Egypt is reportedly working on a "mega deal" between Israel and Hamas that will see the return of the bodies of two IDF soldiers and two Israeli citizens held in Gaza in return for the reconstruction of the coastal enclave after this month's 11-day war.
The report came from Palestinian sources in Ramallah who attended a meeting Sunday between Egyptian intelligence chief Abbas Kamel, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and senior Palestinian Authority officials.
“The Egyptians are insisting on an all-encompassing deal that includes the reconstruction of Gaza for the return of Israelis held by Hamas,” said one source.
Kamel also met Sunday with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem as Cairo pushed to solidify the Hamas-Israel truce it brokered to end the fighting on May 21.
A statement from Netanyahu's office said the prime minister had reiterated Israel's demand "for the prompt return" of its citizens being held in the Gaza Strip.
The statement also said that Netanyahu and Kamel had discussed "mechanisms and processes to prevent the strengthening of Hamas and its use of the resources that will be directed to the civilian population in the future."
Kamel met Monday with Hamas officials in Gaza, having entered the Strip through the Erez Border Crossing from Israel.
Hamas in the past has said any prisoner exchange must include influential Fatah official Marwan Barghouti, who is serving five life sentences in Israel for the murders of four Israelis and a Greek Orthodox priest during the Second Intifada.
The 61-year-old Barghouti is seen as a possible successor to Abbas, 85, who has been president since 2005.
Barghouti’s wife Fadwa on Sunday posted a picture of her husband with the caption, “I’ll see you soon,” fueling speculation that a deal is imminent.
Egypt’s success in securing a ceasefire between Israel and the Palestinian terror groups in Gaza propelled it into the diplomatic spotlight, prompting top-level communication from Washington, something President Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi had been hoping for.
The diplomatic flurry also sent Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi to Cairo on Sunday — the first official visit of an Israeli foreign minister in 13 years — to discuss a "permanent" Gaza ceasefire with his Egyptian counterpart Sameh Shoukry.
Eli Nesan, an Israeli political analyst and expert on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, says Egypt has an important part to play in the wake of the latest round of Gaza fighting.
“Several issues are on the negotiating table: a long-term truce, the reconstruction of the Gaza Strip, for Egypt to play a greater role in preventing the smuggling of weapons into the Strip from Sinai,” he says.
As part of efforts to ease the tensions and boost the fragile ceasefire, Washington has also renewed its financial commitments to the Palestinians, promising hundreds of millions of dollars in aid.
Some estimates put the Gaza rebuilding price tag in the billions of dollars.
Sisi has pledged $500 million for reconstruction efforts in the Gaza Strip and indicated that at least some of the work should be carried out by Egyptian companies.
Nesan said funds donated for the rebuilding of Gaza should not go through Hamas, but rather through the PA and the organizations responsible for rebuilding.
Israel and the U.S. have both made clear that the international aid cannot be handed over to Hamas, which has publicly pledged not to appropriate any of the funds.
“Israel will not allow it [Hamas control of the money]. These funds are for the benefit of the residents of Gaza, and they must be prevented from falling into the hands of Hamas,” he said.
All these matters, Nesan says, are dependent on the return of the bodies of the two soldiers and the two Israeli civilians in Hamas custody.
“Hamas was somewhat strengthened at the expense of the Palestinian Authority, but it is still the Palestinian Authority that controls the course of affairs and communications with the Biden administration,” he says.
Nesan says the White House also played a crucial role in defusing the tension and bringing an end to violence.
“The American role was very important. Biden had not spoken to Sisi since he [Biden] took office, but the matter changed and he quickly contacted him after things exploded,” he says.
Reprinted courtesy of The Media Line.