Hamas political bureau head Ismail Haniyeh speaks during groundbreaking ceremony for Rafah Medical Complex in Rafah, Gaza on November 23. (Abed Rahim Khatib/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

Hamas Delegation Heading to Cairo, Moscow for Discussions

Political bureau chief’s first trip outside Gaza and Egypt in three years may be a sign of easing of conditions on Hamas and that the Islamist group wants to change old impressions

A high-level Hamas delegation, headed by political bureau chief Ismail Haniyeh, will travel to Cairo on Monday to hold discussions with senior Egyptian intelligence officials. The delegation will then reportedly visit Moscow for talks with Russian officials.

The trip – Haniyeh’s first outside the Gaza Strip and Egypt since he assumed his position almost three years ago – is considered by many to be a sign of fresh perspectives and an easing of conditions on Hamas.

Egyptian authorities had banned him from traveling outside the Gaza Strip and Egypt in an attempt to prevent him from meeting political opponents, a senior Hamas official, who spoke on condition of anonymity so as not to upset the Egyptians, told The Media Line. The last time Haniyeh traveled elsewhere was in late 2016 and early 2017, before being elected head of the movement’s political bureau.

Political analyst Wajih Abu Zarifa told The Media Line that the visit was an attempt by Hamas to revive the understandings that were reached with Israel under the auspices of Cairo, especially those reached after the last escalation in violence between Israel and Gaza, and to develop the relationship between Hamas and Egyptian.

Abu Zarifa commended the Egyptian’s involvement, saying, “Egypt has played a major role in recent understandings between Hamas and Israel, which included providing some kind of facilitation and some economic projects to relieve the pressure on the Gaza Strip in order to ensure calm in the region.”

Hamas officials meet regularly with Egyptian intelligence officials who have been mediating between Gaza’s ruling faction and Israel.

Hamas also maintains close ties to Qatar and Turkey, which Egypt considers to be adversaries.

Tayseer Muhaisen, a professor of international relations at the Islamic University of Gaza, agrees, saying that Egypt has worked hard to ensure the security and political stability of the enclave.

Hamas has not officially explained the motivation for the visit, but Muhaisen believes it suggests a number of possible scenarios for the settling of certain issues that require Haniyeh’s presence.

“Netanyahu’s recent statements to his right-wing [Likud] party and to Israeli society in general, about an imminent breakthrough with regard to the return of Israeli prisoners, are not for nothing,” Muhaisen said.

Hussam Aldajani, a Gaza-based analyst, told The Media Line that Cairo’s permission for Hamas officials to go abroad, having Moscow on the itinerary, and Hamas’ acceptance of elections, all indicate a deal because the military option has proved in the meantime to be useless.

“Obviously, no one – neither Hamas nor Israel – wants war,” Aldajani said. “In less than one month, Hamas has delivered several important messages to civil society and to the US administration, in particular telling them that it is an active political player that wants to change old impressions, firstly, by responding to [UN envoy to the Middle East Nickolay] Mladenov’s demand that the Great March of Return [the weekly Palestinian demonstrations along the Gaza-Israel border] be suspended; secondly, by not participating in the last military escalation with Islamic Jihad; and finally, by accepting the [so-called] American hospital.”

Paradoxically, others, such as PA Minister for Civil Affairs Hussein al-Sheikh and Walid Alawad, a member of the Palestinian People’s Party, consider the whole process to be an attempt to make the current division between the West Bank and Gaza Strip permanent.

Alawad told The Media Line that a political resolution to the conflict cannot be replaced by humanitarian gestures.

“We refuse all understandings aimed at dividing Palestinian unity,” Alawad said.

“The American military hospital [being built] in northern Gaza, with one gate open to the Israeli side and the other to the Gaza Strip, is produced by the same American administration that cuts funds from health care facilities in Jerusalem and from the UN Relief and Works Agency [which cares for Palestinian refugees], as well. This in itself is suspicious,” Alawad said.

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