Israel is conducting talks with Hamas about the possible construction of a floating port between Turkish Cyprus and the Gaza coast that would allow goods to be transferred the Palestinian coastal territory, the Jordanian daily Ad-Dustour reported Tuesday, quoting Western diplomatic sources.
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According to the report, the talks, described as direct, have been ongoing in various European capitals with guarantees provided by Turkey, which has also been trying to advance dialogue between the two sides.
The report also noted an idea to expand Gazan territory into the Sinai Peninsula. The report does not quote any source by name, and has not been confirmed by either Israel or Hamas.
It should be noted that since Operation Protective Edge, headlines have surfaced claiming that Hamas and Israel have been in contact through international mediation from the UN and Qatar with regards to a long-term truce in exchange for lifting some of the restrictions on the Gaza Strip, which might also include the construction of a seaport in the Gaza seas. But none of those contacts has amounted to anything that could be called an agreement.
According to international officials, Israel is in no rush to reach understandings as long as it is free from obligations and quiet remains in the south. Moreover, Israel currently has almost exclusive control on what enters the Gaza Strip, without commitment, and sees no reason to sign some kind of binding agreement or understandings in exchange for Hamas' guarantee for quiet.
Some Israeli defense officials accept this appraisal and explain that the status quo, in which Hamas’ rule is secure and the Palestinian Authority has no major in the Gaza Strip and there are no obligating agreements or understandings – either direct or indirect - is the optimal way to preserve the quiet and prevent chaos in the coastal territory.
In talks with Haaretz, officials, both Palestinian and Israeli, expressed doubts about the validity of the Jordanian report in the Jordanian newspaper, primarily about the creation of a floating port or the expansion of Gazan territory into Sinai. “Israel cannot conduct negotiations about territory that is not under its sovereignty, especially not Egyptian territory. Also, the idea of building a port for the Gaza Strip has not been discussed in any forum, and is not on the table,” said one Israeli official.
On the other hand, some Palestinian Authority and Fatah officials believe that Hamas is conducting direct talks with Israel in order to cement its rule in Gaza, rather than engage in reconciliation with the PA, or cooperate in joint efforts to rebuild the Strip after last summer’s war. Both sides blame the other for the lack of rebuilding efforts in Gaza, with Hamas claiming that Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is shirking his responsibilities, while PA officials counter that Hamas continues to control the border crossings, and is not letting PA personnel operate in Gaza.
Meanwhile, Israel is continuing to send building materials into Gaza in efforts to advance rebuilding efforts. Maj. Gen. Yoav Mordechai, Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories, was quoted in the Al Quds newspaper on Tuesday morning stating that Israel had allowed over 1 million tons of building materials into Gaza, of which 180,000 tons were designated for rebuilding houses destroyed during the fighting.
According to Mordechai, Israel is conducting joint projects with the UN, and in coordination with the PA, without conducting any dialogue with Hamas, all while working to ensure that the materials are not utilized by Hamas. Despite these claims, Israeli and Palestinian officials know that the situation in Gaza is far from optimistic, in light of the unemployment rate of over 40 percent and the difficult economic and social situation. In terms of rebuilding efforts, both residents and human rights organizations report that despite the entry of building materials, rebuilding of homes destroyed during the fighting has yet to even begin, and those who have received building materials still cannot afford to actually rebuild their homes.
One of the more pressing issues in Gaza is the electricity supply, as most Gaza residents currently only have power between six and eight hours per day. Another issue is drinking water, as quality drinking water is in short supply.