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A Strip apart? Gaza grapples with politics of expanded Egyptian administration in Trump’s ‘century deal’
After deliberations between Egypt and Israel, Hamas arrived in Cairo to discuss 'deal of the century' on Tuesday
 
 
 
Rafah Border Crossing - Photograph: حسام سالم
 

An economic delegation from the Gaza Strip arrived in Cairo on Tuesday night to discuss the United States’ proposal concerning the humanitarian and economic state of the besieged Palestinian territory, as Washington continues to push talks concerning the “deal of the century.”

Deputy Finance Minister Youssef al-Kayali headed up the Gaza delegation, which, according to a Palestinian political source who spoke to Mada Masr on condition of anonymity, was in Cairo “to listen to what the Egyptian side proposes without a preconceived position and without violating known Palestinian principles.”

To this point, indications of Gaza’s appetite for the deal have been absent from the unfolding diplomatic discussions. The US diplomatic envoy headed by Jared Kushner, US President Donald Trump’s son-in-law and senior advisor, and Jason Greenblatt, Trump’s special envoy to the Middle East, was primarily focused on informing regional leaders of the defining features of Trump’s initiative to resolve the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, but, notably, did not meet with Palestinian actors during last week’s regional tour, which included stops in Egypt, Qatar, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Israel.

The framework of the US’s “century deal” involves the construction of a joint port on the Mediterranean between the Egyptian and Palestinian cities of Rafah, according to US and European diplomatic sources that spoke to Mada Masr ahead of the US delegation’s visit last week. The joint port would act as a prelude to extensive economic activity, for which North Sinai would serve as a hub, and would include five principal projects that would be funded by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, with a labor force that would be two-thirds Palestinian from the Gaza Strip and one-third Egyptian.

A diplomatic source from the region with direct knowledge of the talks between Egypt and Israel tells Mada Masr that continuous communication at the highest level between Cairo and Tel Aviv has played out concerning the “century deal,” especially the Gaza-related “common area of ​​interest.”

According to the same source, in a recent high-level meeting, Egyptian and Israeli officials discussed the main points of disagreement in addressing improvements in Gaza’s humanitarian and economic conditions, which Egyptian diplomatic sources confirm is a priority for Cairo in order to avoid facing a humanitarian crisis in the crowded and poverty-stricken territory.

“Both Egypt and Israel are primarily concerned with improving circumstances in Gaza because this directly relates to the national security of both countries,” the source says.

Cairo has been “very successful in the last four years in instituting a state of reduced tension between Israel and the Gaza Strip” through the understandings it insisted Hamas adopt and abide by in its administrative control, the diplomat adds, a fact that has left Israel satisfied in its thinking that there will be Egyptian attention on security going forward.

This satisfaction is shared by the main financial backers of the “century deal,” especially those in the Gulf, where the bulk of the financing — up to US$2 million — will come, according to a European diplomat.

The diplomat says that the Gulf backers are comfortable with Cairo managing the project, due to what he called the unfavorable history of the PA in dealing with financial aid.

The dissatisfaction with the PA also colors Hamas’s view of the deal. In the estimation of the diplomatic source familiar with Cairo-Tel Aviv relations, Hamas leaders are more comfortable with Egypt, rather than the PA, managing the economic projects in the Gaza Strip due to the longstanding animosity between the two sides.

“Of course, [PA President] Mahmoud Abbas is not pleased at all, but he has no other maneuver because there is international recognition that there is an urgent need to work quickly to improve the situation in the Strip so that there is no longer a security threat or humanitarian crises in Egypt or Gaza,” the source says.

The punitive measures imposed on the Gaza Strip by the PA have led to talk beyond the question of economic projects. Some Hamas members are convinced that a separation from the West Bank may free Gaza from the control of the economically powerful territory.

One of those that holds this view is a high-level administrative official in Hamas, who spoke to Mada Masr on condition of anonymity. “We can’t hold on any longer in the face of the economic aggression on Gaza. We need to be separated from PA control. This will give Gaza a space of freedom,” the official says. “I don’t doubt that this step is part of the ‘century deal’ that we have refused as a whole, but I think that our leadership needs to choose a solution with the least possible negative impact to our cause.”

However, Yehia Moussa, a Hamas member of the Palestinian Legislative Council, tells Mada Masr that these conversations are not taking place among Hamas’s leadership. “We listen to everyone’s opinion, but anything that violates our principles cannot be considered. There may be some talk among some Hamas members are a result of the difficult conditions we’re living through in Gaza,” Moussa says.

For Moussa, “PA punitive measures are paving the way for the ‘century deal.’” He called on rights and humanitarian organizations to take a stand against what he called the “ongoing massacre” in Gaza.

Hamas political bureau member Salah al-Bardawil tells Mada Masr that the idea of separating the Gaza Strip from the West Bank was neither addressed in Hamas internal discussions, nor in talks with Egypt. “Hamas considers Gaza an integral part of Palestine, and it cannot be separated under any circumstances.”

An Egyptian diplomatic source reiterates the official position of Egyptian officials, who say publicly that Cairo has absolutely no intention of accepting the task of administrative control over Gaza. “It is not possible,” the source says. “We will help, but this talk of Gaza returning to Egyptian administrative control is out of the question.”

Gaza was under Egypt’s jurisdiction from 1948 until it was occupied, along with Sinai — as well as the West Bank and Golan Heights — by the Israeli army in 1967.

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Asmahan Soliman 
Hamza Abu Eltarabesh