Palestinians walk through the remnants of the wall of separation between Gaza and Egypt. Israel has blockaded Gaza for weeks allowing no food or fuel to enter the territory., a photo by Pan-African News Wire File Photos on Flickr.
Hamas seeks new Gaza policy from Egypt
By KARIN LAUB
and IBRAHIM BARZAK
The Associated Press
Gaza City, Gaza Strip
Egypt’s new president Mohammed Morsi holds the key to blockaded Gaza, but he is signaling that he won’t rush to help the territory’s Hamas rulers by striking a border deal with them, even though they are fellow members of the region’s Muslim Brotherhood.
A bilateral border agreement between Egypt and Hamas could hurt chances of setting up a single Palestinian state, made up of the West Bank and Gaza, alongside Israel.
"I don’t think they (the Egyptians) are ready for that," said Palestinian economist and business leader Samir Hulileh.
Hamas was jubilant over Morsi’s election in neighboring Egypt in June, hoping the Egyptian leader would lift years of travel and trade restrictions that have hit the Gaza economy hard.
But for now Morsi is keeping Hamas at arm’s length, focusing on his relationship with Egypt’s powerful military and with the U.S., which gives Egypt $1.3 billion in annual military aid.
In Gaza, Hamas officials say that once Morsi settles into his job, they expect him to transform the Gaza-Egypt border crossing, now open only to select passengers, into a vibrant cargo route with free trade zones.
Such a new lifeline could keep Hamas in power for years, reviving an economy battered by a border closure Israel and Morsi’s pro-Western predecessor, Hosni Mubarak, imposed after the violent Hamas takeover of Gaza in 2007.
One senior Hamas official said Gaza now has the chance to become semi-independent by relying on close relations with Egypt and cutting the last ties to Israel. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was expressing a personal view.
Israel might welcome closer ties between Egypt and Gaza, since this could further ease its responsibility toward the seaside territory. However, Israeli officials insisted there is no change in the current policy of isolating the territory and containing Hamas.
Israel, which withdrew from Gaza in 2005 after 38 years of occupation, still controls most of Gaza’s land border, including several crossings, and restricts access by air and sea.
Among those most affected by a separate Egypt-Gaza deal would be Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who was left with limited autonomy in parts of the West Bank after Hamas seized Gaza from him.
A strong trade bond with Egypt could break Gaza’s last tentative ties with the West Bank, further hurting Abbas’ efforts to establish a state in both of those territories, along with east Jerusalem.
"This is a very dangerous step," Abbas aid Mohammed Ishtayeh, said of Hamas’ appeal to Egypt. "It would be the end of the two-state solution," he said.
For Hamas, that might be of little concern. The Islamists view such a state at best as an interim step toward an Islamic entity in all of historic Palestine, the area between the Mediterranean and the Jordan River that includes Israel.
Morsi has signaled that there will be no radical changes anytime soon.
The Egyptian leader reiterated in a weekend meeting with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton that he would honor all of Egypt’s international obligations.
He has also avoided preferential treatment of Hamas. This week, he’ll receive Abbas in Cairo, while Hamas leaders are still waiting for their invitation.