GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip — The Egyptian authorities’ decision to open the Rafah crossing throughout the holy month of Ramadan sparked fear and joy at the same time among Palestinians in the Gaza Strip.
The opening of the crossing coincided with extensive internationally mediated indirect contact between Israel and Hamas on a deal whereby Israel would improve the humanitarian situation in the Gaza Strip in exchange for a long-term truce between the two sides.
On May 18, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi issued instructions to open the Rafah border crossing throughout the holy month of Ramadan, allowing the entry of individuals, trucks and humanitarian aid.
By the next day, Egyptian authorities had dispatched two convoys of medicine and medical supplies to the Gaza Strip. In turn, the Qatar National Committee for the Reconstruction of Gaza announced May 21 that it distributed 35,000 food packages, including basic foodstuffs, at a cost of about $1.5 million, in addition to the supply of medical equipment and shipments of medicines.
In light of this influx of aid, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) warned against "reducing the Palestinian cause to its humanitarian dimension, or compromising humanitarian rights for aid or facilities, or allowing politicians to forsake the Palestinian cause for their own gains.”
In a May 22 statement, the PFLP said, “The government and the authorities managing the Gaza Strip are responsible for ensuring the right of Palestinians in the Gaza Strip to solve their living and economic problems and to have a decent life. This would boost their steadfastness and resistance against the deal of the century or any other solution that undermines their constant [rights] of return, freedom and independence.”
PFLP leader Zulfiqar Sawirjo said that turning the Palestinian cause into a mere humanitarian one implies a new series of concessions, which will eventually lead to dealing with the Gaza Strip as an independent entity plagued by humanitarian crises. “This is not true,” he told Al-Monitor.
He said the PFLP is not against any humanitarian aid aimed to ease the deteriorating situation in the Gaza Strip as long as such aid is not linked to a political concession or regional deals prejudicing Palestinian rights.
Sawirjo added, “We will not accept dealing with the Gaza Strip as an independent entity. It reverts to a national authority formed of all Palestinian factions to examine these proposed solutions. We must overcome the [Hamas-Fatah] division in order to achieve the national project of establishing a Palestinian state.”
In an opinion article in Israeli newspaper Maariv on May 25, writer Alon Ben David said that after months of ignoring Hamas' calls for a truce, Israel is now seriously considering two truce proposals in the Gaza Strip. One of them is Egyptian and the other Qatari. The article said that Israel had waived its demands that have so far thwarted any potential truce proposal, which are the disarmament of the resistance and the return of the Palestinian Authority (PA) to Gaza.
Ben David said Israel is now demanding a complete cessation of rocket fire and tunnel digging by all Palestinian factions, banning access to areas directly to the west of the Gaza border fence (to stop the protests there) and a solution for Israeli missing or detained persons.
Ben David also said that under the proposed truce agreement, Israel would ease restrictions at the crossings to Gaza (entry of goods and services) on the condition that Hamas does not exploit this to further empower its armed wing. Egypt would also ease restrictions at its Rafah crossing with Gaza.
No further details were given about the Egyptian and Qatari proposals. Hamas spokesman Hazem Qassem refused to comment about the nature of these proposals.
“Hamas has shown its willingness to consider any proposal that would lift the siege on the besieged enclave,” he said, referring to contacts made with Hamas by several parties, such as Egypt, Qatar, Russia, Switzerland and Norway.
The London-based Al-Hayat newspaper reported May 27 that the United States was involved directly in these contacts, citing Western diplomatic sources.
These parties have put forward visions and proposals to alleviate the crises of the Gaza Strip. “The offered proposals are not yet finalized, and we cannot rely on them just yet,” Qassem told Al-Monitor.
He downplayed the PFLP concerns over the flow of aid into the Gaza Strip, saying Hamas will not use the hardship in the Gaza Strip as a reason "for imposing a regional solution to the Palestinian cause or the deal of the century that the Palestinian people do not accept.” He further said that any proposal will only be approved in consultation with all Palestinian factions.
On the truce proposals, Qassem said that all the talk about the truce is Israeli talk. "Hamas has yet to receive a serious integrated plan.”
Meanwhile, Palestinian political analyst Talal Okal told Al-Monitor, “Aid flowing to the Gaza Strip is not humanitarian aid at all, but has political implications.”
He said the humanitarian crisis has been “burned into the consciousness” of the Gaza Strip residents in such a way that they would most likely welcome any breakthroughs or solutions to their crises.
“By maintaining their internal division, Palestinians are facilitating the deal of the century; the proposed truce is one of the manifestations of this deal,” Okal added.
Signaling Hamas’ willingness to negotiate with the United States and Israel in this regard, Okal said, “Hamas is a key player in the Palestinian and regional arenas and is better suited than the PA to handle the negotiations.”
For his part, Fahmi Shurrab, a professor of political science at Ummah University in Gaza, said Hamas is in an economic and political quagmire. A truce is not only sought by Israel but also by Hamas. “The success of this truce, however, depends on the gains Hamas will reap from it,” he told Al-Monitor.
He said the PA is not capable of imposing its own decisions on the Gaza Strip and cannot stop any project that Hamas decides to engage in. It should be noted that the parties participating in the contacts about the truce are international parties that the PA cannot defy.