestine, headed by Haniyeh, the head of Hamas, and his deputy Saleh Al-Arouri, who leads Hamas abroad and is at the top of those wanted by Israeli security forces and intelligence agencies. Al-Arouri is accused of direct responsibility for the killing of Israelis in retaliation for Israel’s killing of Mohammed Abu Khdeir in early July 2014. In turn, this was the pretext for Israel’s “Operation Protective Edge” the following month. The offensive lasted 52 days, during which 2,139 Palestinians were killed, including 579 children and 263 women; more than 11,100 others were wounded, including 3,374 children.
It was a devastating attack on the people of Gaza; as well as the human casualties, the losses to the economy were estimated at $4 billion, with factories and vital infrastructure destroyed. Egypt brokered a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas, as part of which the siege of Gaza was meant to be eased. Four years later, Israel has still failed to meet its commitments. There has been no major reconstruction of damaged and destroyed homes or factories; no full re-opening of border crossings; and no repairs to Gaza’s only electricity plant. Unemployment among graduates and young people has risen dramatically. There was (and remains) an urgent need for efforts to improve the conditions of the Palestinians in Gaza and save what can be saved.
Earlier this year, the proposal for a peaceful “Great Return March” to the border of Gaza and Israel — first mooted in 2011 — was made; Israel was backed into a corner. The protest started on 30 March, with Palestinians heading for the border in five locations within Gaza, calling for an end to the siege and their right to return to their land and homes inside what is now Israel to be facilitated. As is well documented, Israeli snipers have to-date shot and killed more than 250 men, women and children, and injured more than 20,000. Israel’s use of banned explosive bullets against unarmed protesters has resulted in paralysis, loss of limbs and other life-changing injuries. Israel has again faced resounding criticism from around the world, with its blockade of the Gaza Strip on the international agenda once more. Hamas is back on centre-stage of the political initiatives to end the siege. The Great Return March protests have become troublesome for Israel and must be stopped at all costs.
Most of the intentional leaks have been made to prepare the Palestinian public for an imminent agreement between Hamas and the Israeli occupation authorities. Egyptian intelligence officers are responsible for the Gaza Strip and Hamas portfolio in Cairo; they have played a major role in preparing and negotiating a deal with the movement. A meeting is scheduled very soon at which the Israeli delegation will be led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who cancelled an official visit to Colombia to oversee the details personally.
It is expected that there will be five stages to the agreement:
- An immediate halt to the movement of the barbed wire fence that separates the Gaza Strip from Israel. More precisely, this means the cessation of the Great Return March protests, the flying of incendiary kites from Gaza across the boundary, and all forms of peaceful resistance to stop the siege of Gaza.
- The possibility of signing a bilateral reconciliation agreement between Fatah and Hamas under Egyptian auspices, which will provide for the resumption of salary payments to PA employees in the Gaza Strip, as well as those engaged by Hamas. It is also proposed that presidential and parliamentary elections will be held within six months across the occupied Palestinian territories.
- Negotiations for the exchange of prisoners, including four Israeli soldiers captured by Hamas in 2014, and the signing of a ceasefire agreement for a period of 5 to 10 years.
- Opening the way for Arab and foreign financial investment in Gaza and starting the process of reconstruction and rebuilding of the infrastructure, as well as the establishment of desalination plants and a new power station in Sinai, or possibly elsewhere, along with a port and a temporary airport in Egypt to serve the Palestinians in Gaza.
- The launching of comprehensive negotiations on Jerusalem, fixed final borders, the Palestinian refugees and other outstanding issues.
As the one-state solution fails and the two-state solution does likewise, this agreement may be part of Donald Trump’s “deal of the century”, or the three-state solution. On the face of it, it might also mean that Hamas is ready to change from a resistance and liberation movement into a temporary civilian authority throughout the truce period. This would require it to freeze its use of arms and all forms of resistance to the Israeli occupation, including peaceful resistance, which puts it at a difficult juncture. Fatah has thus far refused to accept internal reconciliation with Hamas without full empowerment of the (Fatah-controlled) PA and the movement itself in the Gaza Strip. At the same time, Hamas does not want to concede to Fatah in Gaza without a genuine partnership based on the principle of quotas.
In rejecting the Egyptian reconciliation paper to heal the rift between Hamas and Fatah, the latter demanded impossible conditions, including full empowerment in Gaza and full control of Hamas arms in the enclave. In a statement last Monday, Palestinian writer Atef Abu Saif said that any negotiations on the humanitarian situation in the Gaza Strip will be seen as the circumvention of the national cause to pass the “deal of the century”, and that all of the rumours about Hamas’s direct or indirect involvement in talks with Israel and the US administration should be considered seriously.
According to Abu Saif, any such negotiations by Hamas are outside the internal Palestinian rift at a moment when concerted efforts are growing to thwart Trump’s deal to isolate Gaza and liquidate the Palestinian national cause. Fatah leaders have called on Hamas “to take a clear and frank position” on the deal. They added that any dialogue and negotiation on the humanitarian situation in the Gaza Strip is nothing but a failure that contributes to the passage of the American plan over Palestinian rights. “Instead of looking for dialogue with Tel Aviv or Washington,” insisted Fatah, “Hamas has to end the division between Gaza and the West Bank, and to allow national elections to be held so that the people of Palestine can make the final decision.”
Is Hamas as a movement united behind such an agreement? If there is opposition, how much, and who is leading it within the political bureau? We don’t know for sure, but the leaks refer to a great internal dispute about the nature of the agreement and its terms.
What about the position of the other resistance movements in Gaza, including the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine and Islamic Jihad? There appears to be tripartite coordination between these two movements and the Hamas leadership.
No one can deny that this agreement has been prompted by the siege imposed on Gaza, in which Fatah, the PA under Mahmoud Abbas and some Arab states have colluded in order to reclaim control of the territory. It will look to many to be a shift of the Palestinian cause from being a political to a humanitarian issue; from a comprehensive peace agreement to a transitional economic peace deal, like the peace suggested by Tony Blair, the Middle East Quartet envoy, and the plan of former PA Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, which was applied in the West Bank. It might even emulate Northern Ireland’s 1998 Good Friday Agreement, which ended the armed struggle of the Irish Republican Army (IRA).
Observers of the serious conditions in Gaza and the lack of options and aggravation of the humanitarian situation experienced by the Palestinians there know that the chances of success of such an agreement will be high, due to the status of the main proponents, especially the resistance movements and the government of Egypt, which controls the Rafah Crossing, as well as Hamas and the Israeli government. It is the latter, I believe, which will have the final say on a solution for the crisis in the Gaza Strip. Any opposition from Fatah will not be effective because of the marginalisation of Mahmoud Abbas and the tense US-PA relationship since Trump announced the transfer of the US Embassy to occupied Jerusalem and his recognition of Israel as a Jewish state.
If this agreement is in the interest of alleviating the suffering of two million people in the Gaza Strip under a siege of more than ten years, Netanyahu’s government will be the biggest winner, with a resultant rise in popularity at the polls at a critical time. Aside from anything else, the Israeli government will be able to persuade other countries to transfer their embassies to Jerusalem and restore Israel’s image after its excessive use of force against innocent protestors on the Great Return March.
This agreement, if successful, may be the first stage of the implementation of the deal of the century in another name, with the complete exclusion of the Abbas-run Palestinian Authority and no coordination between Fatah and Hamas. Regional countries have played a major role in order to advance this agreement. Egypt has mediated and opened the Rafah Crossing, and is acting as a mediator between former Fatah official Mohammed Dahlan and Hamas. Qatar, meanwhile, has provided financial support and been the mediator between the Islamic Resistance Movement and the Israeli government. Some of the leaks hint at the presence of major Israeli individuals in Qatar to agree on the amount of funding, and how to get it to Gaza, in addition to the reconstruction process, power station, port and airport.
A three-state solution is what Israel wants for Gaza and this is why the humanitarian situation of the Palestinians in the territory is being used to separate it from the occupied West Bank as a Palestinian entity. This is a major event in Palestinian history, with Hamas as the main player after Fatah has been the kingpin for 30 years and achieved nothing from the Israelis. Will Hamas make the same mistake? Are we really on our way to a three-state solution, with a return to the status before the 1967 Six-Day War, with Egypt and Jordan in control of the Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank respectively?
Such a scenario will be little different to the one-state and two-state proposals, in the sense that the intention is to divide and rule the people of Palestine in Israel, Jordan and Egypt, fragment their land even further and write-off the national project as they get embroiled in territorial disputes that are unrelated to the Palestinian cause. The alternative may well be another destructive Israeli offensive against the civilians in Gaza. Nevertheless, this should all be a wake-up call for the Palestinians to unite against all such divisive plans imposed from outside.