Khalil al-Hayya, a senior Hamas figure, on an interview to the Lebanese Al-Akhbar daily (Al-Akhbar’s YouTube channel, December 5, 2019)
Khalil al-Hayya in an interview to PalToday channel (YouTube, December 4, 2019)
Khalil al-Hayya in an interview to PalToday channel (YouTube, December 4, 2019)
Senior PIJ figure Khadr Habib giving an interview in Gaza (Dunia al-Watan channel, December 7, 2019)
- On December 2, 2019, two senior delegations, from Hamas and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ), arrived in Cairo. The Hamas delegation was headed by Ismail Haniyah, the head of Hamas’s Political Bureau, and the PIJ delegation was headed by Ziyad Nakhaleh, PIJ’s secretary-general. According to Egyptian and Palestinian sources, senior figures in the military wings of both organizations also arrived in Cairo to attend the talks (Al-Quds, December 4, 2019). One of the main issues discussed in Cairo was the achievement of a lull agreement with Israel.
- Following the talks in Cairo, Hamas issued an official announcement, accompanied by statements of its senior officials, according to which Hamas objects to a “long-term lull” (for 10 years) that will lead to the cessation of the actions of the “resistance” (i.e., terrorism). According to senior Hamas official Khalil al-Hayya, the purpose of the negotiations conducted by Hamas is to reach an agreement that will not bind Hamas, on the basis of the understandings reached at the end of Operation Protective Edge (the essence of which is a ceasefire in return for humanitarian gestures and easing the “siege” on the Gaza Strip). If understandings in this spirit are not achieved, “then confrontation and explosion are bound to happen” (Khalil al-Hayya’s interview to PalToday channel, December 4, 2019; for further statements, see appendix).
- The meaning of the Hamas announcement and the statements of Hamas’s officials is that Hamas is seeking a minimalistic, short-term arrangement (according to the ITIC’s assessment, for a period of a few years). As part of such an arrangement, Hamas seeks to obtain humanitarian aid plus practical steps to “easing the siege” (for instance, facilitating passage through the crossings, opening the Rafah crossing, increasing the amount of goods transferred through the crossings, increasing the number of workers from the Gaza Strip who work in Israel, etc.). In the ITIC’s assessment, in return for the above, Hamas may accept a lull on the ground, oversee its implementation more effectively (as it had done for three and a half years between the end of Operation Protective Edge and the beginning of the “return marches”), and stop the “return marches” (possibly transforming them into another pattern of activity, with a lower level of violence).
- On the other hand, at the end of the Cairo talks, Hamas and the PIJ stressed that as far as they were concerned, no long-term lull was on the table; in several statements, they even denied that the subject had been raised in the talks. This means that Hamas is not willing to agree, at least for the present, to a maximal arrangement. In a maximal arrangement, Israel’s substantial requirements will be met (such as the cessation of the military buildup and returning prisoners and MIAs). In return, Israel will enable massive investment in civil infrastructure and will significantly ease the restrictions on the connection of the Gaza Strip to the external world (such as major water and electricity infrastructure projects, the construction of a harbor and an airport, and massive investments in the creation of jobs).
- In the ITIC’s assessment, there are several reasons underlying Hamas’s objection to a maximal arrangement at the present time:
- Hamas’s difficulties in the internal Palestinian scene, both vis-à-vis the PIJ (following the Cairo talks, the PIJ expressed its objection in principle to a long-term arrangement) and vis-à-vis the Palestinian Authority (which strongly opposes the promotion of infrastructure projects by Hamas, as demonstrated by its strong objection to the establishment of a hospital in the northern Gaza Strip by an American NGO, which received Hamas’s approval).
- The internal situation in Israel: According to a statement by Wissam Afifa, the director of Hamas’s Al-Aqsa TV, Hamas believes that the current transitional government in Israel is not capable of making long-term decisions. In the ITIC’s assessment, the shaky political situation in Israel encourages Hamas to wait and see where the political system in Israel is headed, and in the meantime refrain from any long-term commitment.
- The absence of any significant constraint to reach a settlement: In the ITIC’s assessment, Hamas does not feel as if it is confronting a significant military constraint on the part of Israel which may force it to make significant concessions that will expose it to harsh internal criticism. Hamas may believe that it is still possible to exhaust the current policy of exerting controlled pressure on Israel without being dragged into an overall confrontation with it. Apparently this policy, in Hamas’s perspective, has so far proven itself.
The ceasefire agreement at the end of Operation Protective Edge and Hamas’s policy afterwards
- In the ITIC’s assessment, Hamas’s model of reference in all matters pertaining to arrangement is the ceasefire agreement that led to ending Operation Protective Edge (August 26, 2014). This agreement, which was based on the understandings reached at the end of Operation Pillar of Defense (November 22, 2012), included easing the restrictions on the movement of people and goods in the crossings; introduction of humanitarian aid and equipment required for the reconstruction of the Gaza Strip, and the extension of the fishing zone (see the Egyptian Foreign Ministry’s announcement on the ceasefire, Rai al-Youm, London, August 26, 2014). On the other hand, at the end of Operation Protective Edge there was no agreement on more significant steps such as a long-term ceasefire, demilitarization of the Gaza Strip, massive investment in the Gaza Strip’s infrastructure, or the construction of an airport and a harbor.
- Although the understandings reached at the end of Operation Protective Edge were of a minimalist nature, during some three years and a half that passed since Operation Protective Edge, relative lull prevailed in the Gaza Strip. It was mainly reflected in a drastic drop in the scope of rocket fire into Israeli territory, in an unprecedented manner since Hamas seized power in the Gaza Strip (see graph). During this period, Hamas’s policy of restraint was enforced over rogue terrorist organizations with relative success; indeed, once in a while, rogue organizations sporadically fired rockets at Israel, but they met with rather effective thwarting activities by Hamas. The lull during this period was maintained even while popular terrorism (“popular resistance”) reached its peak in Judea and Samaria.
Yearly breakdown of rocket fire from the Gaza Strip until the beginning of the “return marches” (March 30, 2018)
- This policy by Hamas changed in late March 2018, upon the beginning of the “return marches,” due to a series of strategic considerations by Hamas (which will not be analyzed in the current document). The “return marches” were presented externally as a non-violent “popular activity.” However, in practice, they included systematic acts of controlled violence (shooting at IDF forces, throwing IEDs, penetrations into Israeli territory, and flying incendiary and explosive kites and balloons). Such controlled violence led to dynamics of escalation, which characterized the period since the beginning of the marches: the IDF’s responses against the perpetrators of violent activity (which caused casualties among them) triggered every once in a while responses of Hamas and the PIJ, which included rocket and mortar shell fire against populated areas in Israel. This dynamics has so far led to nine significant rounds of escalations. However, Israel and Hamas, which are not interested in being dragged into a full-scale military confrontation, so far contained the rounds of escalation and returned to daily routine afterwards (until the next round of escalation).
The lull arrangement in Hamas’s perspective
- Hamas’s new policy, which has been employed since March 30, 2018, has intended to wear Israel down by controlled, prolonged pressure in order to put Hamas in a position of power vis-à-vis Israel, from which it will be able to carry out indirect negotiations for arrangement which will alleviate the economic distress and “siege” in the Gaza Strip. According to statements by senior Hamas officials, the components of such arrangement are as follows:
- Israel is required to enable receiving massive economic support, Arab or international, which will ease the daily life of Gaza Strip residents and allow a significant reconstruction of the infrastructure in the Gaza Strip (for example, in the electricity infrastructure). Hamas also demands practical expressions of “lifting the siege,” which is considered by Yahya Sinwar and other senior Hamas figures to be of the utmost importance (for example, easing the movement in the crossings, opening the Rafah crossing by the Egyptians, and increasing the amount of goods delivered to the Gaza Strip through Israel). In addition, as part of an arrangement, Hamas is also expected to require lifting the sanctions imposed by the Palestinian Authority on the Gaza Strip and the transfer of salaries and budgets from Ramallah.
- Hamas, in return, is ready to agree to a security lull for several years, according to the ITIC’s assessment (similarly to the lull that prevailed since Operation Protective Edge). Such lull may be reflected in the stopping of the “return marches” or changing their nature (stopping the violence that comes with them); and effective supervision of the military activity of the other organizations. In the ITIC’s assessment, Hamas will try to recruit the PIJ for that arrangement. If Hamas’s demands are met and an arrangement is achieved, it will be ready to impose the new policy on the rogue organizations, even by force (as happened in the period after the end of Operation Protective Edge).
- What Israeli demands are likely to be rejected by Hamas? In the ITIC’s assessment, there can be several Israeli demands that Hamas may reject:
- Commitment to a long-term lull, for a period of around 10 years, during which all violent activity will be stopped. Hamas’s DNA as the “resistance movement” and its radical Islamic ideology of the Muslim Brotherhood makes it very difficult for Hamas to accept such a requirement. Hamas’s senior leaders reiterated that even if a lull was achieved, “resistance” (i.e., violence and terrorism) would continue, albeit “by other means” (for example, an effort to increase terrorist activity in Judea and Samaria).
- Hamas’s disarmament and the cessation of its military buildup: Retaining the military infrastructure for the continuation of the “resistance” is an essential component of Hamas’s worldview, as Hamas regards itself as an Islamic “resistance” movement which strives to annihilate Israel by terrorism and violence. Thus, it will not agree to give it up. On the contrary, a lull arrangement with Israel is perceived by Hamas as an opportunity to obtain a respite, which will allow it to rehabilitate its military capabilities and increase the rate of its military buildup (as it did during the lull since Operation Protective Edge and in the periods between other IDF operations).
- Returning the prisoners and the MIAs: In the ITIC’s assessment, Hamas will refuse to include the returning of the prisoners and MIAs as part of an arrangement with Israel. For, in Hamas’s view, the subject of the prisoners and the MIAs is a separate matter. Their release, according to Hamas’s perception, will not be “rewarded” in the economic or humanitarian spheres or by easing the “siege,” but by massive release of terrorists imprisoned in Israel.
Hamas and PIJ statements about a lull arrangement, after the Cairo talks
Hamas’s comments on the Cairo talks
Statements by Khalil al-Hayya, member of the Hamas Political Bureau
- Following the talks in Cairo, Khalil al-Hayya granted interviews where he addressed media items on a long-term lull agreement with Israel whose details are now discussed in Cairo. Following are his main points:
- “The talks on a 10-year lull or the cessation of the resistance actions against the enemy are totally untrue.” Hamas is a “resistance movement.” The forms of “resistance” (i.e., terrorist activity) may change from time to time, but Hamas “will not stop resisting the enemy.” The purpose of Ismail Haniya, who is in Egypt, is to reach an agreement “on a lull that will not bind the hands of the resistance and will definitely not prevent it from responding to any kind of aggression.” According to Al-Hayya, “we shall not discuss the subject of a long-term understanding at the table of any mediator between us and the occupation [i.e., Israel]…” (Al-Hayya’s interview to the Lebanese Al-Akhbar daily, affiliated with Hezbollah, December 5, 2019).
- The news on Egyptian mediation to reach a long-term understanding are rumors spread by Israel and the Palestinian Authority. “Hamas will not listen to that.” All that Hamas is seeking is to implement the understandings reached after Operation Protective Edge and alleviate the siege on the Palestinian people. If the siege is not alleviated, then confrontation and explosion are bound to happen and Israel will bear the responsibility for that. According to Al-Hayya, it is unacceptable that two million Palestinians are jailed in a big prison called the Gaza Strip. They are walking around hungry, without food, without medications, work or freedom of movement and with no future to look forward to. Those who imposed that siege must end it. Hamas is negotiating while fighting against the “Israeli occupation” and confronting it (PalToday channel, December 3, 2019).
Articles by Mahmoud al-Zahar
- Mahmoud al-Zahar, member of the Hamas Political Bureau, said that the lull with Israel is one of the means of the “resistance” to regroup and accumulate means of struggle for liberating the Palestinian territories. According to Al-Zahar, whoever tries to portray the lull as security collaboration with Israel or an agreement with it is wrong (Filastin Online, December 5, 2019).
Articles by commentators affiliated with Hamas
- Following are several statements of Hamas-affiliated commentators on the long-term lull:
- Commentator Ibrahim al-Madhoun (who is close to Hamas’s senior officials, including Yahya Sinwar) wrote on his Twitter account that without lifting the siege from Gaza in a total and comprehensive manner, it will be difficult to achieve a complete, long-term lull. If the residents of the Gaza Strip do not enjoy security, stability, prosperity, freedom and development, the lull will not continue for a long term (Ibrahim al-Madhoun’s Twitter account, December 7, 2019).
- Wissam Afifa, director of Hamas’s Al-Aqsa TV, said that the talks in Cairo focused on the implementation of the humanitarian understandings between Hamas and Israel and the possibility of increasing and prolonging them. He added: Maybe the latest escalation in November was an opportunity for both sides, under Egyptian mediation, to invest a greater positive effort to improve the humanitarian conditions in the Gaza Strip. As an example, he mentioned the steady increase in the number of Palestinian workers from Gaza who enter Israel, from 5,000 [towards] 20,000, in spite of the conflict which, according to him, prevails between the IDF and the Israel Security Agency (ISA). According to Afifa, Hamas told Egypt in the last meetings that it wasn’t keen on giving these understandings new names such as hudna, lull, or arrangement, because at the present time, there is a transition period in Israel and the current government is unable to take long-term decisions. Hamas does not wish to grant Netanyahu positions which he will be able to take advantage of in his election campaign and, at the same time, will subject Hamas to accusations in the Palestinian internal scene (Arabi Post, an inter-Arab website operating in London, December 10, 2019).
- Sharhabil al-Gharib, formerly the editor-in-chief of the Hamas-affiliated Filastin Al-Aan website, wrote: “Developing the understandings” is a new concept which the mediators are working on. It includes easing a great deal of the siege in return for the continuation of the calm, that is, more than understandings and less than a long-term hudna. This is how one can read and summarize the goings on in the Gaza Strip (Sharhabil al-Gharib’s Twitter account, December 6, 2019).
Comments by senior PIJ officials on the Cairo talks
- Khadr Habib, a senior PIJ figure, dismissed the reports on an agreement in principle to a long-term lull with Israel in return for economic concessions for the Gaza Strip. He added that all these are nothing but media noise (Wataniya News Agency, December 9, 2019). In an interview with the Dunia al-Watan channel, he said that all the talks on the establishment of a harbor and an airport as part of a lull are not true and it was not discussed in Egypt at all. This is, as he puts it, “yellow journalism” (Dunia al-Watan channel, December 7, 2019).
- Khaled al-Batsh, member of the PIJ’s Political Bureau, also denied the reports on an agreement for a long-term truce (hudna). According to him, in the Cairo talks, the idea of a floating island in the waters of Gaza was not raised. Al-Batsh added that what was discussed was the need to stop the aggression against the Palestinians, especially against the participants in the “return marches,” and the need to end the rift and implement a national partnership. He pointed out that the “resistance” stressed its adherence to its “right of response” to Israeli aggression (Maan, December 10, 2019).
- The Al-Quds daily, citing sources close to the PIJ’s leadership, reported that during the latest talks in Cairo, the PIJ announced its objection to the possibility of a long-term lull in the Gaza Strip. Those senior officials also added that the PIJ also refused to commit to a complete ceasefire. The sources pointed out that the PIJ was seeking to improve the situation in the Gaza Strip and lift the siege, but without a “political price” (Al-Quds, December 9, 2019).
 See the ITIC's Information Bulletin from June 27, 2018, “Hamas’ new policy towards Israel: from restraint and calm to controlled violence, creating escalation” ↑
 See the ITIC's Information Bulletin from November 11, 2019, “Yahya al-Sinwar gave a belligerent speech warning Israel that Hamas and the Palestinian people would not accept the continuation of the “siege” of the Gaza Strip, saying: “We can no longer bear it and our patience is at an end” ↑