A Hamas delegation left Cairo on Friday night after spending four days in the Egyptian capital, pushing for a temporary resolution to the humanitarian crisis in the besieged Gaza Strip and a way out of the United States’s “deal of the century” with the “least amount of damage” possible, according to a source close to the Palestinian movement’s Gaza-based leadership.
Despite the seeming stakes of the Cairo agenda, a second high-ranking Hamas source minimized the significance of the talks between Egyptian General Intelligence Director Abbas Kamal and the Gaza delegation that is headed by Saleh Arouri and composed of Hamas political bureau members Moussa Abu Marzouk, Ezzat al-Risheq, Khalil al-Hayya, Hossam Badran, and Rawhi Mushtaha.
The second source, who is close to representatives of the Hamas leadership abroad, tells Mada Masr that Cairo extended an invitation to Hamas senior political leader Ismail Haniyeh and the movement’s Gaza chief Yahya Sinwar. However, neither accepted the invitation, with Haniya calling the visit “worthless,” according to the source.
For the second Hamas source, the visit’s objectives were twofold: “probing” and “staging a media show to suggest to the Americans that the key to Gaza remains singularly in Hamas’s pocket.”
The week’s visit is the latest in a round of diplomatic meetings that were once colored by Egyptian efforts to push reconciliation between the Gaza-based Hamas government and the Palestinian Authority (PA) in the West Bank.
Both sources who spoke to Mada Masr denied, however, that the Palestinian reconciliation file was presented or discussed during the visit, asserting that it has become a marginal issue at the moment.
Instead, the “deal of the century” — US President Donald Trump’s initiative to resolve the Palestinian-Israeli conflict — has begun to loom large in Egypt-Hamas relations.
The most recent contours of the US deal would marshall forth the construction of a joint port on the Mediterranean between the Egyptian and Palestinian cities of Rafah, according to Egyptian, US and European diplomatic sources who spoke to Mada Masr ahead of a US delegation’s visit in June. 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.
Locating these projects on Egyptian territory was an Israeli condition, as they would be secured by Egypt, which would undertake monitoring the passage of individuals between the Gaza Strip and the new industrial zone, the sources stated.
Indications of Hamas’s appetite for the deal had been absent from the unfolding diplomatic discussions. The June US diplomatic delegation headed by Jared Kushner, 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 the 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.
However, one day before the start of the recent visit, Hamas’s political bureau struck out against the deal in a statement that also criticized the US position on Palestinian reconciliation and the ongoing siege on the Gaza Strip.
“The Hamas Political Bureau reiterated its and the Palestinian people’s firm stance by completely rejecting this deal which indicates the liquidation of the Palestinian cause, rights and principles, foremost among them is Palestinians’ right to liberate their homeland and establish their independent state with Jerusalem as its capital, as well as Palestinian refugees’ return to their towns and villages, from which they were forced out in 1948,” the statement reads.
Hamas also petitioned the Arab League and the international community “to support the Palestinian people in their struggle against the ‘Deal of the Century’,” and urged the PA to lift the “punitive measures” it had imposed on the Gaza Strip so as to “reinforce its residents’ steadfastness in the face of this scheme.”
Conditions in Gaza have deteriorated in part due to the sanctions that PA President Mahmoud Abbas imposed in April 2017, which included slashing 30 percent of Gaza employees’ salaries and limiting the transfer of electricity from Israel. Hamas also claims that the PA has prevented patients from seeking healthcare outside of Gaza, in addition to limiting the inflow of basic medicines to the strip and forcing health and education employees into early retirement.
The PA has stated that the lifting of sanctions is contingent on the full dissolution of the Gaza administrative committee, which Hamas set up in March 2017.
Dissatisfaction with the PA sanctions, however, had made certain Hamas leaders 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, a diplomatic source familiar with Cairo-Tel Aviv relations previously told Mada Masr.
This sentiment was previously expressed by a high-level administrative official in Hamas, who spoke to Mada Masr on condition of anonymity.
“We can’t hold up 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 to be free,” the official says. “I don’t doubt that this step is part of the ‘deal of the century’ 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, told Mada Masr at the end of June, 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 as a result of the difficult conditions we’re living in in Gaza,” says Moussa.
In the eyes of Hossam al-Dajni, a Palestinian political analyst, Hamas’s recent visit to Cairo is more “protocol-ish” and is far from being “decisive.” He tells Mada Masr that Hamas’s July 10 statement, published at the start of the talks, is a description of the current situation, with the movement reiterating its stance on several issues. Furthermore, Dajni says that Sinwar and Haniyeh’s rejection of the visit renders any outcomes a matter of course.
Palestinian political analyst Talal Awakal agrees with Dajni’s view. However, he anticipates that the visit could begin a “new wave of talks which will have the consent of both sides, Israel and Hamas, and which can be a temporary step to ease the humanitarian pressure on Gaza.” Awakal stressed that the Palestinian reconciliation question has become marginal when compared to other issues, such as the humanitarian crisis and the Israeli blockade of Gaza.
The Hamas delegation’s visit to Cairo came days after Israel announced it would tighten the siege over Gaza.
On Monday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced the closure of the Karam Abu Salem crossing with Gaza over the airborne firebombs being sent into Israel in recent weeks. The new restrictions would also see fishing reduced from nine to six nautical miles off the coast from the Gaza Valley to Rafah City in the south.
“In agreement with the defense minister, we will act with a heavy hand against the Hamas regime in the Gaza Strip,” Netanyahu said.
After Israeli forces shot and killed a teenager participating in a Great March of Return protest on Friday, tensions flared up further, and on Saturday morning the Israeli air force carried out strikes on dozens of military targets in four Hamas military compounds across the Gaza Strip.
According to the Israeli military spokesperson, approximately 60 rockets were launched from Gaza toward Israel in retaliation.