Security cabinet said set to review proposed long-term truce with Hamas in Gaza

Israel will reportedly ease restrictions on Strip while terror group will ensure calm; Hamas denies report; Bennett to bring for approval further cuts to PA over terror stipends

Israeli soldiers stand guard along the Gaza border east of the city of Rafah in the southern Strip during Nakba Day protests on May 15, 2019. (Judah Ari Gross/Times of Israel)
Israeli soldiers stand guard along the Gaza border east of the city of Rafah in the southern Strip during Nakba Day protests on May 15, 2019. (Judah Ari Gross/Times of Israel)

The cabinet will on Sunday review details of a proposed long-term ceasefire deal with Hamas in the Gaza Strip, according to a television report Saturday night.

The understandings will be presented to ministers by National Security Council Director Meir Ben-Shabbat, Channel 12 news reported.

Among the Israeli concessions to be discussed will be an agreement to boost the number of permits granted to Gazans to enter Israel for trade purposes, an additional widening of the allowed fishing zone off the Strip’s coast, advancing construction of a natural gas pipeline and increased medical assistance and equipment for hospitals. Also under consideration are new permits for Gaza workers to enter Israel, though the Shin Bet security service was said to oppose such action.

Hamas, for its part, would increase its efforts to stop rocket fire from Gaza and rein in border protests. However, the report said Israeli military officials doubt the terror group will be able to completely control the demonstrations and rocket attacks.

A Hamas official denied the report. Speaking to Al Mayadeen TV, Suheil al-Hindi, a member of Hamas’s Political Bureau said “What the Israeli media published about Israel easing measures for Gaza in exchange for Hamas ceasing fire of projectiles is not true.”

The television report said major progress had been made toward a deal since Israel’s assassination of top Palestinian Islamic Jihad commander Baha Abu al-Ata in a strike last month, which led to days of rocket attacks by Islamic Jihad from Gaza and Israeli retaliatory strikes.

Abu al-Ata was seen as a major force against coming to a truce with Israel in the Strip, and following his elimination Hamas had proven far more inclined to come to an accord, the report said. Contrary to its usual approach, Hamas had shied away from the combat following the Islamic Jihad terror chief’s killing and Israel, too, had avoided hitting the group.

In this photo taken on October 21, 2016, Palestinian Islamic Jihad terror leader Baha Abu al-Ata attends a rally in Gaza City. (STR/AFP)

In an apparent sign of the growing understandings between the sides, the High Commission for the March of Return and Breaking the Siege, which includes representatives of Gaza-based terror groups and political factions, said this week it would stop its weekly border protests against Israel until March. Afterwards protests will only occur on “a monthly basis as well as whenever we need masses to gather and during prominent national occasions,” it said.

Friday saw the last official demonstrations before the freeze. Turnout was very low amid stormy weather, with only some 1,800 Palestinians taking part in rallies along the frontier — the lowest attendance in months, with tensions far lower than in previous weeks and no live fire by the Israeli army, an AFP correspondent said.

For over a year now, Egypt has been a key player in brokering informal ceasefire understandings between Israel and terror groups in Gaza, including Hamas.

The understandings have largely entailed Israel lifting restrictions on the movement into and out of Gaza, in exchange for Hamas maintaining relative quiet in the border region between the coastal enclave and the Jewish state.

Rockets fired from Gaza toward Israel, followed the targeted killing of Palestinian Islamic Jihad terror chief Baha Abu al-Ata, by an Israeli strike, on November 12, 2019. (Hassan Jedi/Flash90)

Also on Sunday Defense Minister Naftali Bennett will bring before the security cabinet a request to cut a further NIS 159 million ($46 million) from tax funds Israel collected for the Palestinian Authority in 2018, over Ramallah’s payments to terrorists and their families.

Earlier this year ministers approved cuts amounting to NIS 502,697,000 ($138 million) in PA tax revenues, the amount Israeli officials said the PA paid out in stipends to imprisoned attackers and their families in 2018. The new sum will now include stipends paid out to the families of slain attackers.

The cuts for 2018 were now expected to hit a total of some NIS 650 million ($188 million).

A law passed by the Knesset in 2018 states that at the end of each year the defense minister must present a report on payments made by the PA to stipends supporting terrorism. The Knesset then slashes a similar amount from the taxes it collects for the PA over the course of the following year.

Under interim peace deals, Israel collects customs duties and other taxes on behalf of the PA, and transfers the funds to the Palestinians each month. These transfers cover roughly two-thirds of the Palestinian government’s budget. But last year Israel decided to begin deducting the sums of money the Palestinians pay to imprisoned terrorists and terror suspects, as well as the families of those killed in attacks against Israelis.

The freeze of funds has dealt a serious financial blow to the cash-strapped Palestinian leadership, already weakened by US cuts of more than $200 million in bilateral aid.

Defense Minister Naftali Bennett (R) meets with IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi on November 13, 2019. (Ariel Hermoni/Defense Ministry)

Israel says the stipends to prisoners’ families encourage violence. Palestinians describe the payments as an important form of social welfare and say they are responsible for their citizens.

Earlier this week Bennett declared he was taking steps to make sure that “Jewish blood will no longer be financially lucrative,” after signing an order to prevent families of Arab Israelis convicted on terrorism charges from receiving salaries and payments from the PA.

According to the order, which Bennett described as “another step in the campaign against terrorists,” Israel will seize payments totaling hundreds of thousands of shekels made to the families of eight Arab Israelis who have been convicted of terror.

In a statement, the Defense Ministry described Bennett’s move as “the first time” that Israel has taken direct action against payments that provide an “economic incentive to carry out terrorist attacks,” and promised more such orders down the line.

Those included in the order were convicted for participation in various terrorist acts and related offenses, including a 2003 double suicide bombing at the old central bus station in Tel Aviv, which killed 23.

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