Israel has not held any recent ceasefire negotiations with Hamas, the Prime Minister’s Office said Monday evening, after days of reports of an imminent comprehensive agreement on removing the Israeli blockade on the Gaza Strip in return for a long-term truce.
“Israel is officially clarifying that there have been no meetings with Hamas, not directly, not through another country and not through intermediaries,” said the PMO in a statement. “Regarding relations with Turkey, that agreement is still far off,” the statement added.
The repudiation came shortly after a senior official in Jerusalem denied the claims in a similarly worded statement.
“There is no negotiation on a long-term ceasefire with Hamas, not through Turkey, not through Qatar, not through [former peace envoy] Tony Blair and not in any other way,” the unnamed official was quoted by the Walla news website as saying.
If there were any private persons in contact with Hamas, the official added, they were not acting at the behest of the prime minister.
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas on Monday claimed that direct talks between Israeli and Hamas representatives recently took place in an African country, according to the Walla news site. Abbas did not elaborate any further.
Some Palestinian factions consider the possibility of such an agreement to be threatening to the political unity of Gaza and the West Bank as stipulated by the Oslo Accords.
“This agreement is no longer just rumors or blabber, but will be signed any minute,” said Walid Awadh, a member of the political office of the Palestinian People’s Party (PPP), formerly the Communist Party, in Gaza.
Officials of PLO factions, such as the PPP, have been receiving updates from Hamas on the talks with Blair over the past month, Awadh told The Times of Israel.
He said that his party, like all other PLO factions, is opposed in principle to the deal reached between Hamas and Israel. The agreement, carried out unilaterally by Hamas without consulting the Palestinian Authority, strengthens the political divide with Fatah and will eventually detach Gaza completely from the West Bank and Jerusalem, he argued.
“Gaza faces an unknown future,” he said. “This agreement leads us from political divide to [Gaza’s] secession, making it impossible for Gaza to be part of the future Palestinian state.”
According to reports on the purported deal published by Hamas-affiliated papers and in Turkey, as well as by the London-based pan-Arab paper al-Hayat, Gaza will be allowed to import merchandise through a “floating port” located 3 kilometers (1.8 miles) off the coast. An intermediary port will be established in Cyprus, where all Gaza-bound merchandise will be scrutinized by NATO representatives.
Hamas daily al-Resalah said that Israel would like to see a larger package deal that would include the exchange of “live and dead Israeli prisoners” held by Hamas — likely a reference to Ethiopian-Israeli citizen Avraham Abere Mengistu and a Bedouin man who both entered the Gaza Strip voluntarily, as well as the remains of Israeli soldiers killed during Operation Protective Edge last summer — in return for Hamas prisoners jailed by Israel.
For Israel, such a ceasefire would strengthen ties with Turkey but potentially drive a wedge in security cooperation with Egypt, which accuses Hamas of assisting Islamist militants in the Sinai Peninsula.
Additionally, a ceasefire would solidify Hamas rule over the Gaza Strip, thus cementing the years-long disconnect between Hamas and Fatah, which controls the West Bank.
Meanwhile, Hamas’s leader in the Gaza Strip Ismail Haniyeh said in a speech Monday that his movement would not accept a separate Palestinian state within Gaza’s borders, according to a report in the Palestinian news agency Ma’an.
Gaza constitutes only 2 percent of Palestinian land, Haniyeh said, and as such, it would be unacceptable to create a Palestinian state in the coastal enclave.
Hamas does not recognize the State of Israel, and considers Israeli territory within the 1967 borders to be Palestinian land, along with East Jerusalem, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.
The strategy of Hamas, Haniyeh said, was to free the “entire occupied Palestinian territory.
“As much as the Gaza Strip is going through the pain of siege and destruction, it cannot let go of Jerusalem and al-Aqsa Mosque,” continued Haniyeh.
Elhanan Miller contributed to this report.