Israel, Hamas on path to more violence, warns official familiar with Cairo talks

Israel’s conditioning of Gaza rehabilitation on return of captives and Hamas’s emboldening since May war have hampered progress in indirect negotiations

Jacob Magid is The Times of Israel's US correspondent based in New York

Rockets from Gaza, on right, are seen in the night sky fired towards Israel from Beit Lahia in the northern Gaza Strip on May 14, 2021, while Iron Dome interceptor missiles, on left, rise to meet them. (Anas Baba/AFP)
Rockets from Gaza, on right, are seen in the night sky fired towards Israel from Beit Lahia in the northern Gaza Strip on May 14, 2021, while Iron Dome interceptor missiles, on left, rise to meet them. (Anas Baba/AFP)

Israel and Hamas are “on a path” toward another round of violence just weeks since the most recent flareup in the Gaza Strip, an official familiar with the indirect negotiations between the sides in Cairo told The Times of Israel on Wednesday.

The official noted Israel’s toughened stance since the 11-day May war vis-a-vis the Kerem Shalom goods crossing, where only limited humanitarian essentials, such as food, medicine and fuel, have been allowed in and almost all exports have been barred. Defense Minister Benny Gantz has also led a policy conditioning the rehabilitation of the Strip on the return of a pair of Israeli civilians and the bodies of two fallen IDF soldiers being held by Hamas.

The official familiar with the negotiations also pointed to Hamas’s “emboldened” position since the war, which its leader Yahya Sinwar has characterized as a victory over Israel, all while public support for the rival Fatah movement led by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas continues to plummet.

The two competing realities — a hardened Israel and an invigorated Hamas — have not boded well for Egypt-mediated negotiations that began last month in Cairo, the official said.

The Israeli security delegation has also demanded a change to the manner in which hundreds of millions of dollars in humanitarian aid from Qatar is funneled to the Gaza Strip on a monthly basis. It says it will no longer allow the entrance of unmonitored cash that is given to tens of thousands of impoverished families in addition to Hamas civil servants. Instead, it is demanding a new mechanism facilitated by an international observer such as the UN, which would see funds diverted away from the terror group entirely, the official said, while admitting that Hamas is almost certain to object to such an effort, given that it rules the Gaza Strip.

A proposal was being crafted to form a temporary government of unaffiliated technocrats that would unite the West Bank and Gaza Strip until Palestinian elections are rescheduled, according to the official. Parliamentary elections — the first since 2006 — had been scheduled for May but Abbas canceled them weeks before they were slated to take place, claiming Israel was refusing to allow balloting in East Jerusalem. However, most analysts have surmised that the decision had more to do with concerns regarding likely Hamas gains over an ever-fractured Fatah.

Palestinian boys queue to register for a summer camp organized by the Hamas terror group’s military wing, Ezz-Al Din Al-Qassam Brigades in Gaza City on June 14, 2021. (Photo by MAHMUD HAMS / AFP)

The official was skeptical as to whether the proposal still being crafted would win the support of either the Israelis or the Palestinians, arguing that the latest round of violence had not led either side to radically shift its position in a manner that would allow for a long-term ceasefire.

A second source familiar with the matter confirmed that no breakthroughs have been made in Cairo and that the sides were not optimistic. However, the source noted that Israel and Hamas “might not be as interested in another round of violence as much as they are letting on.”

While Prime Minister Naftali Bennett is looking to prove himself tough on Hamas, he is also interested in stabilizing his nascent, politically diverse coalition, which may not be able to weather another round of violence so soon after its formation, the source argued. In addition, Hamas may not maintain the public support it won after the most recent military campaign if the Strip is bombarded once again.

In the previous war, around 1,600 housing units in Gaza were totally destroyed in IDF counterstrikes to rocket fire and another 2,500 homes were partially damaged, according to a joint report from the United Nations, European Union and World Bank released this week.

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