Hamas Leader Goes Hunting: In His Sights Are Egypt, the Gulf, and the State of Palestine

Since he was chosen as head of the Political Bureau of Hamas in the summer of 2017, Ismail Haniyeh has not traveled outside of the Gaza Strip – except for work trips to Egypt. While his deputy Saleh al-Arouri enjoys freedom of movement and travels all over the Middle East, and while Khaled Meshal, Haniyeh’s predecessor, lives in Qatar and is free to go as he chooses – or to be more accurate, where it is safe for him – Haniyeh has been locked inside Gaza.

After Haniyeh and Islamic Jihad leader Ziyad al-Nakhalah held talks in Cairo last week with the head of Egypt’s intelligence Abbas Kamel, Haniyeh continued on to Turkey, and from there plans to visit Qatar, Malaysia, Indonesia, Lebanon and Mauritania. He also hopes to receive an invitation from the Kremlin to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin. A visit to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates is not included in his itinerary, and it is also still unclear whether Haniyeh will visit Iran.

– Haaretz Weekly Ep. 52

Killing Palestinians isn’t Israel’s goal. Killing Palestine is. Listen

Does granting Haniyeh an exit permit show that Egypt is pleased with the talks Hamas held with Israel? Some Egyptian commentators say the temporary ceasefire with Israel is in its final stages of agreement, and only a few technical questions remain. Sources within Hamas told Haaretz that there is still no agreement, but that Egypt and Israel’s objectives are to gain as much as possible from the long-term truce, which will last between three to five years.

Additionally, the two countries are trying to establish the basis for a prisoner and missing persons swap, a number of Hamas spokesmen have hinted. If true, a swap could serve Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during his election campaign – and could also be the secret trump card he is holding close to his chest. Such a swap would clearly include the Hamas prisoners who were rearrested after the Gilad Shalit deal as well as Hamas prisoners still jailed in Egypt (in October, Egypt freed 25 prisoners during a visit of Hamas and IJ representatives.)

The main objective of Haniyeh’s journey is to collect as many donations and commitments to invest in Gaza as possible, in order to aid Hamas in rehabilitating the Strip and building a sustainable economic foundation. This will include the construction of industrial zones on the border with Egypt, some of which will be in Egyptian territory, where thousands of Gazans will be employed.

It seems Haniyeh has already been given the green light by Israel to begin the development stage, once the long term agreement is signed. This development could very well include the construction of an artificial island off Gaza that will serve as a port and gateway for the passage of goods – an agreed upon way to bypass the Israeli blockade of the territory. The project, if built, may not be a short-term solution, but it has already drawn interest from Egypt, which has asked for details about it – because it wants to ensure that its leverage over Gaza in the form of the Rafah border crossing will not be taken away.

Egypt prefers a situation in which every entry and exit from Gaza is under its control, both in economic and security terms. For now, Cairo is pleased with its cooperative arrangements with Hamas over the guarding of the Sinai border. Soon, another observation post will be built, and Egyptian and Palestinian patrols on both sides of the border will be expanded.