Hamas debates declaring Gaza a ‘liberated territory’

PA fears the move would play into Israel’s hands; Egypt had also been opposed, but may change tack under its Islamist president, Hamas hopes

Elhanan Miller is the former Arab affairs reporter for The Times of Israel

Mahmoud al-Zahar attends a demonstration in Khan Yunis in 2012. (photo credit: Abed Rahim Khatib / Flash 90)
Mahmoud al-Zahar attends a demonstration in Khan Yunis in 2012. (photo credit: Abed Rahim Khatib / Flash 90)

Hamas is considering declaring the Gaza Strip “a liberated part of Palestine” and cutting all commercial ties with Israel.

According to the London-based Arab daily Al-Hayat Sunday, the idea was discussed in a meeting between Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal and Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi last Thursday, and will be discussed further in a meeting between Morsi and Hamas’s prime minister in Gaza, Ismail Haniyeh, this Thursday, July 26.

Hamas began discussing the move two years ago, the daily claims, but ran up against adamant opposition by Egyptian intelligence and the Palestinian Authority. Today, however, Hamas believes that Egypt’s Islamist government led by Morsi will be more receptive to the move.

Hamas leader Mahmoud Zahar told Maan News Agency January 3 that Gaza was not occupied like the West Bank, explaining why “peaceful resistance” to Israel would be futile there. He urged continued armed resistance, which has included intermittent bouts of rocket fire at Israeli civilian targets.

Haniyeh appealed to Egypt on July 11 to widen the scope of activity in the Rafah Border Crossing to include commercial activity as well as passenger traffic. At present, Gaza receives fuel, food and other supplies via Israel.

Sari Bashi, the head of the Israeli NGO Gisha, which deals with Palestinian freedom of movement, said 4,000 truckloads of food, medicine and raw materials enter Gaza from Israel each month. Some 300 truckloads, mainly of agricultural exports subsidized by Europe and headed to European markets — including cherry tomatoes, flowers and peppers — leave the Strip via Israel per year, she added.

Bashi said Gaza was “dependent on Israel” and couldn’t cut commercial ties. She said Gaza’s agriculture sector is not suited to Egypt because it’s too expensive for Egyptians.

The Palestinian Authority fears a unilateral declaration of independence by Hamas, arguing that Israel would take advantage of such a move to completely isolate Gaza from the West Bank, which are defined as one political entity under the Oslo Peace Accords.

Israel unilaterally withdrew from the Gaza Strip in 2005, evacuating all the Israeli settlements there and removing all military presence. It rejects Western claims that the Gaza Strip is still an occupied territory, but maintains a naval blockade and other security restrictions designed to try to prevent the smuggling of weaponry to what it calls Gaza’s terrorist government.

Hamas took control of Gaza in a violent coup against the Fatah-led Palestinian Authority in 2007.


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