Changing his policy, Jewish Home party leader Naftali Bennett on Saturday proposed that Israel reach a deal with Hamas under which it would be enabled to oversee “the civilian rehabilitation” of Gaza in return for stopping its military rearmament.
Bennett, the education minister, has hitherto repeatedly demanded that Israel “bring down” the rule of Hamas in the Gaza Strip, and publicly criticized his own government last summer for failing to do so during the 50-day Operation Protective Edge military conflict.
“It’s for a change of policy,” the Orthodox-nationalist leader said on Channel 2. “We need to initiate an international move for the civilian rehabilitation of Gaza in return for a halt to the rearming.”
Asked whether this meant he was now reconciled to the Islamist terror group’s rule in the Strip, Bennett said that Hamas’s rule was an undeniable fact. “I see they’re there.” That being the case, he said, his proposal was the best path ahead “until we take the decision to bring them down.”
Bennett said he would present a proposal to this effect to the cabinet and, asked whether this might include allowing Hamas to open a sea port, as it has relentlessly demanded, he said, “I’m not ruling anything out.”
Several Israeli military and political leaders have said recently they see no current alternative to Hamas control of the strip, and there have been reports of indirect contacts between Israel and Hamas on a truce for some five years.
Israel’s Channel 10 reported on Thursday that, media sources in the territories have claimed former British prime minister Tony Blair, the outgoing Middle East Quartet peace envoy, has been mediating some kind of Israel-Hamas deal via Qatar.
On Thursday, Israel freed West Bank Hamas leader Hassan Yousef, who was arrested last year by Israel as part of a massive search to find three Israeli teenagers who were abducted and later found dead. He was being held without trial in administrative detention at the Ofer prison near Ramallah.
Channel 10 said several other Hamas leaders are set to go free in the next few days.