Intelligence Online (IO) reported (paywall) last month that the visit of German foreign minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier to both Israel and Gaza involved far more than the humanitarian agenda suggested in the media. IO writes that the German intelligence agency, BND, is conducting secret negotiations between the Israeli government and Hamas aimed at achieving a durable, stable long-term ceasefire. The Germans are encouraging Hamas’participation through a collaboration with Qatar’s state security service. The Qataris submitted a proposal to both Israel and Gaza (presumably with the cooperation of the BND). A key component that would make the plan attractive to Hamas is that it would include building a floating seaport off Gaza that would be administered under NATO auspices.
This is the first time I’ve heard NATO mentioned as a potential force to monitor and enforce international agreements in Israel-Palestine. If the report is accurate, this could be a serious and important development, introducing a major international security force into the region. Additional reports say Turkey, which often acts in concert with Qatar in such matters, has also agreed to the plan.
It’s no accident that several media reports have noted that the Gulf state has pledged $1-billion in funding for Gaza reconstruction. It appears that Qatar is the only entity allowed by the Israelis to pursue rebuilding efforts without hindrance:
A year after the war that devastated the Gaza Strip, Israel is apparently helping Qatar — which does not have official diplomatic relations with Israel — partner with the Islamist movement and longstanding enemy Hamas to rebuild the the territory.
“Life is full of contradictions and strange things,” Yossi Kuperwasser, former head of research for Israel’s military intelligence, told NPR when commenting on Israel’s recent move to allow Qatar to channel its reconstruction aid through Hamas, which is a US-designated terrorist group.
Kuperwasser told NPR that letting Qatar help Hamas will be beneficial for Israel in the long run. “We believe that better conditions in Gaza would lessen the incentive of Hamas and the population to go again to a war, so in a way, it is helping the deterrence,” he said.
Another report in Maan confirms this:
“Qatar continues to aid reconstruction efforts in the war-torn Gaza Strip as new projects start, says committee chief Muhammad al-Amadi.
“The reconstruction process is progressing very well as construction material is being shipped to Gaza everyday without any obstacles,” …Israel has approved all the Qatari-funded projects in the Gaza Strip, he said.“
These developments may explain why the IDF Southern Command chief recently voiced surprisingly pragmatic statements concerning Hamas and the need for Israel to come to an understanding with it:
“Most of the citizens in the Strip see Hamas as the only solution to their problems. Gaza has an independent authority that functions like a country,” said [Sammy] Turgeman in comments reported by the Israeli daily Yedioth Ahronoth, depicting Hamas in terms as much akin to a functioning state as to a militant group.
“There is a government and an annual plan, with executive bodies and inspection authorities. Within the country there is a ruler that is called Hamas which knows how to exercise power over the other authorities. As of now, there is no substitute ruler to replace Hamas in the strip.
The only replacement for Hamas is the IDF and authoritarian chaos. Other than Hamas there is no other axis that could control [Gaza].”
Turgeman added: “The [Palestinian] Authority cannot rule and this should be taken as an indisputable statement.”
Of course, the prime minister and his cabinet war hawks entirely dismiss this approach. It remains to be seen whether whoever within Israel is shepherding this process (possibly the army and intelligence services?) can win over the hardliners who would like nothing more than to torpedo such a peace initiative.
Naturally, the PA is suspicious and mistrustful of any development that might present Hamas in a more favorable light. It hates the plan. The PA intelligence service recently warned Mahmoud Abbas about it and suggested that he approach the Egyptians to stop it. This hasn’t happened, in part because the Egyptian military government, facing increasing levels of unrest and terrorism in the Sinai, is considering a rapprochement with Hamas. Recently, Egypt opened the border with Rafah for several days as part of this reconciliation process. The Egyptians expected as a quid pro quo that Hamas would aid Egypt’s military and intelligence services in the hunt for Islamist terrorists in Sinai. Note, this contradicts repeated (and questionable) IDF claims that Sinai militants work together with Hamas in perpetrating terror attacks.
Hamas hardliner, Mahmoud Zahar, leads a faction opposed to any deal with either Israel or Egypt. He represents the view of Hamas’ military wing. The movement’s political wing is eager for any plan that would involve improving the quality of life for average Gazans since the war last summer, which made life a sheer misery for most residents. Further, an ISIS affiliate, Ansar Jerusalem, recently announced that it planned to challenge and defeat Hamas in the enclave. Though it’s doubtful the group has the muscle to fulfill its threat, just the name ISIS is enough to instill fear in the hearts of Hamas’ political wing.
Hamas has much more to gain from this project than Israel, which is why it’s likely to fail. But just its existence is a positive development.