GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip — On Aug. 31, Hamas abruptly announced that it had reached understandings with Israel to contain the escalation in the Gaza Strip. The two parties had conducted rounds of indirect negotiations, first through Egyptian mediation and then with Qatari help.
The office of Hamas’ leader in Gaza Yahya Sinwar stated Aug. 31, “After rounds of talks and calls, the last of which was carried out by Qatar’s Ambassador Mohammed al-Emadi, an understanding was reached to contain the escalation and stop the Zionist aggression against our people.”
Khalil al-Hayya, a member of Hamas’ political bureau, told Hamas-affiliated Al-Aqsa TV Sept. 1 that his movement did not “reach a new agreement with the Israeli occupation authorities, but rather reiterated the previous understandings.”
Hayya noted that Hamas and Israel reached an understanding that previous agreements would be implemented, especially with regard to water, electricity, exports, Palestinian workers who travel to Israel and merchants who move goods across the border. Qatar promised to increase its grant to the Gaza Strip starting in September.
The Islamic Jihad movement made no official comment on Hamas' announcement. Members of the Islamic Jihad had been launching incendiary balloons toward Israel throughout the month of August, as a pressure tool.
Al-Monitor learned from sources within Islamic Jihad that the movement is not pleased with the agreement, claiming that it does not fulfill the resistance's basic demand of lifting the 14-year siege of the Gaza Strip.
Nafez Azzam, a member of Islamic Jihad's political bureau, called for an end to the quarreling in an Aug. 1 Facebook post, writing, “I appeal to my brothers and sons from Hamas and Islamic Jihad to stop all social media disputes. … You are in one trench and your blood has always been mixed with one another and you have supported each other.”
It seems that Hamas negotiated on its own without involving the rest of the factions in the Gaza Strip. Talal Abu Zarifa, the leader of the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine (DFLP), said in a Sept. 1 interview on Al-Kofiya TV, “The DFLP and the rest of the factions were not part of the agreement; we only read about it later.”
The Hamas and Islamic Jihad leadership met on Sept. 2 on the sidelines of the meeting between the leaders of the Palestinian factions held in the Lebanese capital Beirut.
During the meeting, the sides discussed a variety of common issues related to the Palestinian cause, including the Gaza file and the understandings with Israel. They also agreed on the need to boost relations between the two movements, media outlets close to Islamic Jihad reported.
Hamas spokesperson Hazem Qassem told Al-Monitor that the factions in the Gaza Strip were involved in and familiar with the previous truce agreement concluded in 2018, noting that the recent agreement includes nothing new aside from emergency humanitarian aid regarding the coronavirus pandemic.
He added that the recent negotiations took place between only Hamas and the mediators, as it was difficult for all the factions to attend the meeting due to the lockdown imposed to contain the spread of COVID-19.
“Just after the agreement was reached, all Palestinian parties and leaderships were contacted and informed of the details. Their agreement was apparent in the great level of coordination in the field" and that Islamic Jihad "stopped firing incendiary balloons as soon as the agreement was announced,” Qassem noted.
“I do not believe that any Palestinian party is against aid entering the Strip as long as there is no political price to pay in exchange for such agreements,” he explained.
Meanwhile, Islamic Jihad leader and member of the Higher National Commission for the Great March of Return and Breaking the Siege Ahmed al-Mudallal refused to answer Al-Monitor's question about whether his movement was a partner to the agreement. He said, “What matters is what this agreement will lead to.”
Mudallal added, “The struggle against the Israeli siege on Gaza — using various methods — will only stop once the Israeli siege on Gaza is completely lifted.” He called on all parties to pressure Israel and implement measures to break the siege.
That there is internal dissatisfaction expressed from Islamic Jihad — a large group — along with the lack of confidence between the parties are feeding doubts about the calm in Gaza lasting. The resistance factions in Gaza gave Israel a period of two months to implement the previous understandings, and if it does not do so, incendiary balloons and other tools will be used again, Hayya noted in his interview.
Hassan Abdo, a political analyst close to Islamic Jihad and a researcher at the Yafa Center for Political and Media Studies, told Al-Monitor that Hamas is the only movement that has doing actual negotiating. As was the case in previous agreements, other factions have left the task to Hamas since it took control of the Gaza Strip in 2007.
“During the marches of return and the escalations that followed, all discussions took place with Hamas leaders without the rest of the factions. The movement would then inform the factions of the main points once a final agreement is reached,” he added.
Speaking about the possibility of Islamic Jihad members continuing escalatory actions, Abdo noted, “The Islamic Jihad, along with the rest of the factions, is committed to defending Gaza and does not wish to deviate from the national consensus, which explains why its members stopped launching incendiary balloons as soon as Hamas announced the agreement.”
Mudallal stressed, “We are present on the battlefield and we will not give up our basic mission, which is to break the siege on Gaza, and we will not allow the rules of engagement with the occupation to change.”