Hamas' political chief, Khaled Meshal, has confirmed that his organization and Israel are engaged in negotiations over a long-term truce via several mediators, including former British Prime Minister Tony Blair. In an excerpt from an interview with a London-based Qatari newspaper, Meshal said that while the talks have yet to produce an agreement, Hamas sees them as "very positive."
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Last week, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's bureau vehemently denied that Israel and Hamas were engaged in any kind of negotiations – either directly or indirectly.
Meshal confirmed in an interview to the newspaper Al-Arabi al-Jadeed, part of which was published on Friday that the Quartet's former Middle East envoy Tony Blair and others had raised proposals for a cease-fire, but he didn't explain whether the proposals were raised with Israel's knowledge or are independent initiatives.
According to Meshal, Hamas isn't preoccupied with terminology: "We need a tahadiya [a short-term cessation of hostilities] or a hudna [a cease-fire], and we're not looking for new terminology, because as long as there's an occupation and settlements there will be legitimate resistance, but we aren't looking for wars," said Meshal, adding that Hamas is open to any serious proposal, but not at the expense of the Palestinian national interest and its principles. The full interview is scheduled to be published on Saturday.
Meshal also said in the interview that the Gaza Strip is facing several major challenges: rehabilitation and construction of electricity and water infrastructure, opening the border crossings, building a seaport and an airport and a solution to the problem of 50,000 unemployed Hamas government workers.
In response to repeated reports in the Palestinian and Arab media about contacts between Israel and Hamas regarding a cease-fire agreement, the Prime Minister's Office published a denial at the beginning of the week, to the effect that "there are no meetings with Hamas, nor are there contacts, whether direct or indirect, with the organization." But an involved Israeli source said after the publication of the response that "Israel is not conducting cease-fire negotiations with Hamas, but it is definitely conducting a feasibility investigation."
On Thursday, senior Hamas official Mahmoud A-Zahar referred to the cease-fire agreement that was signed in Cairo at the end of the conflict between the Strip and Israel last summer, and said that continued adherence to the agreement requires Israeli steps to lift the siege. A-Zahar did not discuss the contacts that are ostensibly being conducted by Tony Blair and other intermediaries. In response to criticism that Hamas is trying to achieve a separate agreement with Israel, which would perpetuate the split between the West Bank and Gaza, Hamas makes sure to say at every opportunity that any future agreement with Israel depends on Palestinian national consent.
Recently Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas claimed that Israel and Hamas have been conducting clandestine meetings for the past eight months in an African country.
In response, an Egyptian security source told Haaretz that the cease-fire agreement that was drawn up at the conclusion of Operation Protective Edge is the only one on the table and that both sides recognize it. "If there's any progress, it must be based on this agreement," said the source.