Alarabiya reported on Wednesday that tensions in the Gaza Strip appear to be easing after Israel has granted local Arab workers 7,000 work permits, up from 5,000 in August. Thousands of Gazans applied for the permits, which were the latest in Israel’s easing of restrictions on the Strip, including reopening the border crossings, expanding the fishing zone, and permitting the entry of some dual-use goods.
A PA official told Alarabiya on condition of anonymity that the increase in the number of permits was “the result of a political process, including discussions in Cairo between the Hamas movement and Egyptian officials.”
However, according to Israeli sources, the negotiations with Hamas are as stuck as they have been over the months since Operation Guardians of the Wall in May – this despite Hamas sources who report on progress in negotiations for a settlement with Israel and the reconstruction of the Gaza Strip. They don’t recognize any such progress in Israel.
The Lapid-Bennett-Gantz government is still as adamant as ever on refusing to permit the Qataris to pay Hamas employees out of their donated funds, and the same government is also insisting that the release of the bodies of two IDF soldiers and two living Israeli citizens is a condition for any settlement with Hamas.
The Qatari envoy is expected to arrive in the Gaza Strip in the next two weeks to see if there’s a possibility of finding a mechanism for paying salaries to Hamas officials. On that, a senior Hamas official told Kan 11 News on Wednesday that this is a real problem that could create tensions with Israel in the future, if not resolved.
Hamas leaders are still meeting in Cairo with Egyptian intelligence officials to discuss, among other things, the group’s relations with Egypt, the lull in hostilities with Israel, and also the issue of the missing Israelis and the bodies of two IDF soldiers in Hamas’ possession. Sadly, there has been no breakthrough on any of those fronts. However, the Egyptians have apparently agreed to increase the quantity and variety of goods entering Gaza through the Rafah crossing, including materials brought in to rehabilitate Gaza – which means Hamas can have as much cement and iron rods as it wants for digging new terror tunnels.
The relative calm along the Gaza border in recent days suggests that Hamas is eager to improve the economic situation in the Strip and to receive additional benefits from Egypt. At the same time, the issue of Qatari payments to Hamas employees is existential for the terror organization. In the end, if the Israeli government continues its ban on those salaries, violence will erupt anew. Likewise, Israel is waiting to hear what price Hamas wishes to exact in return for releasing the bodies and the captives. Will Lapid-Bennett-Gantz acquiesce to a major prisoner release? Such a move would cost them points with the Israeli public but could win the country a few months, if not years, of quiet.