One of the demands Hamas has listed for a long-term truce with Israel is the opening of a seaport in Gaza which, in the words of Jodi Rudoren in the New York Times, is “the embodiment of Palestinian aspirations to break the siege of Gaza, at once a symbol of independence and a potential economic engine that would reduce the territory’s reliance on increasingly hostile neighbors.”
In Dream of a Gaza Seaport Is Revived in Truce Talks, Rudoren further informs Times readers that just three months after construction of the port began in 2000, Israel destroyed it:
It was here that a European contractor began building a commercial seaport back in July 2000, only to have its work destroyed by Israeli tanks and bombs within three months. Now, Palestinian leaders trying to negotiate terms in Cairo for a durable truce have made the revival of the seaport project a prime demand.
And the Times also adds that the port was “first promised by the Oslo Accords in 1993.”
Got the picture? The port was promised in 1993, and when construction began in 2000 Israel, for some apparently mysterious reason, almost immediately sent its tanks and bombs to destroy it, but it remains the embodiment of Palestinian aspirations.
Now here is what the Times omitted:
The Gaza port construction was indeed destroyed in 2000, but the Times neglects to tell its readers that this was in fighting that was part of the Second Intifada, the violent Palestinian war against Israel that followed Yasir Arafat’s refusal of the Clinton peace proposals.
Plans for the establishment of a port in the Gaza Strip in accordance with the DOP, its location, and related matters of mutual interest and concern, as well as licenses for vessels and crews sailing on international voyages will be discussed and agreed upon between Israel and the Council.
But, of course, the negotiations were a two-way street: Israel agreed to certain things, like allowing a Gaza port, in return for the Palestinians agreeing to certain things. And one of the main Palestinian agreements was that in the Palestinian territories there would be only one armed Palestinian entity, and that would be the police force of the Palestinian Authority (PA).
Thus, according to the Interim Agreement:
3. Except for the Palestinian Police and the Israeli military forces, no other armed forces shall be established or operate in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.4. Except for the arms, ammunition and equipment of the Palestinian Police described in Annex I, and those of the Israeli military forces, no organization, group or individual in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip shall manufacture, sell, acquire, possess, import or otherwise introduce into the West Bank or the Gaza Strip any firearms, ammunition, weapons, explosives, gunpowder or any related equipment, unless otherwise provided for in Annex I. (Article XIV)
That is, under the agreement, which was signed by the Palestine Liberation Organization (the “sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people“), there can be no armed militias such as Hamas or Islamic Jihad.
So the very agreement that allows the creation of a Gaza port also makes Hamas illegal. The idea of Hamas demanding the opening of the port therefore contains a certain irony which Rudoren and most of her colleagues seem to have missed.
Also omitted in the Times article is that most of the heavy rockets acquired by Hamas, some of which reached north of Tel Aviv, came through smuggling tunnels underneath the Egyptian border. Those tunnels were allowed to function with minimal interference under the Mubarak regime, and then were assisted by the very Hamas-friendly Muslim Brotherhood regime that replaced Mubarak.
After the Muslim Brotherhood government lost popular support, it was replaced by a military-backed government led by Abdel-Fattah Al-Sissi, which considers the Brotherhood to be its mortal enemy – indeed, it has just outlawed the organization altogether. Because Hamas is the Gaza branch of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt also considers the Palestinian movement to be its enemy, and in addition accuses Hamas operatives of attacks against Egypt, including a major jailbreak that released many Muslim Brotherhood members as the Mubarak regime was falling.
All that is background for the fact that the al-Sissi government, by doing its best to shut down the smuggling tunnels, has pushed Hamas to the edge, since taxes leveled on the smuggled goods were the group’s major revenue source. Without those taxes, Hamas faced an economic crisis, and has been unable to pay its 40,000 plus “civil servants” and other operatives. And it faced a military crisis, being unable to smuggle in more rockets and the raw materials to make its own rockets, and the cement needed to build more bunkers and tunnels into Israel.
Even though the New York Times won’t tell you, that’s why Hamas is so eager to have a port and an airport, and why Israel is so eager that Hamas not have a port or an airport.