Nearly eight months of intense Egyptian efforts to halt escalating Hamas violence from the Gaza Strip, backed by Israel’s “containment” policy of restraint, were shot down in an instant on Monday, Nov. 5. Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) was invited by Egyptian President Abdel-Fatteh El-Sisi to visit Sharm El-Sheikh in the hope of convincing the Palestinian leader to buy his plan for Gaza. Instead, Abbas flew into a rage, DEBKA Weekly’s sources report. Their conversation ended in a blazing row with mutual insults.
In the months leading up to that moment, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and the outgoing IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Gady Eisenkot gave the Palestinian Hamas terrorist rulers of the Gaza Strip enough slack to allow the Egyptian mediation effort to go forward. This stance incurred wrath in many Israeli circles, especially the Israeli communities who live under the shadow of escalating Hamas harassment. Nonetheless, the IDF was told to stick to a semi-passive, defensive posture – even after Hamas’ regular “March of Return” demos turned into armed violence against Israeli troops, were interspersed with missile attacks on Israeli homes, and 7,000 acres of southern Israeli farm fields and woodlands in southern Israel were blackened by inflammable kites and incendiary balloons.
An integral component of Egypt’s scheme for a long-term truce is for the Palestinian Authority headed by Abbas to take over governing the day-to-day needs of the 1.5 million Gazan civilians in the short term. Full control of security and borders is to pass to the PA in three years’ time. Qatar undertook to shell out $15m per month to cover the civil service payroll in Gaza City and additional large investments in ventures for providing the population with paid employment.
In recent weeks, Abu Mazen’s emissaries traveled to Cairo several times and received briefings from Gen. Kamal Abbas, Director of Egyptian General Intelligence, on the plans for a truce and transfer of Gaza government. At every stage, those plans were categorically rejected by the Palestinian administration in Ramallah and Abbas, because they lacked a key provision. Nothing was said about dismantling the Hamas Ezz-e Din Al-Qassam militia and its 65,000 armed men. The Egyptian mediator just hinted that this militia might eventually be swallowed up by the Palestinian Authority’s security organization, although both sides appreciated that the former is six times larger than the latter.
Abu Mazen refused to hear of the Palestinian Authority running the Gaza Strip’s affairs and services of water, food, electricity, education, health and sanitation, with no control whatsoever over Hamas’ powerful army. The Gaza Strip would be another Lebanon, he said. There, one government rules Beirut, while the powerful Hizballah and its armed force, which is larger and stronger than the Lebanese army, runs the country – not under the authority of Beirut, but of Tehran. “I will never agree to allowing Hamas to upgrade itself to Hizballah 2,” Abbas declared. He broke off all contact with the Egyptian president, accusing him of a sellout of the Palestinian people and cause
The buck has therefore passed from Cairo and Ramallah to Washington and Jerusalem, DEBKA Weekly reports. President Donald Trump and Binyamin Netanyahu have two options:
- They can override Abbas and the Palestinian Authority and carry on working with the Egyptians on a Hamas solution for the Gaza Strip. This would be tantamount to endorsing a Hamas regime in Gaza in rivalry with the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah.
2, They can find a way to – or apply measures for – winning Abu Mazen around to the Egyptian plan.
How far the Netanyahu government is willing to go to placate Hamas and halt its attacks on southern Israel was revealed as a chance byproduct of Shin Bet Director Nadav Argaman‘s briefing on Tuesday to the Knesset Foreign Affairs Committee. He said that the surface calm in Judea and Samaria is deceptive, because the territory is quietly seething. The Shin Bet chief challenged the official IDF contention that Hamas preferred to avoid a full-dress military showdown with Israel and would therefore buy the long-term truce brokered by Egypt. Argaman produced figures to confirm that, far from heading for a truce, Hamas is not about to give up on its assaults on Israel from Gaza and is, moreover, investing heavily in planting terrorist cells in Judea and Samaria. They are to be activated by “orders from Turkey and Lebanon.”
DEBKA Weekly’s sources note that, at no stage in the indirect Israel-Hamas truce negotiations through Egypt has Israel registered demands for the Palestinian terrorists to halt their violent attacks on Israel – not just from Gaza but in all parts of the country.