Since Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and President Hosni Mubarak met at the Egyptian resort of Sharm El-Sheikh two weeks ago, Israel has maintained a state of military calm towards Gaza.
A few days after the Sharm El-Sheikh summit, the leadership of Hamas’s Political Bureau in Gaza met with the leaders of active Palestinian factions in Gaza, announcing their unanimous commitment to maintaining the truce between Hamas and Israel.
These security developments prevented yet another offensive against the Gaza Strip which Israel had intended to launch before Cairo interceded with Tel Aviv, confirmed Yasser Othman, Egypt’s ambassador to the Palestinian Authority (PA), in a telephone interview with Ahram Online from Ramallah. Othman said Egypt succeeded in preventing more bloodshed.
“We immediately interceded to prevent that war,” he asserted. “We quickly spoke with all the Palestinian factions – with Hamas in the lead – who agreed to stop any missiles being launched from Gaza towards southern Israel. The group (Hamas) said it will take charge of maintaining the cease-fire with Israel. And sure enough, that’s what happened.” Othman added that “preventing a new aggression against Gaza was a national security priority for us.”
Although the truce between the two sides is unofficial, it has now become public knowledge after the factions made their announcement and it is almost officially recognised by the powers controlling its enforcement in the Gaza Strip and the government there. A number of Palestinian factions had refused to recognise the ceasefire, especially Islamic Jihad, but they were forced to succumb to the will of the majority.
“Our priority now is to close ranks among the factions and reorganise the Palestinian house,” Sheikh Khedr Habib, a leading figure in the group, told Ahram Online.
Observers in Gaza said that Islamic Jihad is committed to this position because of funding issues as the group is having financial difficulties for the second year now. The real concern, however, are jihadist groups who have taken it upon themselves to wage a covert war against Hamas and regularly accuse the group of not performing its jihadist role.
Mahmoud Al-Zahhar, a leading figure in Hamas, said that the extended siege by Israel and the most recent war on Gaza have made the group realise that people need to catch their breath. Al-Zahhar explained that some factions were launching missiles with wooden heads at southern Israel just to make a statement that the resistance is alive, but these were pointless and only resulted in violent reactions by Israel. He added that anyone who doubts his group’s intentions of resistance doesn’t understand the reality on the ground.
While Netanyahu was in Egypt, Israel’s National Security Adviser Uzi Arad visited Jordan, where he indicated that Israel is open to Jordanian control of the West Bank. Furthermore, the Israeli media has also reported that Israel is threatening to cease its support of the Gaza Strip’s infrastructure – reports which Tel Aviv did not deny but which were in fact confirmed by Israeli officials.
According to certain reports, Amman rejected the idea of regaining control over the West Bank. Saeed Okasha, an expert on Israeli affairs at Al-Ahram Strategic Centre, believes the offer is only a threat by Israel which Amman would never agree to as it would create a political and diplomatic nightmare for the Jordanians, as was the case in the past. Cairo has also rejected a similar proposal regarding the Gaza Strip.
Al-Zahhar adamantly objected to such a possibility, saying that “with all due respect to Egypt, we refuse that the Gaza Strip becomes linked to Sinai because this would mean the end of Israel’s responsibility towards the Occupied Territories, and an end to our cause.”
Neverthless, the Hamas leader was pleased with the progress made in Egyptian relations and the open communication-line between Prime Minister Ismail Haniya and Egypt’s General Intelligence Chief Omar Suleiman during discussions over the truce.
Although Haniya indicated to Suleiman that inter-Palestinian conciliation could resume once again after grinding to a halt a few months ago following a round of Syrian talks, it appears that Cairo feels that relations between the two sides are not ideal for a successful resumption of dialogue.
Ambassador Othman said that Cairo is keen on finalising a conciliation agreement between the two sides, ending the disputes and normalising relations between the West Bank and Gaza Strip. However, he noted, the invitation to restart conciliation talks in Cairo remains suspended until further notice.