Hamas recently sent a series of messages to Israel indicating interest in a long-term ceasefire lasting for several years, in exchange for an end to the Israeli blockade on the Gaza Strip, sources told The Times of Israel.
Senior Hamas officials met with Western diplomats about the ceasefire, and also reached a number of understandings about the character of the ceasefire, also known as a tahdiyya.
During the talks, Hamas officials emphasized that they were willing to agree on a ceasefire of at least five years (though some sources said the offer was for 15 years), during which time all military activities “above and below ground” from both parties would end. At the same time, the blockade on Gaza would be removed, including restrictions on exports, and Israel would allow the construction of a seaport and an airport.
The Western diplomats included Swiss Consul Paul Garnier, who has become the key figure in maintaining contacts with Hamas.
Garnier visited Gaza a month ago, and met with several Hamas leaders, including Moussa Abu Marzouk, Bassem Naim, Ghazi Hamid, and others.
Garnier presented these conditions to senior EU officials who are in touch with Israeli leaders.
An Israeli official confirmed that the offer was presented to Israeli officials.
Hamas discussed separately with outgoing United Nations peace process representative Robert Serry a possible ceasefire under the auspices of a Palestinian unity government. He said he hadn’t heard back from either Hamas or Israel, which he had also approached with his proposal.
In conversations with other diplomats, Hamas presented different terms for a ceasefire with Israel. One of the draft agreements reached The Times of Israel, with the following clauses:
1) All forms of military conflict between Israel and the Palestinians will cease.
2) Israel will commit to removing the blockade on Gaza, including: opening all crossings around Gaza; permitting unfettered import and export from Gaza; allowing the construction of a sea and air port.
3) The tahdiyya will last between three and five years starting from the moment the agreement is signed, but the two sides will finalize the exact length of the ceasefire.
A senior Hamas official confirmed to The Times of Israel that a number of meetings have been held between the organization’s leaders and a number of figures, including businessmen and diplomats.
He said Hamas would “not oppose” a long-term ceasefire if the blockade were lifted, and that the organization knows no agreement would happen before the elections on March 17.
In addition, days after Garnier’s last visit to Gaza on February 15, Hamas passed to the Quartet Middle East representative, Tony Blair, an English-language document which paints an ostensibly moderate picture. During the visit, Blair met with Gazan businessmen who gave him the document in Hamas’s name.
The document, presented here for the first time, includes extremely moderate positions for Hamas:
1) Hamas will not oppose the creation of a Palestinian state on the 1967 lines with Jerusalem as its capital, while not giving up the right of return of Palestinian refugees. (This language does not include an end to the conflict or claims against Israel, but does not demand a return either.)
2) Hamas is interested in maintaining the quiet, and wants to see the seaport and airport issue solved by indirect talks.
3) Hamas is bound by the Palestinian reconciliation agreement and other reconciliation agreements.
4) Hamas is interested in improved relations with the international community, and would like to discuss with it all issues related to stability and international peace.
5) Hamas demands the blockage be lifted.
6) Hamas demands that border crossings be opened and the rehabilitation of the Strip be sped up.
According to senior Palestinian sources, Blair passed the message to a senior US diplomat. The Hamas official said that no Israeli reaction to these ideas has been offered, and that he expects one after the elections.
Israel and Hamas fought a 50-day war last summer in the Gaza Strip.
More than 2,000 Palestinians were killed during the summer war, according to UN figures, which said most of them were civilians. Israel said some 1,000 of the fatalities were Hamas operatives and other gunmen, and blamed Hamas for all civilian casualties, arguing that the group attacked Israel from within residential areas.
Hamas and other terror groups fired over 4,500 rockets and projectiles at Israel, and staged several deadly attacks against IDF soldiers through cross-border tunnels. Seventy-three people on the Israeli side, most of them soldiers, were killed during the operation.
Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.