Jerusalem’s mixed message regarding wharf comes as result of Egyptian opposition, despite Palestinian warnings of renewed hostilities if project does not go forward
The coordinator of the Israeli government’s activities in the Palestinian territories, Maj. Gen. Yoav Mordechai, was quoted at length over the weekend saying that there have been no talks over the establishment of a seaport for Gaza. In comments quoted by the Saudi-linked news site Elaph, Mordechai said that should such negotiations take place in the future, they would be conducted only vis-à-vis the Palestinian Authority — not the Hamas rulers of Gaza.
It was a surprising statement, in light of the positive approach among some Israeli ministers, along with members of the IDF’s top brass, to the idea of such a seaport.
And it’s likely that the statement was directed not at Israel or Gaza, but Egypt.
The Times of Israel has learned that Israeli officials are still speaking favorably of the seaport idea, even after Cairo demanded that Jerusalem issue clarifications about its détente talks with Turkey and the option of establishing a port for Gaza in Cyprus or on an artificial island.
It’s no secret that the Egyptian government is vehemently opposed to the establishment of a seaport to serve the Gaza Strip so long as Hamas, which is allied with its enemy the Muslim Brotherhood, remains in power. The Egyptians led the opposition to the removal of the blockade on Gaza in the wake of the war there in the summer of 2014, and Cairo has been consistently opposed to opening the Rafah crossing between the Strip and Egypt’s Sinai to Palestinian travelers.
Egypt’s demands are unequivocal: Rafah will be open only once control of the border crossings is handed over to the Palestinian Authority. They apply the same principle to the idea of a seaport, which they will only countenance if the PA, not Hamas, governs the passage of goods into the Strip.
Amid reports regarding the option of putting Gaza’s port on an artificial island or in Cyprus, Egypt held talks on the matter with the PA, which is also opposed to such a move.
In the wake of those talks, Cairo signaled to Jerusalem its opposition to establishing a seaport anywhere while Hamas is still in control of the Strip.
Mordechai recently met with commanders of the PA security forces, according to Palestinian media. It’s certainly possible that the issue of the seaport came up in that meeting.
Azzam al-Ahmad, one of the leaders of the Palestinian Fatah party, made the PA’s opposition to the establishment of a seaport clear on Friday, asserting that Ramallah could stymie any such initiative.
Meanwhile, Hamas’s leaders have been waxing combative about Gaza’s need for a seaport while at the same time signaling that they have no desire for another round of hostilities with Israel.
“The Strip needs and wants a seaport, and that issue has also been conveyed to the Turks – their siege on Gaza will not be lifted without the establishment of a seaport,” senior Hamas official Khalil al-Hayya said Friday.
Another of the group’s top officials told the pan-Arab newspaper Al-Hayat last week that there has been significant progress in talks between Turkey and Israel, especially regarding the option of erecting a seaport.
Analysts in Gaza told The Times of Israel that they are under the impression Hamas has been trying to inspire hope for real change among the residents of the impoverished enclave.
However, they warned, if Hamas fails to deliver on its promises, pressure will mount on it to take action, even if that means more war.