RAMALLAH, November 28 (JMCC) - Gaza's Hamas leaders are planning greater cooperation with Cairo as Egyptians went to the polls Monday to vote for a new parliament.
According to the Economist
, Hamas leaders have proposed a free-trade zone between Egypt and Gaza, still occupied by Israel, that would create jobs and facilitate the movement of people and goods.
Gaza's crossings into Israel are mostly unused, with travel blocked since Hamas took control of the Gaza Strip in 2007. Israel has also implemented a blockade on the seas off Gaza and its airspace.
Egypt's military rulers promised the opening of the Rafah crossing into Gaza soon after taking control from ousted President Hosni Mubarak but the number of travelers remains restricted to hundreds a day.
Hamas and Fateh, which dominates the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank, have sought to implement a reconciliation deal and create a shared government.
But there will be few tears on either side if the latest reconciliation bid fails. Even when a deal has seemed in reach, Gaza’s leaders eye richer opportunities to the south. A Hamas delegation recently in Egypt presented plans for replacing the underground traffic, currently estimated at $1 billion a year, with a free-trade zone straddling the common border; if trade were open and legal, that figure, say Hamas people, could double. They also suggest that Gaza be linked to Egypt’s electricity grid, to end the strip’s daily blackouts. Direct bus routes could connect with the rest of the region. “Within two years, you’ll be able to drive all the way from Gaza to Morocco,” predicts another Hamas minister.
Some Hamas leaders in Gaza foresee diplomatic gains, irrespective of a deal with Fatah. Those who want a dialogue with the West say it will be far easier to do so under the umbrella of the region’s Islamist regimes, with whom the Obama administration is now engaged, than via the Palestinian Authority over which Mr Abbas presides in the West Bank. As things stand, however, the Americans and Israelis say they will cold-shoulder any Palestinian government if Hamas is part of it.
In any event, other top Hamas men in Gaza dream of restoring an Islamic order free of internal borders. Mahmoud Zahar, for instance, fondly recalls taking the train from Gaza to his mother’s hometown of Ismailiya, on the far bank of the Suez Canal, before Israel’s 1967 occupation. “We’re all one,” he says, as he spins a globe on his coffee table, counting the Muslim states that once comprised the Islamic caliphate.
Egypt’s stumbling military government is wary of encouraging such hopes. But Hamas is banking on Egypt’s Muslim Brothers soon coming to power, perhaps in a coalition, by the ballot box. “Hamas does not feel alone,” sighs a Fatah official, Hossam Zomlot, who this month went back to Gaza for the first time in seven years. “It is part of an Islamist movement of 150m people which is winning the Arab spring.”