Security Cabinet Set to Discuss Possible Gaza Deal With Hamas

The security cabinet is expected to convene in Jerusalem Sunday afternoon to discuss the indirect negotiations with Hamas over the Gaza Strip.

Arab media outlets have reported that Hamas leaders in the Strip have agreed to a proposal that includes as a first step a commitment to a long-term cease-fire with Israel in exchange for a substantial increase in the flow of goods from Israel through the Kerem Shalom border crossing and in the flow of Gazans into Egypt at the Rafah crossing. The agreement would also expand the fishing zone off Gaza’s coast.

Mediating the negotiations are United Nations envoy Nickolay Mladenov and the Egyptian government.

A cease-fire will take effect at the same time, including a halt to the launching of incendiary balloons from the Strip into Israel.

The second phase will include talks on a prisoner exchange, centered on the return to Israel of the bodies of two soldiers being held by Hamas in return for the advancement of internationally funded humanitarian projects.

Zehava Shaul, the mother of Staff Sgt. Oron Shaul, whose body is being held by Hamas, said over the weekend that her family and that of Lt. Hadar Goldin, the other Israeli soldier whose remains have been held by Hamas since 2014, intend to begin demonstration outside the security cabinet meeting Sunday to protest the failure to include the return of the bodies in the deal.

According to some sources, the second phase will include talks on a prisoner exchange, centered on the return to Israel of the bodies of Shaul and Goldin as well as the release of Israelis held captive by Hamas in Gaza, in return for the advancement of internationally funded humanitarian projects.

Israeli and Palestinian sources said the issue will be resolved as part of the final deal, when a calmer situation serves the progression of these talks.

Senior members of the security cabinet told Haaretz that a decision on the deal will be taken within a few days. They said they believe that if the deal falls through, a new round of violence will erupt.

It is thought that Israel will approve extensive rehabilitation and large infrastructure projects only after the issue of the prisoners and missing soldiers.

There are conflicting opinions within the security cabinet regarding the Egyptian proposal. Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman has recently used different forums to cast doubt on the chances of reaching an agreement. In contrast, some Likud and Kulanu ministers believe a chance should be given to a deal attaining calm, in order to avoid sliding into a military confrontation before examining all other options.

The tension within the security cabinet is connected to an imminent possible call for elections and to a competition among right-wing parties over voter support. Several recent polls have shown dissatisfaction with the government handling of the crisis in Gaza. Any agreement that does not include an immediate return of prisoners and bodies will bring criticism of the government, as would the release of Hamas prisoners being held in Israel. If a deal is ultimately reached, Israel will take care to note that it was made with Egypt, stressing that it did not hold direct talks with Hamas.

The efforts by Egyptian intelligence and United Nations envoy Nickolay Mladenov include an attempt to bring the Palestinian Authority, on the assumption that only an increased PA presence in Gaza will allow reconstruction efforts to advance. Thus, the talks also include attempts to obtain a new reconciliation agreement between Hamas and the PA.

Mladenov has reached an understanding with the World Bank to increase its support of Palestinians to $90 million, up from last year’s $55 million.

Haaretz