To the best of my knowledge, there are no negotiations, direct or indirect, taking place between Israel and Hamas. There have been reports in the media about Egyptian- and Qatariled efforts for a long-term cease-fire between Israel and Hamas, sometimes referred to as a “hudna.”
According to my sources in Israel and Gaza the reports are highly exaggerated and at most some “talks” have been undertaken by these third parties.
However if the reports do have any truth to them, the terms of cease-fire are beyond what either Israel or Hamas could ever possibly agree to. For Hamas they would require the dismantling of its military capabilities, including surrendering weapons, dismantling its rocket force and turning over to the Egyptians maps of its tunnel network.
Furthermore, Hamas would have to cease all efforts to rearm or to strengthen its military capabilities during the period of the truce. Israel would have to agree to fully lift the blockade of Gaza, open the borders, the construction of a seaport and an airport in Gaza and some even say a freeze on Israel’s military development. These conditions for both parties are beyond imaginable.
The international community is committed to improving the desperate economic and humanitarian conditions in the Gaza Strip, with the European Union even announcing an immediate emergency contribution of 35 million euros to repair the damage done to the Kerem Shalom crossing, which Palestinians set fire to during the last weeks of the “Great March of Return.” The Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT) is taking a proactive stand and initiating economic development programs for Gaza and cooperating with international efforts.
One of the European representatives spoke to me about the difficulties they face in these efforts because of the failure of the reconciliation process between the Palestinian Authority and Hamas.
When they (and Israel) believed that the PA was going to take control of all of the civilian ministries in Gaza, the plans for cooperation were simpler.
The EU and other countries, including Arab countries, do not want to cooperate with Hamas, and for some it is even illegal. Israel certainly will not cooperate directly with Hamas, nor will Hamas agree to any direct cooperation with Israel.
Notwithstanding that, however, it is clear that if willingness on the part of Israel and the international community to change the situation in Gaza dramatically exists, then with or without the cooperation of the PA and Hamas, it is possible.
Here is one creative suggestion that could be quite beneficial to all parties concerned: tender out large infrastructure projects in Gaza to Egyptian private- sector companies.
Anyone who has visited Egypt in the past 10 years has seen the enormous construction projects, highways, bridges and “small” cities of hundreds of thousands of people – all around Cairo and beyond.
Most of the large Egyptian private-sector companies are directly connected to the Egyptian military and intelligence establishments, know how to get the job done and would have no problem working in Gaza. Money can be administered by international organizations such as the UNDP (United Nations Development Program) or the World Bank.
The implementation of this idea would serve the interests of Israel and Egypt and could have a direct positive impact on those bilateral relations.
The same could be applied regarding Turkey, which has much better relations with Hamas than Egypt, and worsening relations with Israel. The bilateral Israeli-Turkish relations are directly negatively affected by the situation in Gaza. The possibility of employing Turkish private-sector companies to lead development projects in Gaza with Israeli support and facilitation could bring about significant reconciliation between Israel and Turkey – something in the direct interest of both countries.
A shift in the Israeli attitude toward Gaza which would enable real investment, monitored by the international community, with the direct involvement of Israel’s neighbors could be the key to opening the door to a more reasonable – and therefore possible – cease-fire. What is required to advance is a shift that will have an impact on rebuilding hope for the young people of Gaza – who are the large majority of the two million people there. An immediate improvement in the economic situation, with an Israeli agreement to open Gaza to more free movement of people and goods, with the necessary and appropriate security arrangements, could turn the whole front line of the Israeli-Hamas conflict into the starting point of some kind of re-engagement.
There are pragmatic elements within the Hamas leadership, starting with Hamas leaders Yahya Sinwar and Ismail Haniyeh, who could be persuaded to see the opportunities offered by the adoption of a new strategy by Israel. There are clear signs of increased pragmatism on the part of these leaders.
The true test would be what really happens on the ground.
Today there is no basis for any form of trust between the parties. The international community could leverage this new strategy to facilitate the first steps toward building some trust, with the return of the bodies of Hadar Goldin and Oron Shaul, as well as the two Israeli civilians presumed to be alive – Avera Mengistu and Hisham al-Sayyed.
This would require a limited prisoner release from Israel including most of the ex-prisoners from the Schalit deal who were rearrested in June 2014.
Without a shift in the 11-year-old Israeli strategy vis-à-vis Gaza (a failed strategy) there is little reason to believe that a deal will be reached at any time in the near future to return the Israeli soldier’s bodies or the Israeli civilians.
We do need some new creative thinking on the future of Gaza and the relations between Israel and Gaza. Perhaps the ideas presented here can be useful.
The author is now working on the development of an All Jerusalem Israeli Palestinian list – “AlQuds-Yerushalayim” for the Jerusalem City Council. His new book In Pursuit of Peace in Israel and Palestine has been published by Vanderbilt University Press.