Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Are Israel and Hamas really talking about ending Gaza siege?

By Ali Abunimah


Palestinians at the Rafah crossing in southern Gaza wait for permission to enter Egypt, 17 August. Egypt opened the crossing on Monday for four days for the first time in approximately two months.
 Ashraf AmraAPA images
Israel and the Palestinian resistance organization Hamas may be close to a long-term truce for Gaza, an advisor to Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu has said.
Although murmurs of a such a deal have appeared in media for months, the official’s comments would appear to give them slightly more weight.
In an interview with Alresalah, a Gaza-based newspaper close to Hamas, on Monday, Yasin Aktay also said that Israel and Turkey were nearing a deal over Israel’s attack on the Mavi Marmara.
Israel’s May 2010 assault on the ship, part of a Gaza-bound flotilla, killed nine Turkish citizens and a Turkish teen who held US citizenship, badly damaging relations between the two countries.
The Turkish official said there had been significant progress toward a long-term truce that would end Israel’s 8-year blockade of Gaza.
Aktay, deputy chairman of Turkey’s ruling AK party, said that the recent visit of Hamas leader Khaled Meshaalto Ankara was related to the effort.
Up until now there has been no visible progress on the long-term truce that was supposed to be discussed within weeks of the 26 August 2014 ceasefire that ended Israel’s 51-day assault on Gaza.
More than 2,200 Palestinians, including 551 children, were killed in Gaza last summer and more than 100,000 people remain in need of permanent shelter due to the lack of reconstruction since then.

Maritime link

“The talks about the Mavi Marmara are taking place in a manner that is linked and intertwined to Hamas’ talks about the truce,” Aktay told Alresalah, adding that the siege of Gaza had become a “Turkish issue.”
In September 2011, Turkey imposed unprecedented sanctions on Israel, reducing diplomatic and military ties over the Mavi Marmara attack.
Turkey has demanded an Israeli apology, compensation for its victims and an end to the blockade of Gaza.
Aktay said that Turkey had pledged to build a seaport and rebuild Gaza’s airport if an agreement is reached.
He also said that there had been talks between Turkey and the government of Cyprus over the establishment of a maritime corridor to Gaza via Cyprus.
working paper proposing such a link was published by the Gaza-based human rights organization Euromid last year.
But Aktay acknowledged there have been significant obstacles: “Every time we reach an advanced stage in the negotiations on Mavi Marmara, Israel attacks Gaza again and things go back to zero.”
Aktay added that improvement in Turkey’s ties with Israel would necessitate the lifting of the suffering of Palestinians in Gaza.

Dubious Israeli denial

In a strange twist, former UK Prime Minister Tony Blair, who was recently eased out as Quartet peace envoy, has assumed a mediating role.
Blair met with Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal in the Qatari capital Doha earlier this month for the second time since June.
Blair has long been criticized by Palestinians for his hardline pro-Israel positions.
The office of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has categorically denied its involvement in any such negotiations.
“Israel officially clarifies that there have been no meetings with Hamas,” the prime minister’s office said in a statement. “Not directly, not through another country and not through intermediaries.”
“The denial published by the prime minister’s bureau is not false,” a report in the Israeli daily Haaretz observed. “However, from conversations with a number of Israeli figures – those with official functions and those without but involved in the issue – it emerges that the picture is more complex.”
“Israel is not holding negotiations on a ceasefire with Hamas, but it is certainly checking the feasibility of the matter,” an Israeli source told Haaretz.
The newspaper also revealed that while Blair is not officially regarded as an intermediary by Israel, his efforts have received the blessing of Netanyahu.
“Senior Israeli officials and unofficial Israeli figures involved in the issue said that Blair has made no significant progress so far in his two meetings with Meshaal,” Haaretz reported.

PA panic

Meanwhile, the Ramallah-based Palestinian Authority appears to be treating the reports of the truce efforts with growing panic.
A spokesperson for Fatah, the political faction headed by PA leader Mahmoud Abbas, accused Hamas of wanting to set up its own state in Gaza.
Ahmad Assaf said that any agreement along the lines mentioned in media reports would violate the “Palestinian national consensus.”
Ahmad Majdalawi, a member of the Fatah-dominated Palestine Liberation Organization executive committee,denounced the reported talks as a “conspiracy” aimed at setting up “another Muslim Brotherhood-run entity” in the region.
Abbas, who is militarily allied with Israel, may fear that any agreement could make his role as the Israeli occupation’s chief Palestinian enforcer even less relevant.
In March, Abbas called for Arab military intervention to overthrow Hamas in Gaza.
PA documents leaked to Al Jazeera in 2011 showed that Fatah and PA officials supported the Israeli siege of Gaza from its earliest days, hoping it would generate popular discontent against Hamas.
Lifting the siege and an improvement in the lives of the population in Gaza could boost Hamas’ standing and reduce even further Abbas’ chances of restoring his Israeli-backed rule in the territory.

Hamas mobilizes

In a speech on Monday, Ismail Haniyeh, Hamas’ top leader in Gaza, dismissed the PA’s attacks, saying Hamas would never accept a state limited to Gaza.
Haniyeh and other senior Hamas leaders from Gaza are preparing to travel to Cairo in coming days for talks with the Egyptian military and intelligence.
Egyptian agreement would be needed for any plan that involved an end to the closure of the Rafah crossing, currently the only link to the outside world for the vast majority of Palestinians in Gaza.
Al-Quds Al-Arabi reported that Haniyeh has requested Egyptian permission to travel onwards for an international tour “whose most important stops will be Qatar and Turkey to discuss the ideas recently presented by [Blair] in his meeting with [Meshaal].”
Hamas leaders in Gaza also met this week with their counterparts from Islamic Jihad, who are said to be supportive of the thrust of the truce talks.
The distance from these opaque manoeuvers, on the one hand, and an to end the catastrophic situation on the ground for 1.8 million people in Gaza, on the other, still looks vast.

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