Report of possible Gaza independence stirs debate


Recent reports that the Hamas Islamist movement was considering to declare the independence of the Gaza Strip with the help of Egypt, which has an Islamist president, has stirred controversy among Palestinians and in both Egypt and Israel.

The London-based al-Hayat had reported that the subject would be on the discussion table between Gaza Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh and Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood President Mohammed Mursi last week.

But top Hamas officials like Mahmoud Zaharand Osama Hamdan denied the report, but the controversy and speculation continued nonetheless.

Khaled Mesmar, head of the Political Committee at the Palestinian National Council, said although Hamas dismissed the idea of independence, its members were still working on establishing an Islamic emirate in Gaza even if they do not admit so publicly.

“That is why Hamas still insists on retaining control over Gaza and imposing its own independent laws on its people,” Mesmar told Al Arabiya.

Mesmar added that Hamas was also independently engaged in “secret talks” with several international parties over the independence of Gaza.

“Hamas is trying to garner as much support as possible for the idea of secession especially among several Arab regimes.”

For Mesmar, those steps are extremely dangerous not only because they are bound to deepen the inter-Palestinian division, but also because they will offer Israel an easy way out.

“Hamas is now implementing Israel’s plan and which basically revolves around throwing Gaza’s responsibility on Egypt. The problem is that Egypt will not accept the idea of the independence of Gaza.”

Mesmar pointed out that late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat had rejected Israel’s proposal known as “Gaza First” and insisted on the “Gaza and Jericho first” principle.

Former Palestinian ambassador to the UAE and Turkey Ribhi Halloum said he does not perceive any danger in Gaza’s declaration of independence.

“I don’t see anything wrong with Gaza declaring its independence and severing all ties with Israel while establishing stronger ones with Egypt.”

For Halloum, Gaza is an integral part of the Palestinian land so declaring its independence is a step towards the liberation of Palestine and not the other way round.

“When Gaza is liberated, border crossings with Egypt will be opened and residents of the strip will be allowed to secure their needs of food, medicine, and fuel. This will definitely help in struggling against Israel because it will break the blockade it has been imposing on Gazans.”

As for the separation between Gaza and the West Bank, Halloumi said it exists anyway because of the Israeli occupation and will not be caused by the independence of Gaza.

“Failure to unite both is not Hamas’s fault. Fatah is the faction that failed miserably at reaching at resolving the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and through its lack of resistance to Israeli policy undermined the influence of the Palestinian Authority.”

Labib Qamhawi, professor of political science, said Egypt’s stance will determine whether the independence of Gaza is a viable option.

“If Egypt does not support Hamas in its plan for independence, the whole issue will be nothing but ink on paper,” he told Al Arabiya.

Regardless of the independence, Qamhawi pointed out, strengthening ties with Egypt is in Gaza’s best interest.

“This does mean that, as some people think, that Gaza will be annexed to Egypt. It only means that Gaza will replace Israel with Egypt as far as economic ties are concerned.”

Saeid Thiab, secretary general of the Jordanian Popular Unity Party, said, “Gaza is becoming a nuisance for Israel,” which would be happy to see Egypt taking over the strip.

Thiab added that the independence of Gaza will not solve the Palestinian problem.

“The only solution to the problem is ending the division between Palestinian factions in order to be able to form a united front that faces Israel after the failure of negotiations.”