Hamas Prime Minister in Gaza Ismail Haniyeh and Politburo Chief Khaled Mashaal, along with senior officials from Gaza, are in Egypt this week for a series of meetings in a bid to improve and perhaps expand relations with Cairo. According to the Hamas government, the parties have thus far discussed security cooperation with Egypt, ending the Gaza blockade, and establishing a free trade zone on the Gaza-Egypt border. In addition, Egyptian security sources said that Mashaal met with Egypt’s head of intelligence, Raafat Shehata, to discuss Palestinian reconciliation.
The current Hamas leaders’ trip to Cairo follows separate talks held in July by Morsi with both Mashaal and Haniyeh. “We have entered a new era in Palestine’s relationship with Egypt,” Mashaal stated following his talks with the Egyptian president. Not long after the meetings, however, on August 5 gunmen attacked an Egyptian police station in Sinai, killing 16 soldiers before trying to storm Israel’s border. Egypt has since taken steps to shut down the Gaza-Egypt underground tunnel system in what was seen as a potential cooling of Egypt-Hamas relations. The tension did not last long, however, with Egyptian and Hamas officials soon after forming a joint security committee to investigate the attack and prevent further violence.
Hamas guards patrol the Egypt-Gaza border while an Egyptian bulldozer works on demolishing a smuggling tunnel, August 2012. (Photo: Associated Press)
Each party hopes to gain politically from this week’s meetings. For Hamas, meeting with Egyptian officials lends the Gazan government increased legitimacy and the chance to bring about its desired results from Morsi — specifically, the opening-up of the Gaza-Egypt border and furthering of relations. In addition, there is speculation that the Hamas government in Gaza is working towards eventually declaring an independent Gazan state separate from the West Bank, which could only successfully happen with Cairo’s blessing.
On the other hand, for Egypt, meeting with Hamas leaders gives the new government legitimacy for its role in assisting the Gazan people. If relations become any warmer, however, Morsi’s strategy may backfire. His meetings this week clearly upset Hamas rival and Palestinian Authority President, Mahmoud Abbas, and it may serve to strain relations with Washington.