Israel, Egypt working to keep the $1.3 billion pledged so far for Gaza reconstruction out of Hamas’s hands.
By Paul Shindman, World Israel News
Negotiations between Egypt, Israel and Hamas on the details of the recent ceasefire in Gaza are expected to be held in Cairo in the coming days, but Egypt and Israel are demanding major changes that Hamas opposes, Channel 12 reported Thursday.
One week after the Gaza ceasefire took effect, tensions are rising as talks try to get off the ground on how to prevent a new round of fighting and guarantee that the reconstruction efforts in Gaza will not enable Hamas to siphon off any of the $1.3 billion pledged so far to help Gaza rebuild and use it instead to fund terror.
An Egyptian-Israeli meeting is expected to take place in the coming days. Egyptian negotiating teams met with Hamas representatives in Cairo and U.S. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken held talks with Egyptian President al-Sisi. There appears to be a real attempt by all parties to see how it would be possible to move towards a long-lasting situation of calm, but several issues may block progress.
“The contacts are stuck and therefore there is an estimate that if things do not progress as expected, Israel may find itself in another round of fighting within a week,” said veteran Channel 12 military affairs reporter Nir Drori, adding that “following these assessments, the [Israeli] military is fully prepared for combat, including the approval of operational plans.”
Israel wants a number of things to happen, including removing the issue of Jerusalem so that it does not affect what is happening with Hamas. In addition, Israel is demanding a stop to balloon terrorism from Gaza, the return of Israeli hostages held by Hamas, and that the transfer aid money be done only through the Palestinian Authority – a request that Hamas does not particularly like.
Hamas seized control of Gaza from the PA in a bloody 2007 military coup, taking over all responsibilities from the authority that is headed in Ramallah by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. While Abbas says he supports the two-state solution, Hamas is totally opposed to peace with Israel and has not hidden its desire to one day replace the Abbas government.
In an interview on Al-Jazeera Wednesday evening, Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh reiterated the terror group’s rejection of the peace process and its commitment to replacing Israel with an Islamic Palestinian state.
“The Battle of Jerusalem has put [the] Oslo [Accords] and the negotiation projects behind us,” Haniyeh said, adding that a Hamas delegation would travel to Cairo “soon” to discuss several issues including reconstruction and “consolidating victory.”
Hamas is known to have diverted some of the international funding and reconstruction aid for Gaza for its own use, and Haniyeh said that Hamas wanted no interference in the money pledged to rebuild damaged parts of Gaza that so far includes $500 million each from Egypt and Qatar and $360 million from the United States.
“We reject the politicization of the issue of reconstruction as a humanitarian issue,” Haniyeh said.
Unlike the $1 billion from the Arab countries, most of the American aid is expected to be transferred to UNRWA, the UN agency that provides services to the Palestinians, to ensure it gets into the right hands that will truly rehabilitate the Strip.
The Al-Arabi Al-Jadid newspaper reported that President Joe Biden asked al-Sisi to reduce Hamas’ influence in the Gaza Strip and to expand the presence of the Palestinian Authority. The Egyptians will apparently focus on the reconstruction of Gaza and oppose the Hamas demand to manage the massive funds entering the Gaza Strip to “assist in reconstruction.”
Egypt will directly oversee the $500 million it is spending ,and the Qatari money is expected to be channeled through Egypt and the Palestinian Authority, bypassing Hamas.
In return for not being able to touch the money and having to suffer an increased presence of the Palestinian Authority in Gaza, Egypt will reportedly offer stronger ties with Hamas leaders to help maintain the organization’s power as well as provideing additional fuel, medical equipment and humanitarian aid.