Hamas head: We refused $15 billion in aid conditioned on disarming

In interview with Qatari newspaper, Gaza-ruling terror group leader Ismail Haniyeh says offer came from ‘parties paid off by major powers’ as part of controversial US peace plan

Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh speaks at the funeral of Qassem Soleimani, in Tehran, Iran, January 6, 2020. (Office of the Iranian Supreme Leader)
Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh speaks at the funeral of Qassem Soleimani, in Tehran, Iran, January 6, 2020. (Office of the Iranian Supreme Leader)

Hamas political bureau chief Ismail Haniyeh said that his terror group had turned down as much as $15 billion in development aid to Gaza two months ago which he claimed had been conditioned on demilitarizing the Gaza-based terror group.

Haniyeh told Qatari newspaper al-Lusail that the offer had been made in the context of US President Donald Trump’s controversial peace plan, which would allocate $13.38 billion to the Gaza Strip for development if implemented.

“There were parties that came to us two months ago, who we know had been paid off by major powers. They offered us new projects in the Gaza Strip worth about $15 billion. Of course, we said this is excellent, we want to establish an airport, port, and economic development projects in the Gaza Strip,” Haniyeh said.

Both Hamas and its rival Fatah have opposed Trump’s peace plan — often referred to in the region as “the deal of the century” — since it was first published.

Haniyeh, who lives in the Qatari capital of Doha, told al-Lusail that the offer included an end of the blockade of Gaza by Israel and Egypt, which began after Hamas took over in the strip in 2007. Israel says the blockade prevents Hamas from importing weapons which it would use to threaten the Jewish state. The blockade has devastating effects on the Gazan economy, however, where unemployment is now over 60 percent.

Haniyeh said that the most recent offer was conditioned on Hamas relinquishing its military capabilities. The Trump peace plan stipulates Hamas’ disarmament as a precondition for negotiations on Palestinian statehood, although it seems unlikely that the Gaza-based terror group would agree to do so unilaterally.

“We learned that, in exchange, we would have to dissolve our military factions and integrate them into the police and retire our weaponry, especially heavy weapons, the rockets that hit Tel Aviv and beyond, and dissolve the capability of Gaza for self-rule,” Haniyeh said.

According to Haniyeh, those conditions made the offer unacceptable.

“They want put an end the existence of resistance and separate Gaza from the rest of the Palestinian national movement,” Haniyeh said, referring to the charge that the Trump peace plan would essentially create two separate Palestinian entities in the West Bank and Gaza.

“We want to break the siege, and we want projects in the Gaza Strip. We want a port in Gaza — but as a right and not in exchange for our political principles or disarmament. Our principle is Palestine from the river to the sea, the right of return, the liberation of prisoners and the establishment of a full sovereign Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital,” Haniyeh said.

Hamas and Israel have conducted several rounds of negotiations for a long-term ceasefire and the end of the blockade. Some negotiations saw a temporary easing of tensions between the two sides, but none brought an end to the tight restrictions on movement and commerce which dominate life in the Gaza Strip.

Israel has demanded the release of captives and the remains of soldiers in exchange for any easing of the blockade

The Trump peace plan says it envisions Gaza as a “modern metropolitan city” along the lines of Singapore, and proposes several development projects and economic zones in the Gaza Strip, including a port. Critics, however, say that there can be no economic development without freedom of movement for Gazans. While the Trump plan would provide technical upgrades to checkpoints and border crossings, Israel would still exert security control over entry and exit ports to the proposed State of Palestine, including the Gaza Strip.

In the interview, Haniyeh also hailed what he indicated was a positive role for Qatar in “reconciling Palestinian disagreements,” saying that Qatar had good relations with “all Palestinian factions.”

Fatah and Hamas, at odds ever since Hamas violently expelled Fatah from the Gaza Strip in 2007, recently agreed to work together against Israeli plans to annex parts of the West Bank.

The groups announced last week that they would hold a joint rally in Gaza at which both Haniyeh and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas will speak.

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